Healing is Justice: How funders respond

 

Shaena Johnson

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We’re at an important crossroads in this political moment. The rise of police brutality and the rampant increase of transphobic, anti-Black, and anti-immigrant violence are being met with a new generation of grassroots LGBTQI organizers whose leadership development has been rooted in healing justice, and funders need to catch up!

Astraea has always been committed to culture, healing, and resilience in movements. Healing justice, though we didn’t always call it that, has been central to our work since our origins. Yet, for the past decade, we have seen organizers in the US increasingly working to revive and practice ancestral traditions and building new organizing models that center safety and wellbeing. These models are community-led and self-determined, outside of state control, and intervening in trauma from multiple forms of violence. We heard grassroots organizers ask themselves, and we asked ourselves as a community funder: How do we take care of our people? How do we sustain and nourish organizers and movements for the long haul? What do we need to bring about safety and wellbeing as part of our liberation?

In 2017, on the heels of the 2016 administration’s setbacks, we reached out to our US grantee partners and asked them what their most urgent needs were and how we could support their sustainability. The top two needs were mental health/wellness support for organizational leaders and community members, and holistic security support to keep members and organizations safe.

We responded by creating intentional spaces of learning, practice, and support for healing justice. We organized strategy meetings, convenings and ultimately invited grantee partners to apply for dedicated support for healing justice work, grants of about $3000 – $5000 that supported a range of projects: training staff and organizers on how to better support community members experiencing trauma; facilitating retreats on how to more fully integrate healing work into programming; incorporating healing justice methodology into political education curricula, and creating community-specific healer networks.

In May 2019 we launched the report ‘Healing Justice: Building Power and Transforming Movements’ — a collection of stories, learnings, and recommendations that lifts up resiliency and survival practices as part of our collective liberation. A strong learning was how place-based this work is and needs to be, despite the reality that everyone is grappling with the same national forces and trends. In the past, funders have tried a one-size-fits-all approach to respond to issues. Yet, the importance of understanding the people you serve is increased if, as a funder, you have a healing justice mandate. Healing justice shows up differently in different areas and it’s not necessary for funders to understand the practices themselves, but rather to respect the local context.

I’m from the US South, and in New Orleans, people throw parties after funerals, and that is considered a healing practice. There is a ‘first-line’ which is the actual funeral, and a ‘second-line’ – the procession hosted by Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs, a fundraising mechanism used to pay for the funeral and sustain and nurture the families of the deceased. A funder in Seattle may not understand this, but a funder from the South recognizes this as healing community work.

As funders, we need to trust the work that has been happening long before; ‘second lines’ are over 100 years old for example. Healing Justice practices need to be incorporated into every aspect of grantmaking, including getting feedback from grantees about accessibility, language justice, and access to technology. As funders, we need to practice this work ourselves. As Adaku Utah from Harriet’s Apothecary said in the report, ‘It’s also important that funders are in practice. None of us escape trauma and violence. We are all impacted by violence and systems of domination and oppression. We are what we practice and so when we stop the natural process of healing from what is happening or we disengage or actively choose not to ground ourselves inside of healing practices… we end up replicating systems of domination that cause harm’. We need to resource this work, and also build our own practices and understanding in order to be better participants in the ecosystem of the fight for collective liberation.

To read more about healing justice, what we learned from activists, and additional recommendations for funders, please visit ‘Healing Justice: Building Power, Transforming Movements’.

Shaena Johnson is Program Officer at Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice


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