In April, Borealis Philanthropy joined over 600 co-conspirators—fellow funders and movement leaders— for ABFE Harambee Conference in St. Louis. Set against the backdrop of Missouri’s rich cultural heritage and significant historical moments—including the Dred Scott case, Michael Brown’s murder, and the subsequent Ferguson Uprising—Harambee, meaning “all pull together,” was not only a gathering, but a catalyst for radical visioning and collaboration.

Leaders representing our Black-Led Movement Fund (BLMF), Communities Transforming Policing Fund (CTPF), Emerging LGBTQ+ Leaders of Color (ELLC) Fund, Fund for Trans Generations (FTG), tRacial Equity in Journalism (REJ) Fund, and Spark Justice Fund (SJF) were honored to be attendance, and put forward learnings gleaned from the wisdom of grassroots movements for justice.

Over several days, our funds hosted a number of sessions that explored:

  • Centering community wisdom through narrative power building, movement-defined learning, and collective reclamation to radically shift philanthropy’s approach.
  • Resourcing care and informed leadership development for Black, queer, trans,  and formerly incarcerated communities as a critical investment in our collective liberation.
  • How Black-led collaborative funds are empowering equitable funding by mobilizing resources to chronically underfunded Black folks living and organizing at the intersections of identities.
  • The road ahead for reproductive justice, trans justice, bodily autonomy, and the role funders can play in growing movement power and solidarity.

We’ve recapped some of the learnings coming out of these sessions, and are sharing them in the hopes that they spark curiosity, clarity, and love for you in your own work, as our co-conspirators in resourcing free and joyful futures.

Power of the People: Sourcing Communal
Knowledge to Fund Autonomous Futures

In this session moderated by REJ Fund Program Director Alicia Bell, panelists Dominique Morgan of our FTG, Shawnda Chapman of Ms. Foundation for Women, and Deshaneir King of Women on the Rise highlighted the power of uplifting the community’s stories to shift philanthropy’s approach to impact radically, center community intelligence, and collective reclamation: 

“There’s an abundance of ideas and an abundance of vision, so it’s critical that people fighting for liberation and safety are able to tell the truth.”
– Alicia Bell, Borealis’ Racial Equity in Journalism Fund

“The language has shifted around how we hold people. Incarceration is a way in which we’ve seen language become more humane. From convict to formally incarcerated, for example. This is a result from sharing stories.”
Deshaneir King, Women on the Rise

“There shouldn’t be a disproportionate impact to telling the truth, so there should be care following the truth.”

Shawnda Chapman, Ms. Foundation for Women

“Sharing narrative and sharing a story is not a privilege – it’s a right.”

Dominique Morgan, Borealis’ Fund for Trans Generations 

From left to right, Racial Equity in Inclusion Program Director Alicia Bell, Deshaneir King of Women on the Rise, Shawnda Chapman of Ms. Foundation for Women, and FTG Program Director Dominique Morgan, are standed and posed laughing , holding up piece sign, and “smizing” at the camera. Dominique Morgan, with long red hair, wears a pink patterned blazer. Shawnda Chapman’s hair is in locs and is wearing a black and white blouse. Deshaneir King has long dark braids, And Alicia Bell wears a black sleeveless dress.

Scaling Care: Abundantly Supporting Leaders
Today, as an Investment in Tomorrow

In this session, SJF’s Sade Dumas, FTG’s Dominique Morgan, and ELLC Fund’s Nichelle Brunnerdelved into proactively resourcing care and informed leadership development for Black, Trans, LGBTQ+, and formerly incarcerated communities. 

From left to right, Sade Dumas, Dominique Morgan, and Nichelle Brunner, Program Directors of the SJF, FTG, and ELLC Fund, stand in front of a presentation screen at the 2024 Annual Harambee Conference. Sade is wearing a red dress, Dominique is in an off-the-shoulder dress with a black belt, and Nichelle is in a red dress

They stressed the importance of aligning leadership with vision, capacity, and resources, leveraging existing assets intelligently, prioritizing care in leadership transitions, and challenging internalized capitalism and gendered assumptions within institutions:

“In our movements, there is no liberation without care, and centering [our grantee’s] needs.”
Nichelle Brunner, Borealis’ Emerging LGBTQ Leaders of Color Fund

“[It’s essential to] create a culture where folks are encouraged to ask for help.”
Sade Dumas, Borealis’ Spark Justice Fund

“I’m not going to judge you because you don’t know [how to fund trans-led worlds], but I’m going to hold you accountable to take the opportunity to learn.” 
Dominique Morgan, Borealis’ Fund for Trans Generations

Collaborative Advantage: Black Collaborative
Funds Advancing Equitable Funding

An interview with Marc Philpart of the California Black Freedom Fund–moderated by FTG’s Dominique Morgan–shed light on the transformative impact of centering Black voices and empowering Black folks living at the intersections of multiple identities and how that can reshape grantmaking and social change strategies:

“Our vision [of a Black Future] is repair, self-determination, and liberation. We are working to ensure our communities have decision-making power: healthy schools, access to care, being safe, and access to jobs.”
Marc Philpart, California Black Freedom Fund

Marc Philpart of the California Black Freedom Fund, dressed in a dark suit, and Dominique Morgan, wearing a beige top, are seated at a conference table with microphones. Behind them is a large screen displaying the green and white Harambee Conference logo.

“We are navigating white spaces but need to divest from white spaces. In the spaces we control, where
we do not need permission, we should invest in one another, our health, and well-being. “
Dominique Morgan, Borealis’ Fund for Trans Generations

What’s at Stake: Black Bodily Freedom
Requires Funding Reproductive Justice

In this conversation,  the ELLC Fund, in collaboration with the Laughing Gull Foundation, The Knights & Orchids Society, and Nationz Foundation, discussed the need to expand views on what organizing entails and who the most vulnerable populations are.

From left to right: TC Caldwell of The Knights & Orchids Society, Zakia McKensey of Nationz Foundation, Nichelle Brunner of ELLC Fund, and Cynthia Renfro of Laughing Gull Foundation posing and smiling together. TC Caldwell is wearing a denim shirt and khaki pants, Zakiya McKenzie is in a black cardigan and yellow floral dress, Nichelle Brunner is in a brown dress, and Cynthia Renfro is in a dark pinstriped suit.

The criticality of long-term, low-constraint funding; trusting leaders with intersectional perspectives; and building intersectional gender justice movements through funding, dismantling problematic systems, rebuilding, and rejecting exclusion:

“Liberation work can be funded by philanthropy, but philanthropy alone is not the solution.
The conditions have to be ripe.” 
Nichelle Brunner, Borealis’ Emerging LGBTQ Leaders of Color Fund

“It’s important and imperative to fund with fewer constraints because it compounds with existing work, giving us more time to be on the ground. If you have biases about trans folks, then this is not the space you need to be in.”
Zakia McKensey, NationZ Foundation

Audience members watch ahead rapt with attention at the presenters outside of the frame. The woman most in focus has a orange shirt and black lanyard and high, black afro hair.

“Long-term relationships and long-term funding will keep us moving. We can’t just fund grief;
we also have to fund joy, which saves lives.”
TC Caldwell, The Knights and Orchid Society

“No more passes on forgetting all the spaces that need change. Open up your thinking around what organizing means, and who are the most vulnerable populations. What’s essential to organizing is giving to folks doing services because you have to connect with people where they are.”
Cynthia Renfro, Laughing Gull Foundation

A group of performers are on stage at the ABFE conference. In the foreground, several dancers in brightly colored garments, wearing red pants and vibrant patterns, are dancing on stage. Behind them, musicians dressed in red and white garments are seated playing the drums

In addition to the insights shared and gained, our most cherished moments were the opportunities to be in a shared, intentional, and loving space with other Black and Brown funder peers. We left this gathering with connections and fuel to move our collective work forward and reenergize and recommit to our sacred visions. 

At Borealis Philanthropy, we recognize the deep and holistic dedication required to drive transformative change. It’s not just about mobilizing abundant resources, but also about intently listening to, believing in, and investing in the leadership of those most impacted by injustice. As we nurture this work with the love, care, and unwavering commitment required, we move closer to a world where Black joy, healing, and justice reign supreme. May we carry the spirit of Harambee with us, knowing that our collective power and resilience will lead us to liberation.