When the Merck Family Fund made a grant to support Bread & Roses’ recent Environmental Justice Giving Project, it was the first time the foundation experimented with a community-driven grantmaking process. For Oona Coy, then a Merck Trustee, it was the culmination of three years of research to locate the right partnership that excited her family and aligned with the foundation’s priorities.
“I believe there should be a lot more decision makers around how money moves and where it moves,” Coy says. “People on the ground know what’s happening on the ground and can see where money is needed, where it will be most useful, and where it will go furthest.”
“For years I was trying to figure out how to introduce participatory grantmaking to the foundation,” she says. In 2018, Coy and a program officer began meeting with Philadelphia-based grantees of the foundation’s Urban Agriculture program to explore ways to directly involve them in decision making. Several grantees had participated in a Bread & Roses Giving Project and they encouraged Coy to explore that process. “They spoke really highly of their experiences going through it. Following the lead of our grantees felt really important to me.”
It took some convincing. “My family cares deeply about the planet so one point I really pushed them on is: I don’t think we’re going to solve climate change without looking at racial justice and economic justice and environmental justice.”
“This is about how we share power, not just resources but power. Partnering with Bread & Roses was a way to do that.”
“Bread & Roses is able to connect seemingly very disparate populations in the Philadelphia area in a way that recognizes everyone’s humanity,” says Andrea Pien. “They facilitate cross-race, cross-class conversations that can be uncomfortable but enable learning and growth and enable us to fund more movements more successfully.”
Pien gives to Bread & Roses along with her parents, Howard and Diane, and her sister, Catarina. “I feel a lot of gratitude to the racial and economic justice movement that enabled my family to move to the United States from Taiwan,” says Pien. “All of these movements were grassroots movements that were planned and thought out and needed to be funded. I grew up in the United States with a fundamental understanding of my rights, knowing I can sit anywhere on the bus and drink from any water fountain that I want. But, we still have so much further to go.”
The Pien family made a special gift this year to support Bread & Roses’ infrastructure, which helped make the office move possible. “With technology we can do things virtually, but there’s nothing that compares with sitting down face to face and hearing somebody’s story, and infrastructure and space are the way to do that,” says Pien. “Important grassroots movements have to happen in a space. Space has been taken away; the history of gentrification is space being taken away. Allowing for sound space and infrastructure is a really crucial, if not glamorous, way to support grassroots movements.”
For Ha Pham, a 2018 Gender Justice Giving Project member, giving to Bread & Roses is rooted in relationships: “I give to support my community: the work they do and the environment they create. But on a more personal level, I am motivated by my mother and my grandmother — by thinking about the things they endured in life and being aware of the system they lived within. They laid plans that grew through so many seeds. They brought me here as one of those seeds, and now I feel the need to carry their work on. I try to understand how they did so much for me by putting myself in their place and doing it for others.”
Participating in a Giving Project was a transformative experience for Pham: “It changed a lot of things for me. The Giving Project felt like everything was coming together. Being a part of that community made me feel whole — the sense of community moved me. When I hear the word ‘movement,’ I think about moving forward, determination. Like the movement that drives a protest. But the Giving Project moved me in a different way. It wasn’t movement to a destination, but more like movement into daily life.”
After the Giving Project, Pham continued her involvement by joining the 2019 Tribute to Change planning committee. She is organizing the members of her Giving Project to be a collective sponsor of the Tribute to Change.
Why I give:
“I give because for me it would feel unconscionable not to work towards redistributing unearned wealth now that I have a sense in my gut — as well as a privileged white person can — of what it means to be a marginalized person who suffers from generations of oppression.”
Kara Tennis became a donor after finding out about Bread & Roses from a neighbor, then wanted to get more involved. “I knew I really wanted to do a Giving Project just to challenge myself and to do that work in a group of people. My focus has always been about racial justice, but I did the gender justice one because it was the first one available, and I was so keen to do it,” she says. “As it went on, I realized it was the same work all along.”
“The Giving Project gave me a chance to practice my job as a privileged person, which is to keep listening, listening, listening, and learning from the experiences of marginalized people, rather than believing my own opinions and default reactions, centering my responses, or thinking I know what is needed or what should work,” she says.
Tennis recently began selling her mixed-media wearable art under the name Justice Jewelry. She donates all proceeds to anti-racist organizations including Bread & Roses. In October Tennis signed up to be a monthly donor to Bread & Roses. “I understand that it’s really helpful for the organization, knowing what it can count on,” she says. “I’ve been really behind supporting operating costs, because it’s harder for the organization to get those less sexy parts of funding done.”
Why I give:
“I trust that Bread & Roses is giving money to people who know what they’re talking about, are doing the work, and are not being funded by a lot of other organizations because they’re pushing against the status quo.”
After spending a year interning at Bread & Roses, Jordyn Myers decided to join the Fall 2017 Giving Project, which raised money and made grants in the Black-led, Black-centered Organizing Fund. “I wanted to be in a space where I could think about how fundraising could be done in an anti-capitalist, anti-racist way,” she says.
Black-identified members of the Giving Project led the process. “The facilitators and the people in it worked really hard for it to be a space where marginalized people were believed,” Myers says. “Once you start believing marginalized people, there’s this priority on the power of their ideas, the power of what we had to say. That was probably the first time I had been in a space like that.”
Prioritizing the voices of people of color made the process more efficient. “It was a space that was so much easier for me to share freely,” Myers says. “I never felt like, ‘I have to say this, because if I don’t say this nobody else would say it.’ It felt like the people of color caucus had each other’s backs. We were prepared for that, because we were just believed. We did a lot less defending ourselves.”
Through their personal donations and fundraising, Myers and her fellow Giving Project members raised enough money to make $130,000 in grants for Black-led, Black-centered organizing this spring.
“Because Bread & Roses centers and trusts the people that are most impacted by systems.”
Polly Pillen moved to Philadelphia in October 2016 and joined a Giving Project at Bread & Roses just two months later. “It was a really special way to enter into my time in Philadelphia and hear about organizations on the ground that I would never have known about,” Pillen says. “Also, I was very recently learning about my owning class background and what I could move and starting that process. It felt like a serendipitous moment to think about what my role was in movement building.”
Pillen is a therapist at Women Organized Against Rape, a local rape and sexual assault crisis center. “My work is doing individual healing,” she says. “In my personal life, my community is doing work around movement building and thinking critically about our class and race privilege and trying to use those in ways that are important.”
For Pillen, participating in the Giving Project was one of the first steps, and she says it was transformative to hear the experiences and perspectives of people of color from different class backgrounds. “Being part of a democratic process where we got to learn about all of the work that was on the ground and mull over the decisions about how to give was really important and powerful and made me think more critically about giving,” she says. “The community aspect and being around other people doing that work really pushed me through some walls I had built up around giving. The Giving Project supports cross-race, cross-class community building, and I want to support that.”
Why I give:
“I fully believe in the concept of tithing your time, your talent, and your treasure.”
“Working in social service, I felt like people were given things, but not what they needed to be sustainable to take hold of their own power,” says Patrice Green, a Bread & Roses donor. “As I was finishing graduate school, I began interning at Bread & Roses. The slogan of ‘change, not charity’ was so significant.”
The structure and vision of Bread & Roses seemed unique to Green: “Being able to support movements at a grassroots level — from organizations in their infancy to organizations that have been around longer than Bread & Roses — and being able to do that as the tides change … Bread & Roses is so responsive to the needs of communities.”
Green now works for the federal government, helping drive money and resources to local community initiatives. She served as a planning committee member for this year’s Tribute to Change. “The Tribute is the most celebratory space I’ve ever seen,” Green says. “In the struggle of movements, it’s hard to break away and celebrate one another, but the Tribute provides that space.”
“Supporting Bread & Roses is a way to stay connected to what’s happening on the ground in various movements regardless of if they affect me personally,” Green explains. “Giving means sowing back into movements that have created the opportunity for me to have access, to get the education that I’ve got, and to have the opportunity to navigate systems that traditionally folks who look like me don’t get.”
“Bread & Roses gives me a glimpse of the future we stand for.”
“I like that Bread & Roses breaks down the silos between organizations,” says Elisabeth Bass, a member of the 2017 Tribute to Change planning committee and longtime Bread & Roses supporter. “I think we need mass resistance, and I don’t see one group that functions as a mass organization for the left-progressive movement,” she says. “If we are going to make a leap in our society, we need organizations to come together.”
Bass is a professor at Camden County College, where she teaches English. She has taught in Camden for over 25 years. Bass sees education as social justice work because she supports her students while they face challenges outside the classroom linked to systemic racism, poverty, and the criminal justice system.
She chose to serve on the Tribute to Change planning committee again this year because it’s a way for her to feel connected and live her values: “At our events, when I share in the solidarity and excitement of the work that everyone in the room is involved in, that’s when I realize what we are fighting for — a world that is not the product of corporate capitalism, divisiveness, misogyny, racism, ecocide, dominance, and exploitation, but a world of unity.”
Bass believes giving to movements for racial and economic justice is an important way for her to participate. “I want to support the good work that people are doing to dismantle white supremacy and the current dangerous oligarchy that is crushing people and the planet beneath the heel of corporate capitalism,” she says.
Why I give: “There’s a lot right and wrong in this country, and I might not touch all the areas, but my financial contribution may touch areas that I can’t.”
Photo: Erika Guadalupe Nuñez
“I think Bread & Roses is unique because it has a real community feel. It’s very inclusive, very culturally aware,” says LaTrista Webb, a member of the spring 2017 Giving Project.
Webb is the executive director of the Elevation Project, a Phoebus Criminal Justice Initiative grantee that supports people who are currently or formerly incarcerated. She sees this work as a piece of a larger movement for social justice. “I recognize that I’m not working on the only issue in our country,” she says, “but if I give to Bread & Roses, they in turn give the money to someone who works in an area that I don’t work in.”
The cross-race, cross-class nature of the Giving Project, Webb says, offered her an opportunity to see things from a different perspective. During the Giving Project race and class training, Webb was moved to hear people speak so candidly about their class backgrounds: “It opened my eyes that everyone wealthy is not bad.”
For Webb, the biggest lesson the Giving Project provided was recognizing a broader sense of community. “I don’t have to stay in my little circle to get the work done,” she says. “There are all sorts of people who want to see social justice happen.”