In January 2022, we interviewed Sandy Ho and Nikki Brown-Booker of the Disability Inclusion Fund about what brings them to this work and how they see the role of the DIF.
Please share your name, preferred pronoun/s, where you’re located, and your astrological & zodiac signs.
Sandy: I’m Sandy Ho (she/her). I’m based in Boston, MA. Libra, tiger.
Nikki: I’m Nikki Brown-Booker (she/her). I’m located in Oakland, CA. Taurus, horse.
Tell us a little about yourself. What brings you to this work and Borealis Philanthropy?
Sandy: Like many grassroots disabled organizers, activists, and researchers in the funding space I come to this work as a former grantee. I founded the Disability & Intersectionality Summit and was most recently a disability policy researcher at the Community Living Policy Center. Throughout my journey, disability justice has always been the framework that guides me, including in this new role. I see philanthropy as instrumental in resourcing and supporting building power across the disability movement, particularly among marginalized BIPOC disabled leaders and advocacy groups.
As a sector, philanthropy has a historical (and ongoing…) legacy of perpetuating ableism. While I’m energized by some of the changes we’re seeing, I am committed to the ongoing work needed to dismantle ableism within our own practices to improve the ways we move resources to grassroots disabled movement leaders.
Nikki: Like Sandy, I come to this work as a disability justice activist and community organizer. Before joining Borealis and the philanthropic sector, I was trained and worked as a psychotherapist. On an individual level, I worked with a lot of people with disabilities struggling with where their place in the world was. Trying to address that question, on a macro level, brought me to community organizing. In philanthropy, we get to resource work that builds and shifts power among people with disabilities, while also getting to influence the way the sector works.
What’s your role at the DIF? What do you do?
Sandy: My role as the director is being a strategic bridge builder. The DIF’s ways of resourcing focuses on building capacity and expanding access to power within the disability justice movement. I will be working across movements to identify opportunities where we can strengthen disability representation and leadership in overlapping areas of movements, and continue to lift up the innovative work of disability justice movement leaders. Working with donor partners, my role is to help facilitate and cultivate an understanding of disability justice, and the multitude of ways resourcing this movement of innovative grassroots disabled leaders will deepen their existing work as funders in social justice.
Nikki: I’m the program officer of the Disability Inclusion Fund. In my role, I focus on the grantmaking process as well as working with grantees directly to figure out how we as a fund can best help grantees build their capacity.
How is the Disability Inclusion Fund different?
Sandy: The values and principles of the DIF are disability justice and inclusion values that come directly from the movement, and the priorities that disabled leaders are moving forward into the future. The DIF recognizes the field of disability justice and inclusion as movements that hold historical, cultural, and politicized importance for everyone, and the work being done moves us all closer to liberation from ableism across all justice movements.
Nikki: The DIF is informed by the disability justice movement in some key ways, including using a participatory grantmaking model. The community gives the Fund direction and helps inform our vision.
How does your identity or background inform and influence your work and view of the disability justice movement?
Sandy: My mom was born in Hanoi, Vietnam and grew up in the midst of a war and a cultural revolution, and my dad is from Hong Kong. Being part of my family has meant being part of trying to figure out how we can be heard within and support our communities. I also have chosen queer family who have taught me the importance of politicized pride, and what that has meant for queer people of color in particular. The lens I bring into this work has always been about collective access and liberation for all of us from ableism and discrimination.
Nikki: I am biracial black and Filipino and I come from a family that has always instilled in me the values of justice and caring for your community. My maternal grandfather organized farmworkers with Cesar Chavez, my father was part of the SEIU union as a chef. Both of my parents were active in the civil rights movement and my mom even went to an organizing dinner with Malcolm X. Fighting for justice is in my blood. As a person of color with a disability I have experienced first hand discrimination and injustice so feel it is part of who I am to do this work.
What excites you about being part of the DIF team?
Sandy: Borealis Philanthropy immediately felt like another home for disability justice movement building! Already within my first few weeks, many of my new colleagues were eager to explore ways we could potentially work together in cross-funding partnerships, and it is such an honor to be among a team that understands disability justice is central and necessary to other justice-led movement areas that Borealis is supporting.
Nikki: It’s really personally satisfying to be part of a team that’s made up of people with disabilities and to serve a community of people with disabilities. Being a part of Borealis at large is also really exciting – as an organization that’s really putting their resources and influence in a way that’s aligned with values and helping serve powerful movements.
What are you looking forward to doing together?
Sandy: We hope to expand the capacity of our grantees and grassroots disability justice movement leaders in ways that are committed to prioritizing BIPOC disabled leaders and will lift up their joy, ingenuity, and ways of collective care.
Also I recently learned that Nikki is also an avid baseball fan. Coming from Boston, I’m of course all about the Red Sox. But I was really excited to learn that Nikki is a Giants and A’s fan. So hopefully we can someday attend a game together one day!
Nikki: Continuing to support all of the great work that is being done by our grantees and the disability justice movement. They are all doing work that is transforming the disability justice movement and I feel very privileged to be able to contribute to this progress.