Meet Ain Bailey—the new Program Officer for the Racial Equity to Accelerate Change (REACH) Fund at Borealis Philanthropy. Prior to joining Borealis, Ain was the inaug
ural Policy Fund Initiative Officer for the San Francisco Foundation’s Partnership for the Bay’s Future. Ain was also the founding lead on the SFF Shift the Narrative project, a multi-year collaborative strategy to shift the regional narrative on housing justice.
Before moving into philanthropy, Ain worked for the City of Oakland RedevelopmentAgency where for eight years she managed two infrastructure grant programs for small, local businesses. Ain was also an inaugural member of the City of Oakland GARE cohort and was instrumental in building out city-wide racial equity teams and training program. Read her full bio here.
We talked to Ain about what led her to this role, what she is most excited about for the REACH Fund, and why racial equity work is meaningful to her.
What brings you to your work at Borealis?
I am above all else personally and professionally committed to racial equity as a strategy for transformation. As a futurist, I dream of and actively work toward a future devoid of false constructs like race and their very real, often fatal impacts in favor of a society where the collective goal of humanity is to live in harmony with the planet and with one another. I believe that racial justice is one of the levers that will move us as a human race closer to the true potential that we all represent, separate from the oppressive and extractive ways of being that currently hold all of us back.
I am excited to join Borealis to collaborate with and learn from the expertise of those with lived experience who are stewarding the work.
What are you eager to start working on for the REACH Fund?
I am eager to get a better understanding of the exciting work that our existing grantees have been doing while also looking for dynamic organizations to broaden and enhance our current cohort. I look forward to meeting our 2019 grantees, engaging our 2020 grantees, and helping to create an expanded REACH cohort environment that promotes shared learning, connection, and collaboration amongst REACH grantees, and with the racial equity field at large.
I have been lucky enough to work in diverse cultural work environments in a number of fields and white supremacy is consistently the dominant frame guiding both the mission-driven external work and the internal systems and structures. Unfortunately, having a multicultural workforce and/or a commitment to support people of color does not inoculate organizations against engaging in problematic practices or perpetuating harmful macro and micro dynamics. A white supremacy frame is damaging to all involved, the people and communities that the organization serves as well as organization’s own staff and leadership, despite the fact that the immediate impacts are not equitably distributed to all.
In order to walk the talk, organizations must intentionally confront the institutional legacy of white supremacy, and deconstruct the accompanying power dynamics and disparities. This is professional work, but it is also deeply personal identity work further compounded by generations of historical, psychological and societal contexts.
Racial equity work is about creating a world that we have never seen before and I am truly excited to support the REACH leaders and the non-profit organizations who are actively and intentionally taking on this transformative, difficult, and truly critical work.
What are some of the challenges you’re thinking about?
The challenge is really the implementation of this work within organizations because of its disruption of systems and structures that have been running on auto-pilot for so many years. Even within new organizations, there’s a way that we organize ourselves that tends to be very traditional. Racial equity is asking all of us to think differently, but more importantly to act differently. That feels like a huge challenge for humans in general and particularly within a society that is not exactly primed for introspection and change or to being challenged in their worldview or open to sharing power.
My biggest question is: are people who take on this work actually willing to walk the talk? And if so, how and what do they intend to incorporate the necessary practice of change? I also wonder if there is the same desire for liberation and justice inside of a more professionalized version of this work. And I’m clear that in my belief system – unless we’re talking about disrupting power and hierarchy, I don’t know that we’re talking about racial equity.
What is unique about the approach of REACH Fund?
Focusing on supporting the folks who are actively embedding racial equity with and within organizations – including both nonprofit and for-profit practitioners. Not only are you transforming folks inside of an organization and having them transform their systems and structures, but then these folks are out advancing the mission of their organization, so the behaviors that have been shifted are also reaching and impacting the folks who are served by these organizations. It’s exciting to think about how many people can be part of a transformative process and also be impacted by transformation.
Why is racial equity work personally meaningful to you?
I was raised to be politically Black; I was from a young age deeply steeped in my history and my culture. I also grew up in a family of teachers who were determined I would know actual Black history, which is the true history of America. I was raised in a family that was clear about our political power and our economic power and our own agency to impact change.
On a personal level, I’ve always been fascinated by human societal behavior, I’ve always been intrigued by the things people don’t want to talk about like money, death, and race. I really feel like this role and racial equity work in general, is truly tied to the core of the person I was raised to be, to challenge the mythical norms and to work toward justice.
As I work to support and advance the field, I also do have these questions about what is possible. I believe in infinite possibility, and as a queer Black woman I also am very aware of the worldly limitations that impact this belief. I’m bringing a critical lens to the problem of white supremacy and white supremacist ideology and how it permeates everything we do—and trying to retain optimism for what I think is infinite possibility that humans can access if we so choose.