From October 16 to October 19, 2023, Borealis Philanthropy joined over 1,200 fellow funders and movement leaders at CHANGE Philanthropy’s 2023 Unity Summit in Los Angeles. The conference created space for individuals and institutions to deepen their practices in advancing equity with an intersectional lens. 

Staff from five of our nine funds—the Black-Led Movement Fund (BLMF), Communities Transforming Policing Fund (CTPF), the Disability Inclusion Fund (DIF), the Emerging LGBTQ Leaders of Color Fund (ELLC Fund), and the Spark Justice Fund (SJF)—presented sessions alongside funder and grantee partners that spoke to the:

  • Intersections of anti-criminalization work, 
  • BIPOC movement organizing, and 
  • Disability, gender, and reproductive justice. 

We’ve recapped our week at Unity and are excited to share some of the key takeaways for philanthropy.

Our week began with a pre-summit all-day institute co-sponsored by the CTPF and Funders for Justice, which featured seven panel discussions. The institute explored how police fraternities, using labor’s union strategizing methods, have methodically embedded themselves into every system of power—economy, law, mass media, politics, public policy—creating an environment in which they undermine democracy, abuse vulnerable communities, and effectively criminalize work in pursuit of racial, gender, and economic justice. 

The sessions featured many of the movement organizers leading this work in their communities. We learned from activists who successfully shut down detention centers that criminalize migrants; who are fighting one fight for gender and reproductive justice in the face of police-led sexual and gendered violence; and from youth organizers working to get police out of schools

Some highlights from their conversation below.
For the protection of our panelists, we are not attributing quotes.

“You can’t talk about defunding the police if you’re not talking about police unions. ”

“Police represent a supreme form of toxic masculinity.”

“Cop City intends to be the School of the Americas not just for this country – but for policing around the world.”

The ELLC Fund hosted a Unity Summit panel discussion, “What’s at Stake: Funding to Build Power for Bodily Autonomy and Liberation,” with panelists Dr. Krystal Redman (Executive Director at SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW), TC Caldwell (Community Engagement Director at The Knights & Orchids Society), and Jennifer Agmi (senior program officer at Libra Foundation). The panel explored the road forward for reproductive justice, trans justice, and bodily autonomy and what role funders can play in growing movement power and solitary beyond the moment. 

Some highlights from their conversation below.
For the protection of our panelists, we are not attributing quotes.

“There’s a weaponizing of courts and language because now you can get felonies for things like helping people get gender-affirming care or access to reproductive care/abortion. We need to fund the offense.” 

“There’s an influx of people doing repro work who don’t look like us but they get the funding. Funders are moving at the speed of trust and only trust folks that look like the people they associate with.”

“We think that our response to repair is to give a one-time grant as if that just relieves us. And we see this in all movements. We saw this in the racial justice movement, we saw this in COVID…But then three years later no one’s talking about Dobbs, trans justice work, erasure of trans people. That’s not hitting the mainstream media, so we’re not talking about it. And when we’re not talking about it, funders don’t fund it. Philanthropy doesn’t think that their liberation is tied to trans liberation.”

“The Right also understands intersectionality, which is how they are effective. They understand the connection between gender-affirming care and comprehensive reproductive care, which is more than abortion. It’s sex ed, postpartum care. The Left has not understood how to do that.”

The SJF hosted a Unity Summit panel session, “Lessons Learned From the Right!,” which further explored how the Right strategically invests in research, messaging, and policy to build power and harm marginalized communities. Featuring panelists Saqib Bhatti (Co-founder at the Action Center on Race & the Economy), Sade Dumas (Program Director at the SJF), Dee Dee Green (Eye on Surveillance), and maisha quint (Senior Program Officer at Libra Foundation), the panel discussed how progressive philanthropy can harness its collective power to build long term support for transformational grassroots organizing, and pitfalls to avoid when co-conspiring for change. 

Some highlights from their conversation are below. 

“A two-year general operating grant will not erase hundreds of years of harm against our communities. The Koch brothers funded conservative organizing for decades. We have to play the long game.” – Sade Dumas

“Abortion opponents have been funding small, local anti-abortion efforts for more than three decades and Roe got overturned. We need a long-term funding commitment from philanthropy for our movement.” – Dee Dee Green

“The right knows that race is central to their organizing. But our side … always says let’s not be divisive and compromise. Then it’s always Black and Brown folks that get left out.” – Saqib Bhatti

“Philanthropy must ground itself in the history of our movements. We can’t keep talking about the work as if people haven’t lived and died for this work for hundreds of years. The strategy is already there.” – maisha quint

For more highlights from this panel discussion, check out our live post thread on X. Be on the lookout for a virtual repeat of the session in early 2024.

Finally, the DIF hosted two Unity Summit panels in partnership with the Presidents’ Council for Disability Inclusion in Philanthropy and the BLMF. 

The first session, “More Than a Toolkit: How Disability Justice Advances Equity for All,” featured panelists Ryan Easterly (Executive Director at WITH Foundation and Co-chair of the Presidents’ Council of the Disability & Philanthropy Forum), Fiona Kanagasingam (Vice President of Equity & Culture at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation), Sandy Ho (Program Director at the DIF) and was moderated by Yomi Wrong (disability justice consultant). Together, they tackled the question of where philanthropy needs to go and how disability justice can get us there. 

Some highlights from their conversation below. 

“Before we go anywhere, we have to come to the understanding that we leave no bodies behind. Before we go anywhere, let’s understand that our liberation is bound together.” – Sandy Ho 

“Disability justice is a disruptive framework. It is designed to make folks uncomfortable, as it calls out white supremacy, xenophobia, ableism. It draws connections between capitalism, white supremacy, and ableism. Who can produce, who can’t produce?” – Yomi Wrong

“A lot of the funders that are more progressive and veterans in disability inclusion philanthropy are smaller funders. So, how do we further the work without extracting continuously from smaller funders to serve larger organizations?” – Ryan Easterly 

The DIF’s second session, “Black Disabled Liberation: A Story About Funding Cross-Movement Power,” co-sponsored by the BLMF, emphasized the compounded impact of intersectional funding from the lens of disability justice, and was moderated by Krista Scott (Senior Program Officer at the RWJF), and featured panelists Ashley Crawford Starck (Program Officer at Borealis’ Black-Led Movement Fund), Nikki Brown-Booker (Program Officer at the DIF), and Yomi Wrong. Some highlights from their conversation below. 

“Ableism so often underpins racism and anti-Blackness … You cannot wait until the last-minute to focus on accessibility. It has to be step one of any process.” – Ashley Crawford-Starck

“Intersectionality helps us understand place, what’s happening in that place, the conditions leading to those happenings.” – Yomi Wrong

“In philanthropy we like to pretend like we know what the community needs. But no. I’m going to go to the community and let them tell me what they need.” – Nikki-Brown Booker

For more highlights from this panel discussion, check out our live post thread on X. 

In addition to all the learning we did together, one of the best parts about our experience at Unity Summit was getting to spend time together with our Borealis community and movement community at-large. We hosted Justice and Joy – a reception to build community and solidarity with fellow funders over hors d’oeuvres and music – with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

We ate yummy food around LA, attended a Janelle Monae concert, and got treated to a fabulous ballroom performance in the conference’s closing plenary! 

In short, we paired our work of necessary justice with joy and returned to our work reenergized. This is what we’re seeking for our grantee partners. It’s what we’re funding. 

At Borealis, we understand all it takes to make progressive change. Not just the money, but the dedication of energy and time, because we hear our grantee partners tell us how much they’re relinquishing for what can sometimes feel like only mild, progressive change. True commitment to liberation requires that we, as funders, listen to, trust, and invest in the leadership of those most impacted—and provide long-term, stable, and flexible funding to sustain and strengthen the work of their organizations.

Borealis Philanthropy congratulates 2023 Unity Summit hosts, CHANGE Philanthropy, and its ten partner organizations, AAPIP, ABFE, EPIP, Funders for LGBTQ Issues, HIP, NAP, NCRP, NFG, PRE and WFN, on an informative, and impactful convening. We are honored to be in relationship with you as peers and supporters.