This Black Futures Month, we are reflecting on the ways in which self-care has long been intricately intertwined with perseverance, resilience, and Black liberation.
While the holistic needs of Black communities have always been a part of Black resistance, the term “self care” gained widespread recognition when it was adopted by civil rights leaders in the 1960’s, who recognized its crucial role in sustaining themselves, their communities, and their organizing efforts in the face of immense racial and political violence. It was not seen as a luxury, but rather an essential tool to help sustain and propel the movement for freedom and equity.
As Black warrior and poet Audre Lorde wrote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare”.
Seeing self-care as central to their organizing, former Black Panther Party leaders Angela Davis and Ericka Huggins practiced yoga and meditation while they were political prisoners, and continued to voice the vital role of radical self-care and wellness in sustaining movements for years to come. The Black Panther Party also developed over 60 Community Survival Programs across the country to make up for a lack of critical social services, as well as defend against the violence, surveillance, and political persecution that Black and other marginalized groups faced from the local and federal government.
In 1967, Fannie Lou Hammer, a trailblazer for Black liberation, formed the Freedom Farms Cooperative to address resource disparities experienced by Black families in Mississippi. At its peak, the co-op spanned 680 acres, enabling 1,500 predominantly Black families to live, work, and grow their own food together. Even in some of the most dangerous of places, Black grassroots movements have demonstrated their unwavering resilience and commitment to healing and collective care, underscoring that well-being is essential to surviving, and upending, white supremacy.
Today, the fight to dismantle systems of oppression and violence persists. Black folks continue to experience police violence at a disproportionate rate, Black trans women and GNC people are overrepresented in fatalities driven by trans antagonism, and our civil liberties continue to erode with the striking down of affirmative action and restrictive voting laws being passed, which will disproportionately harm Black communities.
Black grassroots organizers are on the frontlines of it all, fighting so we can all live with dignity, justice, and joy. Facing this constant resistance puts even the most steadfast activists at the highest risks of retraumatization, burnout, and exhaustion.
“They want us unwell, fearful, exhausted, and without deep self-love,” artist and poet, Tricia Hersey reminds us, because we are easier to manipulate when “distracted by what is not real or true.” Like the civil rights leaders before us, Borealis Philanthropy believes that holding space for healing and restoration is essential to maintaining the endurance and resilience of our movements.
As funders, we have a vital responsibility to equip Black organizers—and especially disabled and queer and trans Black organizers—with the capacity and resources needed to bolster their efforts, and to locate space for healing and rest.
Here are a few ways we’ve led this work at Borealis Philanthropy:
- Our Communities for Transforming Policing Fund launched the Healing Justice and Community Care Fund to support grantees. As defined by the Fund, healing justice follows the definitions outlined by Cara Page and Erica Woodland’s Healing Justice Lineages: Dreaming at the Crossroads of Liberation, Collective Care, and Safety. The funding was used to resource mental health support for organizers, support for survivors of police violence of families of victims of police violence, resources for groups to have community care, rest, and to travel to healing spaces.
- The Disability Inclusion Fund granted over $400,000 in Joy Grants to 43 disability-led organizations operating at the forefront of the disability justice, rights, and inclusion movement. The grants are intended to expand the capacity of community organizations to rest and reflect on movement strategies, strengthen and foster community relationship-building, and support access to collective life-affirming experiences.
- Throughout 2024, the Fund for Trans Generations is hosting monthly coaching sessions for their grantees to hold space for peer learning and strategic innovations and to collectively navigate challenges that can’t be resolved solely through funding; it also includes ways in which organizers can practice boundaries, self-care, and collective care.
- Our Spark Justice Fund’s Healing for Liberation series, grounded in Black, Queer, Feminist, and abolitionist views, equipped grantee partners with healing justice principles, organizational healing norms, and rituals to sustain their spirits. This empowered them to integrate healing justice into their organizing strategies as a tool for liberation.
How Can Funders Support Self Care?
As funders, it is our responsibility to fund more than just organizing work—we must fund the health and wellness of the people who put their spirits and bodies on the line to lead it. And supporting the wellness of Black grassroots leaders and organizers cannot be limited to Black Futures Month, Black History Month, or at political flashpoints, such as the 2020 racial justice uprisings. Doing so is central to our fight for liberation—because our joy and freedom are only accessible through our healing. If you’re a funder, here’s what you can do to authentically commit yourself to this work:
- Follow the community’s lead when it comes to understanding how to best care for oneself, tend to one’s community, and secure one’s freedom. In short, let folks define liberatory and healing work for themselves.
- Offer unrestricted and flexible funding so that organizers can move money quickly and freely to address not only their communities’ most urgent needs but also to care for themselves.
- Establish a dedicated fund to cover health and wellness for Black activists and organizers, and particularly for Black organizers of intersecting identities.
- Integrate disability justice and healing justice as core principles within your organization to ensure that your organizational practices are truly inclusive and center the well-being of all intersections of the Black experience.
Together, we can transform what it looks like to do philanthropy, making rest and wellbeing a core tenant within our field. If you are interested in supporting the wellbeing, resilience, and liberation of Black communities and grassroots leaders by partnering with—and learning from—the community of donors at Borealis, please contact Maya Berkowitz at email@example.com.