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Rectangular banner image with light green background and illustration of red flowers across the bottom. Black text reads Exploring SJFs new organizational values. Abundance

Check out Valériana’s speech at SJF’s 45th Birthday Party in October, 2023; her speech, which addresses many of the themes in this blog post, brought down the house!

Content warning: this blog post references abuse, gender-based violence, death, and anti-Black violence.

My name is Valériana Chikoti Bandua Estes. I am a deeply melanated Black woman with disabilities and identities that are visible and invisible. I hail from the Ovimbundu peoples of the southern Bantu peoples of the Republic of Angola. I am a former Refugee who was born in Zambia and subsequently raised in Papua New Guinea. My immigration journey, with its many ebbs and flows, has brought me here to this moment at SJF’s Executive Director.

As a survivor of childhood violence, early on in my life I had to learn how to interrupt the cascade of severe harm I carried, rooted in my experience of abuse and oppression based on my identity and gender. I had no choice but to lean deeply into reimagining what life could look like on the other side of oppression, on the other side of scarcity, and on the other side of the calamities aimed at Black communities I witnessed at a young age. I felt that to survive there had to be a bountiful well of resources in the future that would pave the way for survivors and victims of oppression and violence to be able to heal and center radical wellness structures that did not include the parameters of white supremacist oppression.

By the time I graduated high school, my dreams and vision of abundance became scarce when, in a span of three months, my Father, my Uncle, and my Grandfather passed away. The grief had its hand in sending me into a spiral of one of the deepest forms of depression I have had to navigate. That journey of grief led to my physical displacement, being unhoused and experiencing scarcity, food insecurity, little to no financial resources, and fear of the future and what would come next. It would take a trip to Angola to bury my loved ones to reignite my vision of abundance. Prompted by love from my ancestors who continued to visit me in my dreams, I woke again to the north star of abundance; they reminded me that this dream did not just belong to me, but was the collective vision of those whose lives were cut short by colonial anti-Black oppression, of those who had no say in being transported through the slave trade to the Americas and beyond, of those who led the way for me to be where I am today. They kept reminding me about the mother wound of violence that often goes unaddressed by folks like myself, those on immigrant journeys into this country due to the years of colonization, country instability, and civil war. Yet I cannot go on without naming that if I want to lean into a Black liberation lens, I must also come to terms with what my role in the diaspora needs to look like, so I can more meaningfully stand in solidarity with my Black community in the Americas and beyond who experienced deep betrayal from families and community members. This acknowledgement comes from the well of abundance created by elders who shared stories of those in my family and community who were forcibly taken even while trying to fight for freedom.

As an adult, I leaned into human rights-related work, which led me to deeply examine the disparities in the movement to eliminate gender-based violence. I asked the quiet question out loud: why were Black victims and survivors being sidelined or erased from the forefront of a movement that has centered practices and ideas from Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, and Marsha P. Johnson? The culture of depletion created by greed and the hoarding of wealth and resources had leached into movement spaces. In 2020, three months before the public lynching of George Floyd, I learned that speaking openly about interrupting anti-Black conditions for victims and survivors and challenging funders and white-led leadership in the movement against gender-based violence would come at a professional cost to me. A cost which now looking back was again led by the dreams of my ancestors, who led me to re-examine the importance of doing this work in alignment with those who believe in Black liberation led practices, and naturally that road led me to joining forces working with folks at SJF a year after the civil rights uprisings.

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In this blog post I will share how abundance and its unfolding story is central to how we can collectively approach the work of Black liberation and to how we can end our on-and-off-again relationship with scarcity. What lies on the other side of scarcity is daring, it is bold, it is unwaveringly inclusive, and it is loud.

Scarcity in the movement for social justice

To better understand the framework of abundance, we must explore how scarcity shows up in our movement, especially in philanthropy. Scarcity is rooted in an ideology of fear and the belief that there are not enough resources to go around. It can be found in conversations driven by pessimism and an emphasis on pragmatism over values, in decision-making processes held through the lens of privilege and power, and in grantmaking processes that are ambiguous, non-transparent, and exclusive to only a select few communities that are palatable to white supremacy.

Scarcity operates through a structure of fear and limitations; it seeks to destabilize creativity and visions that are expansive and daring. Where scarcity believes that there aren’t enough resources or supplies, abundance operates from the standpoint that there is more than enough for everyone, that there is room to provide a well of possible outcomes that lead to flourishing.

The culture of scarcity is not foreign to Black communities. When they were rallied around heavily in 2020, it was as though a new world order was declared—folks from all walks of life took to the streets to say “Black lives matter.” Businesses, foundations, and organizations leapt at the chance to put up BLM signs and share public commitments to move money to Black-led organizations and community groups and Black individuals. The spirit of abundance felt as though it had collided with a new civil rights chapter and heavy white guilt to create an outpouring of grants for small Black businesses, communities, and Black-led movements. It revealed to Black communities that the hoarding of wealth, resources, and knowledge had not just been a conspiracy theory shared during a family cookout by a cousin who is obsessed with Reddit threads. The hoarding has been by design, and what we have seen, three years on, is that many institutions and funders have chosen to sunset their focus on interrupting anti-Black oppression and prioritizing Black-led movements. Many of these funders defend their choice to shift away from funding Black-led movements by claiming they are focusing on other areas of social disparity and injustice that have been neglected. Which is puzzling because at the heart of almost all root issues in America is the erasure and exploitation of Black and Native communities.

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To divorce ourselves from interrupting anti-Black oppression is to prescribe Tylenol to a sick patient who is on the verge of a heart attack and in need of heart surgery. Let us collectively ask ourselves: is the fear of scarcity rooted in the fear of Black and Native communities – including queer and trans folks, unhoused folks, sex workers, and deeply melanated Black folks with disabilities — having the power and autonomy to be able to actually have an abundance of resources that creates room for healing spaces, initiatives, and endless possibilities that are outside the realm and control of white supremacist interference? Is the fear of abundance actually rooted in the possibility of historically oppressed communities living, breathing and functioning outside of the control of white folks, white systems, white institutions who have historically always held power and been the decision makers on who has access to resources?

Unearthing scarcity at SJF

In the fall of 2021, we as a staff began the journey of unearthing internal practices rooted in scarcity, which held us back from an abundance of wellness and expressed themselves through compassion fatigue. The belief that in this movement we must work non-stop, to the bone, and not care for our bodies and our loved ones is an example of how the nonprofit industrial complex leaves little to no room to tend to our rest, our grief, our loved ones, and our lives beyond the roles we hold in the workplace. This led SJF to shift course from a five-day work week to a four-day work week and winding down in December to have a month off for restoration.

We embarked on a year-long journey to redo our internal staff handbook and reorient our policies to lean into the Black liberation we continue to strive for. This was an abundant process that also invited us to explore our past history with the tensions and challenges that arise when a group of people with a variety of lived experiences and perspectives but a shared desire to do this work well are held back by scarcity: by conflict avoidance and not being fully equipped to address, challenge, and shift our collective course to follow our north star.

To embody abundance in our grants and grantmaking processes, we strive to honor the people power, relationships, time, and resources that go into moving money, both internally with SJF’s staff and externally with our applicants and grantees. From our Rapid Response & Seed grants and sponsorship opportunities to our Giving Projects grants and other grant cycles, we invest an incredible amount of time in exploring how abundance can unfold. We see an abundance of knowledge to learn from in our internal network at SJF and also the external relationships that we grow with our grantees, grassroot communities, individual donors and funders. Even more importantly, abundance opens the door for deep curiosity in the needs of our grantee community and requires us to examine the intentionality of the pool of resources we make available—are they expansive? Do they meet the needs of our grantees? For the last couple of years, this has also led us to intentionally facilitate 1-2 Giving Projects per year—instead of the 4+ we used to hold—to offer avenues for our staff to move at a speed that’s more in the spirit of long-term abundance. We recognize that we are still evolving, we have not arrived and we still have strides to make to honor abundance in a way that fully interrupts scarcity. For this value we want to balance how the practice of abundance should be exercised internally so that externally we are doing our best to live, breathe, and share it with our community more fiercely.

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How has abundance changed SJF?

Abundance has given us an opportunity to lean deeply into wellness, care, and structures that provide a level of agency to humanize the lives we live, and support our households and the communities we belong to. For our grantees, it has allowed us to begin to strengthen our relationships and ability to listen to them, to honor the lived experiences they share with us, and ask our donors and funders to recognize that the pursuit of our collective abundance is a call to turn white supremacy on its head and give towards resourcing transformative change.

I believe committing to abundance means that we have an uncharted path before us as an organization. At times, our conversations about abundance have been and will be weighted, because moving money audaciously requires audacious decisions to be made. Committing to this allows us to encourage other funders to examine how their giving could (and should!) include funding to support grantee infrastructure and staffing so that folks are paid well with benefits to do this work sustainably.

I have learnt that while resistance and challenges may come, for this chapter in SJF I am rooted in the desire to live, breathe, and follow a north star that fully ignites the path our grantees are making and walking on; I’m committed to bringing our board members, individual donors, and funders along with me. It is our responsibility and honor to provide the resources to ensure that path is lit so the work grassroots organizers undertake will flourish without the vacuum of scarcity that depletes the dreams of communities held back and violated by centuries of oppression.

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Felecia Phillips Ollie DD (h.c.) is the inspiring leader and founder of The Equality Network LLC (TEN). With a background in coaching, travel, and a career in news, Felecia brings a unique perspective to promoting diversity and inclusion. Holding a Bachelor's Degree in English/Communications, she is passionate about creating a more inclusive future. From graduating from Mississippi Valley State University to leading initiatives like the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Equal Employment Opportunity Program, Felecia is dedicated to making a positive impact. Join her journey on our blog as she shares insights and leads the charge for equity through The Equality Network.

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