Together for justice and racial equity

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Last spring, the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked a wave of activism around the world, with protests against police violence and unequal treatment, and an increase in philanthropic initiatives aimed at helping communities of color.

Today, five prominent UC Santa Cruz alumni use their talents to spur a philanthropic social justice initiative called Rise Together, a movement that harnesses the passions and talents of 17 leaders of color.

Community Foundation Santa Cruz County convened this group last year to support the vision and action needed to build a more just and equitable county. Rise Together recently provided $ 423,000 in grants to support work on racial equity initiatives in Santa Cruz County and is currently raising funds to support future grants.

Awareness and Confidence

Susan True (Oakes ’95, community studies), CEO of Community Foundation Santa Cruz County, spoke about the need for an initiative that builds awareness and trust in communities of color, addresses root causes of racism and invests in programs that support them. .

“Rise Together hopes to increase economic mobility and preserve stories, arts and culture for communities of color,” True said. “Although Community Foundation grants have worked to address inequalities for decades, I knew we had to do more. “

“We cannot expedite solutions if the people most affected by our county’s most pressing problems are untrustworthy and unwelcome to create the answers,” continued True. “The people most affected by injustice must be those who craft the solutions that will work best for them. “

Rise Together has a unique and shared leadership model. Its circle of leaders work closely together to set goals and priorities for funding allocations. Many of its leaders are also recipients of Rise Together grants.

“This is what makes this job so unusual in the philanthropic industry,” True said.

The Community Foundation associates donors with local projects that illustrate their values. “Funding decisions are made by the beneficiaries themselves. ”

The UCSC alumni list reads as a “who’s who” guide for well-known activists and socially conscious leaders affiliated with campus.

Besides True, these alumni are:

  • Justin Cummings (Ph.D. ’13, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology), former mayor of Santa Cruz and current member of city council.
  • Jacob Martinez (Oakes ’04, evolutionary biology), founder of Digital NEST, a technology workforce development center providing young people in rural communities with valuable technological skills.
  • Ruby Vasquez (Merrill ’87, AAmerican studies / Chicano studies and multiple subjects / bilingual diploma) an educator in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District, a traditional dance instructor for the Mexican folk dance group Estrellas de Esperanza for children and young people and assistant to the direction of Esperanza del Valle, a dance company for adults, ahe organizer of the Watsonville Campesino Appreciation Caravan.
  • Helen Aldana (Kresge ’13, Art and Philosophy), Outreach and Inclusion Manager for the Downtown Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. She is also chairman of the board of directors of Senderos.
  • Ashyln Adams (‘09, cinema and literature), president of the California Film And Cultural Center.

A circle of justice

The community of Santa Cruz is full of imaginative, ambitious and socially conscious people who seek funds for their projects, but leaders often find themselves hampered by bureaucracy and red tape, said Ruby Vasquez.

Vasquez non-profit organizations are true grassroots organizations, without paid staff and, therefore, without grant writers. Vasquez pointed out that grant applications have been a huge hurdle for small, volunteer-run nonprofits.

“Applying for grants can be a real headache,” she said. “It takes a lot of work. There are organizations with grant writers and people who dedicate their time to them. “

This year, Vasquez applied for a Rise Together grant to help an esteemed traditional dance teacher from the Costa Chica region of Oaxaca, Mexico, work with his group of folk dance students in Watsonville.

She found the process to be simple, non-intimidating, local and personal. Vasquez did not have to send application forms to staff members of philanthropic organizations that she will never meet. Instead, the process was intimate and participatory every step of the way. Instead of meeting with grant makers, the Rise Together group gave presentations on the funding they needed for their projects. Then the group made collective decisions on each proposal.

Vasquez was elated when Rise Together decided to fund her project. The dance teacher will teach her students the ““Danza de los Diablos” – the the devils dance and Sones by Artesa, that are part of the Afro-Mexican tradition of Oaxaca. Vasquez hopes students learn this intricate dance in time for Dia de los Muertos, Mexican Day of the Dead, which takes place on November 1.

“This dance class is a great way to celebrate African lineage in Mexican heritage, while preserving and promoting traditional dance,” said Vasquez. “I’m really proud to be able to expose our students to this, because it shows that there are strong intercultural bonds, even within our own ethnic group. ”

Vasquez will use Rise Together funds to cover the instructor’s travel, accommodation and meals costs, as well as a teaching allowance.

Vasquez, who comes from a family of strawberry growers, also received funds for the Watsonville Campesino Appreciation Caravan (WCAC), a volunteer initiative that honors essential California farm workers, with drivers stopping their cars and holding up signs. of thanks. The appreciation caravan also distributed food as well as information on medical resources and safety during the pandemic.

Since April, WCAC has been visiting one or two farm sites per week and offering a burrito lunch during a half-hour presentation on COVID security and information from local community resources. Rise Together funds allow the purchase of lunches and the distribution of gift cards.

Remove bureaucracy, increase impacts

By making the grant application process less intimidating and putting fundraising initiatives in local hands, members of the Rise Together circle are addressing institutional racial biases in philanthropy, said Jacob Martinez, referring to the research. of Racial Equality Philanthropic Initiative, who found that only 8% of philanthropy goes to organizations led by people of color.

“The resources don’t flow into programs run by people of color,” Martinez said. “Historically, in this county, philanthropic organizations have underinvested in communities of color. Look at Watsonville and the Beach Flats community in Santa Cruz. They need a lot of support, and their community programs are the most affected by the changes in the cost of living.

How do we support these programs so that they are not excluded? How do we support jobs, housing, mental health and education? ”He continued.“ Rise Together focuses on recruiting new leaders and working with the Community Foundation, and asks: “How to change the story? “

Those interested in learning more about Rise Together initiatives can visit their website which includes a “equity in actionWith practical ideas and resources on how to get involved in promoting racial equity at the local level. The Community Foundation also launched the Rise Together Fund for Racial Actions to continue the work.


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