Funders, It’s Necessary to Support Healing and Rest

In a year unlike any other, marked by a global pandemic and persistent racism and violence, we must reckon with what it means to not simply go back to “the way things were.” The way things were was not working for far too many. Our policies, systems, and practices, for the most part, have centered whiteness and white supremacy at the expense and exclusion of the experiences and expertise of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, AAPI, and other communities of color in this nation. We know that many non-profit organizations, communities, and schools — especially those led and staffed by people of color — are often under-resourced, deeply impacted, and overworked. We also know the deep pain and trauma that many have experienced this year. In a grind culture that too often values productivity and capitalism over people and wellbeing, it’s no surprise that so many people are functioning in a constant state of exhaustion.

As funders, let’s step up by not only providing general support to our grantee partners, but by thinking about how we can regularly support our partners in accessing healing and rest.

At the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, we’ve seen so many of our grantee partners working around the clock to meet community needs. In Chelsea, Massachusetts, Gladys Vega, Executive Director of La Collaborativa — a community-based organization serving Chelsea residents — spent the majority of the pandemic working 16 hour days. We’ve seen and heard stories of educators who are working at all hours to support students learning remotely, hybrid, and in-person. In fact, we’ve even seen many educators departing or considering making the hard decision to leave the profession after impossible and unrealistic expectations have left them feeling devalued, exploited and exhausted.

“White supremacy is killing us all — in both blatant and subtle ways.”

Even in our sector — philanthropy — we see people working hard to push for sustained change to better support communities most impacted by racial injustices, while navigating trauma within entrenched philanthropic structures. Really, we are all exhausted. But this is particularly true of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and AAPI people invested in liberation and racial justice work. White supremacy is killing us all — in both blatant and subtle ways.

As funders, we must make a commitment to alleviate some of the trauma that our grantees have gone through not just over the past year, but as they do the work and bear the costs we know come with fighting for equity, justice, and freedom. Healing justice is a critical and necessary part of social justice movements. Without it, we will not have the stamina to move forward.

Activist, political strategist, and organizer Charlene Carruthers advocates for adopting healing justice as a core organizing value and practice — reminding us that everyone needs healing because real work for justice and liberation comes with pain and requires intense self-work, self-care, and community care. Additionally, we know that women of color are at the forefront of these movements, and we often pay for it with our lives and our health. This work is non-negotiable for our survival, and it isn’t easy — whether it’s happening in community-based organizations, public education systems, schools, government offices, the health sector, faith-based institutions, philanthropy, or other parts of the ecosystem. But rest and healing is also non-negotiable for us to sustain ourselves in these movements for change.

As Audre Lorde wrote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

At Nellie Mae, we are centering healing justice as part of our capacity building program for grantee partners. This past fall, we ran a youth-driven rapid response fund aimed at supporting the mental health of young people, as the pandemic pushed many into remote schooling and separated them from their friends, educators, and networks. Last year, we began a partnership with Getaway and Rachel Cargle, to support opportunities for Black people working for social change — including many educators — to receive a free night of rest away to allow time to recharge and heal. We are aware that these efforts require more resources. We’re organizing time for our staff and community advisors to engage in sessions about healing from racialized trauma, exploring how trauma stemming from racism distorts thinking and sends signals to the body.

“Imagine what a world could look like where healing and rest became a norm, rather than a last straw that we turn to after burnout.”

As healer, trauma specialist, and psychotherapist Resmaa Menakem reminds us, “we heal primarily in and through the body, not just through the rational brain. We can all create more room, and more opportunities for growth, in our nervous systems. But we do t{“type”:”block”,”srcClientIds”:[“e778ec83-6740-4485-8d09-2f7740e6dfbe”],”srcRootClientId”:””}his primarily through what our bodies experience and do — not through what we think or realize or cognitively figure out.” Resmaa advises that our bodies are important parts of the solution and where changing the status quo must begin. They cannot sustain themselves in racial justice and liberation work when they are in pain, exhausted, or constantly harmed by various forms of oppression, overt or subtle.

Photo by @NappyStock
Photo by @NappyStock

Imagine what a world could look like where healing and rest became a norm, rather than a last straw that we turn to after burnout. Imagine paid therapy and mental health or rest breaks for leaders and staff of nonprofit organizations and educators. It would look like prioritizing rest as a regular part of our lives, as Tricia Hersey teaches through The Nap Ministry. I’ll admit that I, too, am a work in progress. I’m working on being more intentional about incorporating more of these practices in my day-to-day, including dedicated time for meditation and prayer, connecting with nature, extending grace to myself and others, choosing joy, and cultivating a practice that encourages us to take care of ourselves and each other.

“What do communities, organizations, and schools we serve need to be healthy, healed, whole, free, and joyful on their own terms?”

A world where healing and rest are a norm would look like curated affinity spaces for folks that feel safe and affirming, where they can be held and supported — so that they can continue to show up and do the work in healthy ways. It would look like making identity and joy essential dimensions of how teaching and learning unfolds in schools, as Gholdy Muhammad advocates for in her Historically Responsive Literacy Framework. It would look like embedding healing in the social and emotional learning of youth, such as the work Dena Simmons leads in guiding educators and communities to do through her work at LiberatED. It would look like philanthropy asking the question: what do the communities, organizations, and schools we serve need to be healthy, healed, whole, free, and joyful on their own terms? Lastly, it would mean making the resources available for the answers to that question to be actualized by those most impacted and closest to the work.

Rest and healing are critical parts of the solution if we are to move closer to a more liberated world in which all people feel sustained, healed, held, safe, loved, and like full, thriving versions of ourselves and society.

Let’s continue this pattern of funding healing justice and rest. General operating support resources are essential so that grantee partners have the flexibility to allocate funds where they think best in their racial justice and liberation work. It is just as important to recognize our individual and collective humanity. Let’s fund grantees’ access and opportunities for healing and rest, and let’s also resource organizations and leaders who provide these supports in culturally responsive ways.

To learn more about healing justice and philanthropy:

Organizations like Decolonizing Wealth, led by Edgar Villanueva, are leading healing summits for professionals of color in philanthropy to heal and engage in community care. Feminist funders like the Astraea Foundation, Groundswell Fund, Third Wave Fund, and Urgent Action Funds have long been doing this work and showing us the way.

In Memoriam: Dudley Williams

Nellie Mae Ed. Fdn.

May 24 · 1 min read
Dudley Williams at the Foundation’s Lawrence W. O’Toole Awards Ceremony in 2012

Our hearts are heavy as we mourn the passing of Dudley Williams, former Board Chair of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. In his 12 years of service at the organization, Dudley was instrumental in shaping the foundation’s direction in rethinking how, when, and where learning happened. He dedicated his life to the service of others, especially in the Stamford, Connecticut community and public school system. In addition to the long list of his accomplishments and public service, Dudley’s graciousness, intelligence, and care was visible in everything he did. We are all better for having known him and are holding his family in our hearts.

Ed Equity Talks Series: Building & Sustaining Pipelines for Educators of Color


 
Nellie Mae Ed. Fdn.

 

 

 

May 6 · 1 min read

Join us in our next #EdEquityTalks on May 26, 2021 at 4pm, EST. Tune into a conversation on recruiting, supporting, and retaining pipelines for educators of color. In this conversation, we’ll hear from Karla Vigil, CEO, The Equity Institute, Dr. Travis Bristol, Assistant Professor of Education at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education, and Alexis Harewood, Program Officer at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation on how our current education system continues to perpetuate structures of oppression. These experts will propose solutions that will abolish white supremacy culture in education and provide insights into how educators of color can successfully enter and navigate it in its current state.

Register below now!

 

Welcome! You are invited to join a webinar: Building & Sustaining Pipelines for Educators of Color…

Join us in our next #EdEquityTalks conversation on recruiting, supporting, and retaining pipelines for educators of…

nmefoundation.zoom.us

 

 

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation Appoints Dr. Gislaine N. Ngounou, Ed. L.D., as Interim President and CEO

Dr. Ngounou to bring nearly two decades of experience in the education and nonprofit space to the role

Nellie Mae Ed. Fdn.
May 20 · 4 min read

Quincy, MA — May 20, 2021: The Nellie Mae Education Foundation Board of Directors, in consultation with outgoing President and CEO Nick Donohue, has appointed Dr. Gislaine N. Ngounou, Ed. L.D., as Interim President and CEO, effective June 1, 2021. The organization is thrilled to name Dr. Ngounou to this elevated leadership role, and is confident that she will continue to build on the solid foundation that she, along with Foundation colleagues, advisors, and grantees, has set. The Nellie Mae Education Foundation expects Dr. Ngounou to remain in the interim role for 6–12 months as they pause their external search while taking time to determine next steps around decisions of future, permanent leadership of the organization.

I feel confident that I am well-equipped to lead and support the organization through this transition. I look forward to continuing to work in partnership with our Board, Nellie Mae colleagues, community advisors, and grantee partners to continue to move the Foundation’s work forward, so that we may use our power and privilege as an organization to uproot systemic racism. — Dr. Ngounou,Vice President, Strategy and Programs, Nellie Mae Education Foundation

When Dr. Ngounou takes on the position of Interim President and CEO on June 1, she will bring nearly two decades of experience working across the education sector, including work with nonprofits, individual schools, and school districts. Most recently, she served as the Foundation’s Vice President of Strategy and Programs, where she was responsible for successfully implementing the organization’s new grantmaking strategy focused on advancing racial equity in public education. Before coming to the Foundation, Dr. Ngounou served as the Chief Program Officer for Arlington, Virginia-based Phi Delta Kappa International, a professional organization for educators. In this role, she designed and led programs that supported school district leaders, provided leadership coaching surrounding issues of equity and social justice, and created and facilitated an ongoing community that allowed system-level leaders in districts from across the country to learn from one another. Prior to her work at Phi Delta Kappa, Dr. Ngounou worked for school districts including Hartford Public Schools, Montgomery County Public Schools, and the Kansas City Missouri School District. She is passionate about social justice, racial equity, adult learning, youth and community empowerment, systems change, and increasing educational access and opportunities for all students to thrive.

I speak on behalf of the entire Nellie Mae Board of Directors when I say that we are more than excited to have Gislaine in the Interim President and CEO role. — Greg Gunn, Chair, Nellie Mae Education Foundation Board of Directors

“I am excited and thankful for this opportunity, and feel confident that I am well-equipped and positioned to lead and support the organization through this transition,” said Dr. Ngounou. “I look forward to continuing to work in partnership with our Board, Nellie Mae colleagues, community advisors, and grantee partners to continue to move the Foundation’s work forward, so that we may use our power and privilege as an organization to uproot systemic racism — both within philanthropy and our public education system. I hope we can continue to advance a philanthropic practice that centers the voices of those most impacted by injustices.”

“I speak on behalf of the entire Nellie Mae Board of Directors when I say that we are more than excited to have Gislaine in the Interim President and CEO role,” said Greg Gunn, Chair of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation Board of Directors. “We are confident that this move will allow her to continue to move the organization forward in advancing a vision where all young people have access to an excellent and equitable public education that prepares them to succeed and thrive in community. Additionally, this move will allow the organization to continue implementing its current grantmaking strategy uninterrupted.”

Outgoing President and CEO Nick Donohue plans to transition out of the organization effective May 31, 2021, after over 14 years at the organization. The Foundation remains ever grateful for Nick’s exemplary leadership over the years. “Nick’s guidance and expertise has pushed us to more deeply engage in racial equity work as a foundation, which in turn has made us a much more responsive grantmaker,” said Greg Gunn. “He has been responsible for shepherding in student-centered approaches to learning as a national education reform strategy, and really helping to shift the narrative around how people think about the ways schools should be organized to best serve young people. We know Nick’s legacy will be carried out as we continue our work, and we wish him the best in his future endeavors.”

Gislaine brings strategic vision, deep knowledge around education, extensive experience with racial equity and change management, that will bring so much to advancing the organization’s vision. It is because of her leadership and execution that the Foundation has been able to implement our new grantmaking strategy with thoughtfulness, humility, and care. — Nick Donohue, Outgoing Nellie Mae Education Foundation President and CEO

“While I will miss working closely with Nellie Mae colleagues, partners, and grantees, I couldn’t be more thrilled for Gislaine and the organization about this decision,” said Nick Donohue. “Gislaine brings strategic vision, deep knowledge around education, extensive experience with racial equity and change management, and an inspiring leadership style that will bring so much to advancing the organization’s vision. It is because of her leadership and execution that the Foundation has been able to implement our new grantmaking strategy with thoughtfulness, humility, and care. It has been the privilege and honor of my lifetime to work at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, and I look forward to watching how the organization grows even more under her full leadership.”

Cross-Racial Healing and Solidarity in a White Supremacist World

Written by Alexis Harewood and Ellen Wang

Central to the Nellie Mae Education Foundation’s focus of advancing racial equity in public education is our commitment to ensuring all young people and families feel safe in schools and communities across New England as school buildings continue to reopen. When young people experience belonging and emotional safety by feeling that their perspectives, needs and full identities are seen and embraced, they can focus on learning and thrive academically (Darling-Hammond, 2017).

Since the Foundation released the Racism is a Virus, Too Rapid Response Fund in March of 2020, over 500,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19. The virus has disproportionately impacted the Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. While Asian American racism did not start with COVID-19, the spread of the virus has prompted the rise of anti-Asian racism and xenophobia through the U.S., “taking the forms of vandalism, student bullying, online hate speech, and more recently, violent attacks against elders. This type of ‘othering’ divides communities by dehumanizing groups of people when anxiety is manipulated and misdirected to place blame in the time of crisis” (Smithsonian APA Center).

Photo by Guillaume Issaly on Unsplash

AAPI communities have a deep-rooted history of being in solidarity with other communities of color — something that is often left unspoken. There is a vast history of AAPI communities supporting Black communities in the United States including during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Activists like Yuri Kochiyama, Grace Lee Boggs, Richard Aoki, and Larry Itliong were constant advocates for Black and Brown liberation and worked closely alongside Black and Brown people.

After the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd by police officers in 2020, AAPI communities across the world showed up in solidarity with Black communities to demand policy change. ASIANS 4 BLACK LIVES signs, actions, and sentiments continue to be in profound allyship and solidarity with Black people.

Two of our program officers leading this work reflect on what cross-racial solidarity means to them, as women of color.

Reflections from Alexis Harewood, program officer

Last year brought me countless moments of sadness and grief after the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many others. Yet there were innumerable acts of solidarity that filled me with hope. As a Black woman, it meant a lot to see and hear that other non-Black people of color recognized that the ‘issue’ being fought wasn’t Black people standing against the police, but the suppressed standing up and fighting against white supremacy in all of its many forms. Moreover, it was liberating to see people working to expose how anti-Blackness shows up in their racial groups and fighting racism with solidarity as one of my favorite activists, Fred Hampton, did.

White supremacy has deeply impacted communities of color. White supremacy has created competition and harm within racial groups. But harm means there is also opportunity for healing.

I recognize that while Black communities grieved these murders, AAPI communities around the world were also grieving and fearing for the physical safety and emotional well-being of themselves and their elders. They fought a silent war that had yet to be fully detailed or reported by the mainstream media. Yet, they showed up and held Black people closely and remained in solidarity.

Reflections from Ellen Wang, senior program officer

As an East Asian woman working in philanthropy, I am incredibly grateful to be doing this work alongside my colleagues in the philanthropic sector. I am especially moved to do this work in solidarity with my colleague and dear friend, Alexis Harewood. Doing this work alongside a brilliant Black woman and my other colleagues at Nellie Mae, has been a tangible way for me to heal and work through my own anger and grief.

Healing can only begin to happen when we stop long enough to listen deeply to each other, acknowledge the harms we have caused one another, and understand that it is white supremacy that has pitted us against each other and that of which must be dismantled.

I want to be clear that while AAPIs are being targeted now during the pandemic, anti-Asian racism and violence, Sinophobia, and xenophobia are nothing new. They are interwoven into the fabric of this country. Healing can only begin to happen when we stop long enough to listen deeply to each other, acknowledge the harms we have caused one another, and understand that it is white supremacy that has pitted us against each other and that of which must be dismantled.

My hope is that this funding opportunity will continue to support those who have been doing the work of promoting cross-community solidarity, and serve as a stepping point for those we are ready to embark on the hard work of building deep, sustained bridges. I fundamentally believe that our liberation is bound together and showing up for one another cannot be transactional, but a life-long commitment.

*The first part of this blog post is an excerpt from Cross-Racial Healing and Solidarity in a White Supremacist World Rapid Response Grant


Cross-Racial Healing and Solidarity in a White Supremacist World was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

We stand in solidarity with the Asian American Pacific Islander Community

We Stand in Solidarity with the Asian American Pacific Islander Community

We at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation stand in solidarity with the Asian American Pacific Islander community across the nation, condemning the hate crimes that are being perpetuated by white supremacist and misogynist ways of thinking and acting. To claim that these acts were not racially motivated misses the point and perpetuates harm on our AAPI communities.

We acknowledge that these hate crimes did not begin with COVID-19 and have existed in this country for centuries. The hate against our AAPI communities begins and stops with us. And while there are multiple ways to demonstrate solidarity through education, action, and other means, we wanted to share the following resources in efforts of stopping AAPI hate:


We stand in solidarity with the Asian American Pacific Islander Community was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Ed Equity Talks Series: School Funding Amidst COVID-19

Join Nellie Mae on March 31, 2021, at 3 p.m., ET for the next in our virtual Ed Equity Talks series, featuring Marie-Frances Rivera, President of MassBudget

In late 2019, Massachusetts lawmakers passed the Student Opportunity Act, a major school finance reform law aimed at steering an additional $1.5B to the state’s public schools over seven years. As we move to implement a 2022 state budget amidst the height of a global pandemic, we must consider the immense needs of our Commonwealth’s young people, especially young people of color who have been disproportionally affected by the crisis. Join us as Nellie Mae Director of Engagement and Partnerships Delia Arellano-Weddleton sits down with Marie-Frances Rivera, President of MassBudget, to discuss how a state faced with economic uncertainty should seek to implement equitable school funding to meet the immense needs of young people, their families and communities, and how philanthropy can play a role in supporting this work.

Register Now! Webinar Registration — Zoom


Ed Equity Talks Series: School Funding Amidst COVID-19 was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation Welcomes United We Dream Co-Founder Cristina Jiménez Moreta to…

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation Welcomes United We Dream Co-Founder Cristina Jiménez Moreta to Board of Directors

Today, we are thrilled to announce the appointment of Cristina Jiménez Moreta, co-founder and former executive director of United We Dream, the country’s largest immigrant-youth-led network, to the Nellie Mae Education Foundation Board of Directors. As a new member of the board, Cristina’s leadership and extensive experience in community organizing will aid the Foundation in advancing racial equity in public education.

“We are honored to welcome her to our Board of Directors as we continue to fight for racial equity and equal access to excellent public education for all students in New England.” — Nick Donohue

“Cristina has been a powerful force in the immigrant justice movement, empowering and organizing young people and communities of color across the country for over a decade,” Nick Donohue, President and CEO of Nellie Mae said. “We are honored to welcome her to our Board of Directors as we continue to fight for racial equity and equal access to excellent public education for all students in New England.”

“The Nellie Mae Board of Directors is thrilled to have Cristina joining us,” said Greg Gunn, chair of the Nellie Mae Board. “Cristina brings unmatched experience in movement and coalition building, community organizing, and public policy that will support the foundation in moving its agenda forward.”

Cristina is a nationally recognized organizer and movement strategist who has been instrumental in building a sustained and influential youth-led immigrant movement. In recognition of her work as a social justice organizer, Cristina received a 2017 MacArthur Fellowship, the Four Freedoms Award, and a spot on the 2018 TIME 100 List. She has been celebrated in various lists including “Forbes 30 under 30 in Law and Policy” and the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s “40 under 40 Young Leaders Who are Solving Problems of Today and Tomorrow.”

“In communities across New England, courageous young people are driving the change they want to see. I am thrilled to support them and continue the fight for a more just future for all young people with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.” — Cristina Jiménez Moreta

“Young people of color are facing unprecedented challenges, and the work of advancing racial equity in public education has never been more critical,” said Cristina Jiménez Moreta. “In communities across New England, courageous young people are driving the change they want to see. I am thrilled to support them and continue the fight for a more just future for all young people with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.”

Cristina co-founded United We Dream (UWD), the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the country. Under Cristina’s leadership as Executive Director, UWD has grown into a powerful network of nearly one million members and has played a pivotal role in shifting the policy conversation and narrative about immigrants and immigration, ultimately influencing policy. Cristina was instrumental in UWD’s successful campaign for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. She migrated to the U.S from Ecuador with her family at the age of 13, growing up undocumented.

In recognition of her work as a social justice organizer, Cristina received a 2017 MacArthur Fellowship, the Four Freedoms Award, and a spot on the 2018 TIME 100 List. Cristina has appeared in hundreds of national and local media outlets including USA Today, CNN, MSNBC, HBO, The New York Times, the LA Times, ABC, NPR, The Huffington Post, Univision, Telemundo, and La Opinion. Her writing has been published in the New York Times, CNN, USA Today, Huffington Post, and El Diario.

Cristina proudly serves on the Board of Directors of the National Committee for Responsible Philanthropy (NCRP), Hazen Foundation, and Make the Road Action Fund. Cristina also co-founded the New York State Youth Leadership Council, the Dream Mentorship Program at Queens College, was an immigration policy analyst for the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy and an immigrant rights organizer at Make the Road New York.

Cristina holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration & Public Policy from the School of Public of Affairs at Baruch College, CUNY and graduated Cum Laude with a B.A. in Political Science and Business from Queens College, CUNY. She was awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Letters & Humanities by Wesleyan University.


The Nellie Mae Education Foundation Welcomes United We Dream Co-Founder Cristina Jiménez Moreta to… was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Celebrating Joy and Working Towards Liberation (Interview with Outright Vermont’s Dana Kaplan Part…

Celebrating Joy and Working Towards Liberation (Interview with Outright Vermont’s Dana Kaplan Part Four)

We got the chance to talk to Dana Kaplan, Executive Director of Outright Vermont, an LGBTQ+ youth-facing organization, about the history of Outright, the current programs and events the organization is running, and the importance of centering youth and intersectionality in social justice work. This installment delves into more of Outright’s anti-racism work and goals for the future. This is part four of a four-part interview series about Outright. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

We’re in a moment where movements for anti-racism are in the national spotlight. How has this current moment affected Outright Vermont’s work?

What’s true is that we know this is not new work, these are certainly not new needs, and these are not new conversations for black and brown folks and for our social justice movement work. The amplification and national spotlight has created a different level of opportunity, accountability, and inability to turn away. I think that’s primarily what has shifted. There are lots of ways youth are doing their own work and leading at some of the intersections of creating an anti-racist, anti-transphobic community, school system, and GSA. Some of these efforts are happening around School Resource Officers in schools, work Outright’s youth organizers are choosing to be part of organizing in their local communities and towns. Vermont is unique in that even though we are a small state, schools and communities are at really different starting places of progress, based most often on the level of community backlash and conservative politics they are navigating. Some youth are organizing to have the Black Lives Matter flag raised, while others are intentionally bringing in conversations around implicit bias and white supremacy. But it’s important to note that based on the previous administrations’ active emboldening of racism and hate, the level of backlash and threat is pretty shocking. The insurrection at the Capital brought to light just where we are as a country. It feels like we are at a tipping point, and it’s on all of us to show up for this work right now. Black and Brown folks have been erased, ostracized, and pushed out for way too long. It’s on all of us to wrestle with the questions and really ask what shifts people are making in this moment. It’s not a time to be comfortable. That’s never when change happens. As LGBTQ+ folks, with experiences of coming out and transitioning, we can tap into our lived experiences with transformation to know that liberation isn’t comfortable, but it’s necessary.

What are some goals that Outright Vermont has, both short-term and long-term?

Some of the work we’re up to is deeply internal — tuning our organizational capacity to be right-sized so as to set a strong foundation for the years to come. Some of that is about systems attunement, from fundraising and evaluation, to program growth and communications. Some of it is about accountability to our commitments as a staff and board to keep an anti-racism practice front and center, so we can make sure not to move from places of white supremacy, and can course correct when we do. You know, there has long been a sense for many non-profits that we have to work from a scarcity model — as an LGBTQ+ organization that inherently moves through a landscape wherein we are not the majority, I think we may get that burden of expectation to stay small more than many. So part of our work as a radical and transformative organization is to say “we get to take up space, we get to be here, we get to have the things that we need in order to be healthy and sustainable and thriving for years to come.”

One of our programmatic goals is to grow Camp Outright, starting with doubling the number of sessions we hold. Our organizational strategic plan really centers outreach and access to the most marginalized of youth, so that all LGBTQ+ youth throughout Vermont have hope, equity, and power. We are prioritizing efforts of care and mentorship with QTBIPOC youth, and being intentional about how we spend time and attention showing up for our partner orgs in this work together.

It’s not missed on anyone that it’s been a really hard and devastating year; when we’re talking about a population of folks who were already five times more likely than their cis/het peers to have attempted suicide in the past year (2019), who are already feeling disconnected and isolated and struggling to feel like they matter in their communities, adding the pandemic to that landscape has been really challenging. We will continue our work to make sure that youth know there’s always somebody who has their back, and we will continue to work structural and systems change so we can see a different tomorrow. Some of the programs we offer will always continue to have their place in the form they are now, and other pieces will continue to expand so that we’re more effectively having impact for those that need us most.

For a small, Vermont non-profit to have secure funding beyond one year out is a pretty radical accomplishment in and of itself, and something we’ve been working hard to cultivate over time. To have that backing in the form of multi-year grants from folks like Nellie Mae and other foundations who recognize the importance of saying ‘here’s a little breathing room, we believe in the work you’re doing and we trust you to use the money where you need it in order to keep moving forward in your mission’… That’s a massive gift!

Another interesting and really important thing happening in the world of philanthropy right now is more conversations about what it means re-distribute wealth and engage in direct reckoning of the ways money is tied to race and racism. Having transparent and explicit exchanges around how people have even gotten access to their wealth and what it looks like to really shift dynamics is something we are invested in organizationally. This isn’t just a conversation to have at the program level; it’s a conversation that needs to happen in the board room, with donors, and with youth. We really appreciate collaborating with foundations like Nellie Mae — so clear in your vision and commitments to creating equitable educational spaces. It’s truly an honor for Outright to be part of your orbit.

Is there anything else that we haven’t talked about you’d like to mention?

One thing that doesn’t get talked about that much, but feels really important, is the joy and beauty of being LGBTQ+, of being a trans person, and youth getting to celebrate that part of themselves and their identity that’s often the basis of hurt and harm in other spaces. Media coverage tends to focus on the disproportionate health outcomes that exist — the bullying, the self-harm, the suicide, and the very real and serious health equity considerations that deserve our attention. But we also need to create spaces for joy, so that queer and trans people can honor and celebrate those special parts of ourselves, because there is something very beautiful about our identities, and too often the focus is on stories of tragedy and harm. Working towards liberation and justice for LGBTQ+ people ultimately makes the world better for all of us. Working for a world that is free of racism makes the world better for all of us. As much we have to talk about the harm, it’s also really important that we make space for the joy and the celebration. There is hopefulness that comes when we all have the chance to be our true selves, with the love and care and resources we need to do just that.


Celebrating Joy and Working Towards Liberation (Interview with Outright Vermont’s Dana Kaplan Part… was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

A Letter from Our Youth Advisors

To the United States Secretary of Education

Dear Secretary of Education Cardona,

Congratulations on your confirmation as U.S. Secretary of Education, and the wonderful opportunity to support young people nationwide.

We attend public schools in Lawrence, Mass. and are members of Elevated Thought, an art and social justice organization that addresses forms of systemic injustice through youth development, beautification projects, public outreach, and paid opportunities for BIPOC creatives.

We are optimistic and motivated for the future, especially because you share our focus on achieving equity and addressing systemic racism in education.

As students who are most affected by the decisions made about our learning, we want to make sure our voices are included in shaping education policies and priorities. We encourage you to regularly engage with young people because our experiences uniquely qualify us for solving the most pressing issues facing our schools.

Photo by heylagostechie on Unsplash

We are optimistic and motivated for the future, especially because you share our focus on achieving equity and addressing systemic racism in education. For our public schools to live up to their promise of opportunity for everyone, we believe the following should be key areas of focus for the new administration:

Hiring more teachers of color

It makes a tremendous difference when children see teachers and educators who resemble themselves. Teachers of color can relate to young people in ways that white teachers sometimes cannot — due to different environments growing up, different economic situations, and different traditions and customs. As students, it is relieving to talk to people who have walked in our shoes and understand our struggles.

This is especially important within predominantly white institutions. Sometimes teachers of color are the only solace and support students of color can turn to when they are stressed. It alleviates pressure off students of color from having to explain to their white educators why they feel overwhelmed, or serve as “educators” to their peers when discussing sensitive topics such as racism, prejudice, and discrimination. In addition to having more teachers of color in schools, making sure that educators are trained in anti-racist teaching will help young people feel seen and heard.

Our education officials need to be cognizant of the opportunity gaps between urban and suburban schools — an issue that’s been discussed for decades now.

On that same note, hiring more teachers who are part of the LGBTQ community or have queer/homosexual identities serves the same purpose. This is especially important for children who are coming to terms with their sexualities, and realizing that there is nothing wrong with identifying outside the heterosexual norm.

Photo by Juan Carlos Becerra on Unsplash

Equitable school funding

Our education officials need to be cognizant of the opportunity gaps between urban and suburban schools — an issue that’s been discussed for decades now. It is vital that equitable funding for public schools is prioritized so that all young people can receive the best quality education. Students in public schools should not be forced to suffer in underfunded districts and be deprived of learning opportunities their peers experience in wealthy communities.

Mental health supports and discipline reform

We urge you to support policies that combat the school-to-prison pipeline. This involves finding alternatives to disciplinary practices like suspensions and expulsions, and providing mental health education and services that are culturally accessible nationwide. Similar to the importance of hiring BIPOC educators, students need better representation in mental health supports, guidance counselors, and social workers.

Education standards that apply to real-world learning

Too often, our learning and classes are tied to meeting vague standards that do not relate to skills we will need in our daily lives. It is important that standards are tied to real-world learning and skills that will be applicable throughout college and career.

Miguel Cardona, we wish you all the best as you transition into your new role. We look forward to hearing more about your ideas to improve our nation’s education system, and hope to work with you in building a better future for America’s youth.

Sincerely,

Milagros Pena, Elevated Thought, Lawrence, Mass., Community Advisor to the Nellie Mae Education Foundation

Helen German-Vargas, Elevated Thought, Lawrence, Mass., Community Advisor to the Nellie Mae Education Foundation


A Letter from Our Youth Advisors was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.