The Communities Transforming Policing Fund is thrilled to share that we’ve welcomed a new member to our team: María Alejandra Salazar (She/Her) who will serve as the fund’s Program Officer.
Prior to joining Borealis Philanthropy, María Alejandra was director of the Multicultural Resources Program at Northside Community Services (NCR) in Chicago, IL, where she served as liaison to the 49th Ward Participatory Budgeting process. María Alejandra Salazar is passionate about supporting justice-centered, liberatory movements.
Earlier this month, we spent some time learning about what brought María Alejandra to the Communities Transforming Policing Fund, the principles that guide her work, and how she hopes to show up for our grantee partners. Learn more about María Alejandra below!
Where do you come from? (place of origin or growth, racial and/or ethnic identification etc.)
I like to ground conversations in where I come from. I was born in Peru. I come from parents who are immigrants and children of immigrants. From my parents, I learned a sense of justice. My mom was very concerned with human rights for political prisoners in the 1980s, my dad worked for a publishing company that published liberation theology books. I grew up hearing stories of my grandma, Meche, on my mom’s side. If something was happening, she was the one neighbors would go to for help. So I think what I’m doing now, we may not have thought of as philanthropy, but in many ways I’m honoring my family’s legacy.
Personally, being undocumented for a long time, I had a lot of anger growing up. I dealt with that by becoming very involved. It was my way of overachieving and proving my worth. It was through this that I learned about other organizing movements. In high school I learned about the military industrial complex. In college I participated in lots of student organizations related to immigration rights organizing at the time. Eventually, I worked full time in organizing immigrants in Chicagoland. I’m very interested in lifting up the groups that get overlooked because of geographical and language barriers.
What’s your role at Borealis Philanthropy? What do you do?
As Program Officer at the Communities Transforming Policing Fund (CTPF), I get to have more contact with grantee partners. I want to demystify the philanthropy world in general. As someone making the shift from community organization to philanthropy, there are so many things I didn’t know. I hope to bring my own lived experience and help them take advantage of these opportunities. I want to create a space where grantee partners feel comfortable asking questions and understanding the system.
What brings you to Borealis Philanthropy?
I came to philanthropy knowing that I wanted to support the movement but also knowing I was burnt out. I knew I couldn’t be on the frontlines. I’ve learned about movement ecology, the idea that all of us have a role to play. So, I thought, what else can I do to support movement work? When I learned about Borealis it felt like they were doing just that and I thought this was a great fit. It provided a space to heal from my organizing work and contribute to something in alignment with my values.
What excites you about being part of the CTPF team?
The leadership of the fund is very aligned. On an internal note, I think Jeree has been really great about doing cross fund work. We’re doing collaborations with the Black-Led Movement Fund. We recently had a really good meeting with the Disability Inclusion Fund thinking about the overlaps in our work: incarceration, policing, disability rights. That’s one thing I enjoy, that there is room to collaborate across the organization.
Also the grantee partners are incredible. We have the ability to fund groups that are very emergent. Also the grantee partners are incredible. We have the ability to fund groups that are very emergent. CTPF is often folks’ first funder. In the nonprofit industrial complex, we often uplift well-established groups. But the groups doing the most innovative and responsive work don’t have all of that. Still, they are quick on their feet and attuned to the families they work with. To be able to support that work early on is huge.
Lastly, I’m really drawn to the focus on participatory grantmaking. This idea of taking a collective pot of money and letting the community have a say in how to spend it is powerful. I really believe in that. There is so much learning, not just for committee members but for us as funders. It takes longer, there are more things to consider. But ultimately it’s worth it. As adrienne marie brown says, “moving at the speed of trust.” It’s a way of embodying and fully living our values.
What are some of the principles that guide your work/passion(s)?
I’m grateful to organizing because it taught me to understand power and how it shifts. CTPF has a really good political analysis. I’ve seen the shift from transforming the police to looking at the budget, taking money out, reallocating it somewhere else. I’m really grateful to folks like Mariame Kaba. After college, I attended several trainings with her. That was the start of other political education work. I began to explore how we can center imagination. How do we imagine another world that is possible? We need to imagine the worlds we want to be in. Creativity and imagination are personal values and something I want to bring as a funder.
I’m also trying to step into abundance. In our communities, there is an incredible amount of resilience, political strategy, know-how, wisdom and ancestral knowledge, because how else could we still be here? None of this was made for us to be here. And yet we’re still here, resisting, producing art, creating life. There’s something really beautiful about that.
I opted to do a Masters of Divinity because I wanted to have theological grounding for what I was witnessing around me. I remember looking at biblical translations, and learning that another way to interpret “liberation” is “wholeness.” It got me thinking, how do we bring wholeness into our work? It helped me have a new view on these issues.
The last thing is this idea that our lives have inherent, sacred worth. That’s something I can see how some organizing movements have gotten this wrong. We still highlight a specific kind of immigrant. Not just exceptional people, but people with criminal records as well don’t deserve to be separated from their families. At the core, I believe in the sacred, inherent worth of life.
What do you like to do for fun?
I’ve always loved reading as a kid. After grad school I stopped reading. Now I’m rediscovering reading for fun. Fiction, nonfiction, poetry. I love nordic noir. That’s my current obsession. I’m stepping more into my role as an artist. I’ve loved multidisciplinary art, quilt projects, sketching, watercolors, and writing. I’ve been working on a series of vignettes, writing about my matrilineal relatives. That’s been in the works for a few years now. I also love being outdoors. I was born in Lima near the ocean so being near water feels very healing. Because of the pandemic, I’ve made it a point to explore the forest preserve trails near me. Just walking in the forest. I’ve found that’s been really calming and grounding.