At the Nathan Cummings Foundation (NCF) we are looking beyond today’s news cycle, past philanthropic norms, and above the status quo in our search for the next three leaders to join our team as NCF Fellows.
NCF Fellows are change makers who aim to transform the systems and mindsets that hinder progress toward a more sustainable and equitable future for women, people of color and all people. While sharing our commitment to confronting the two largest challenges of our time - the climate crisis and growing inequality - our Fellows also urge us to expand our institutional imagination and investment beyond our existing grant portfolios.
As an institution, we are focused on maximizing the impact of our Fellows on the world, but never lost on us is the impact this Fellowship can have on us as individuals and as an organization. Amy Sorensen-Sharvit, Co-Chair of the NCF Fellowship program describes the power of this growing network of activists connected to the foundation. “I believe and see that the Fellows are able to reflect issues and ideas that larger organizations in the field may miss, and perhaps go under their radar. “
We strive to nurture trail blazers and disruptors from all fields and from across the country as they attack some of society’s most vexing challenges. Their breakthroughs continue to inspire and inform our priorities at NCF, while lighting the way toward a more just and sustainable planet.
As our current Fellows come to the end of our 18-month partnership, we asked them to reflect on their experience and learnings, both to inform our support of future Fellows, and to inspire those preparing to take the baton next.
In the words of NCF Fellow and Pittsburgh-based rapper and activist Jasiri X: “Be bold and fearless in idea and practice. The Nathan Cummings Foundation believes in the power of radical change.”
That we do. And as we look back at the accomplishments and growth of our current fellows, we’re eager to see what bold ideas come next.
Individual Fellow Reflections
Even with today’s relentless media coverage and political rhetoric on immigration policy, it can be easy to overlook the deeply complex and personal impact these laws have on real people. While some have taken the fight to Capitol Hill, others to our border, and many more to our voting booths - Francisca Porchas Coronado has spent her career on the spiritual and emotional frontlines, advocating, organizing and training LatinX people to build their strength as individuals and a community deserving of respect and recognition. As a Mexican immigrant, Chicana, feminist, and priestess in training – Francisca became an NCF Fellow in 2017 and has truly revealed for us uniquely powerful solutions to problems that traditionally remain unseen, but have immense consequences.
Francisca leveraged her NCF Fellowship to scale up “Healing in Resistance,” a justice-oriented emotional and spiritual response to anti-immigrant actions in our country. From the ground up, she is building an accessible national network of psychological first-responders for migrant communities being catastrophically impacted by harsh and constantly shifting federal immigration policies. Through her work, community healers are employing culturally relevant spiritual practices, including meditation, artistic expression, talk therapy and bodywork, to deepen mental and emotional resilience.
“The horrors the migrant community has experienced because of criminalization and deportations are wreaking havoc on the bodies and spirits of many,” Francisca recently shared. “Anti-immigrant policies are meant to break us, and we need to be whole to overcome oppression, heal from trauma and restore power in our communities.”
NCF has invested in Francisca as a long-term contributor and leader in her community. She described the work of NCF Fellows as “critical to building a resilient future…” in that it allows individual innovators to “take your time, tap into your creativity, and lean into the courage and vulnerability to grow deeper into your purpose.”
Also growing continuously into his purpose is NCF Fellow is Jasiri X, a Pittsburgh-based rapper and activist who recognized a unique need and opportunity within his community.
“Artists are the gatekeepers of truth,” he said. “Art connects us from the heart worldwide. We’re in a renaissance of arts activism and we’re seeing what it looks like when people of color are given the tools to tell stories about themselves.”
It is often the role of artists to shine light on what is wrong or real or possible in our society. Recognizing growing divides and a persistently skewed narratives around justice, poverty and violence that are taking root all around our country, Jasiri has found a way to place new tools and a rhetorical mic in the hands of 18 artists who are committed to powerfully reshaping narratives in Pittsburgh and beyond.
With our support, Jasiri launched “1Hood Artivist Academy” – a community of action-oriented artists gaining the tools and connections they need to drive real change. The academy helps young artists to transform the world with their creative voices while fighting to end racial, environmental and economic inequality. In his words, “Culture change always comes before policy change…we should be empowering those who use arts and culture well to speak to the power of our times.”
The 1Hood Artivist Academy has already helped 18 ‘artivists’ of color in the Pittsburgh area to learn from leaders of yesterday and today - from Harry Belafonte and Angela Davis, to Tarana Burke and Yusef Salaam. Grounded in these lessons, these 18 leaders worked to develop music, videos, visual art and actions to confront race, politics, self-image, police brutality, gentrification, and the threats to our environment.
Though policymakers continue to drag out bad-faith political arguments in Washington, on issues of climate change, clean energy and the environment, scientists have spoken unequivocally – and the real-world consequences are already impacting families and communities. But one reality that can’t be denied even by the most cynical of climate deniers is that vulnerable communities have been largely silenced in the debate. Minnesota native, Anna Claussen is working to change that reality.
“We can’t underestimate the power of stories to connect and empower people,” Anna recently wrote. “The Nathan Cummings Foundation's belief in me and their commitment to the power of voice, narrative and dialogue in moving people to action on climate change is unique and rare. Where others focus on developing messages and advancing them to grow a movement, NCF has invested in the important process of listening and understanding. They have given my work – the act of validating and addressing people’s fears, anger and resentment around climate change to transform new leadership and climate action – legitimacy and standing.”
Anna leveraged her NCF Fellowship to build “Voices for Rural Resilience” – a dynamic set of tools that amplifies rural voices within the climate change debate and facilitates community action. She is empowering rural communities to engage in efforts to adapt to climate change, while also trying to shift how people think about the ways in which climate change is already impacting their lives. She is leading with respect and empathy to fundamentally and authentically impact climate policy.
“Without this lift,” she added, “powerful solutions that are cultivated from the ground-up in middle America [too often] fail to be elevated and advanced across broader platforms, movements and audiences. I am grateful for the visibility and recognition. They are helping scale solutions that are desperately needed at a time when society feels an overwhelming sense of powerlessness about the ability to mediate not just political conflict, but any conflict of fundamental values.”
2015 Fellow, Anurag Gupta has spent his career conducting research on race and ethnicity, corporate structures, and education methodologies to advance solutions to human rights challenges. He previously founded ‘Opening ln
Possibilities Asia (OPA)’ – an organization that brought education and health services to marginalized women and youth in Burma.
In response to decades of research showing that people of color receive lower-quality health care, are subject to less desirable procedures, are routinely undertreated for pain, and receive significantly less preventive care – Anurag used his platform as an NCF Fellow to develop an evidence-based online training called ‘Mindfulness Based Cultural Competency™ (MBCC).’ The training is structured to create a measurable reduction in unconscious bias to eliminate health inequalities based on race or ethnicity – and the generationally harmful health disparities that often result.
Anurag described the Nathan Cummings Foundation Fellowship as “instrumental” in helping him turn his idea into action.
“Thanks to the Fellowship and the time and space it gave me to do thorough market research, audience analysis, and initial product development and testing, I now run “BE MORE,” a social enterprise that uses science-based tools to break unconscious racial and gender bias in our society. I would not be where I am without the confidence and support of my NCF Family.”
Following 2008’s disastrous economic collapse, countless families across the country faced unemployment, accumulating mortgage payments, falling wages and disappearing access to Medicaid and public programs. In 2013 NCF Fellow Saqib Bhatti ramped up his focus on studying the disproportionate effects the economic crisis had on working class Americans and communities of color in our country, using skills he has developed throughout a career spent organizing communities and local unions. Through his work to decode highly complex financial systems for working and vulnerable communities he is working to level the playing field and ensure that Wall Street entities aren’t the only ones protected from future crisis.
Saqib is now the Co-Executive Director of the Action Center on Race and the Economy where he works on campaigns to rebalance the relationship between Wall Street and local communities.
“The NCF Fellowship changed the trajectory of my career,” he shared recently. “It let me take a step back from the day to day of the organization where I worked and build something that was rooted in what I believed was most needed in the world, as opposed to the needs of my employer.”
Saqib has placed the irresponsibility of massive banks on display while providing support to the communities harmed by their actions, and the subsequent structural racism and economic inequality that results.
Starting a business in America is hard for anyone. And for anyone studying the numbers, it is clear that low rates of black-owned business start-ups has a lot to do with generational obstacles to wealth-building, and persistent racial wage gaps in this country, and it can be easily seen in the start-up market. To get a start-up off the ground, one would need around $30,000; moreover, the average black household wealth is $11,000, with the average white household wealth being $142,000. In a recent survey, 80% of black entrepreneurs stated that lack of funding was the biggest roadblock when trying to start a business, as black folks tend do not have access to crucial loans from friends and family at the start of a business venture.
This is a problem Jessica Norwood is committed to solving within her community. Her interest in social justice and racial equity has played a central role throughout her career, and in 2016, Jessica launched The Runway Project. This is a project built to facilitate “friends and family pre-seed capital” to help black entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground.
In the past year her Oakland based Runway Project has dispersed $175,000 to nine black entrepreneurs, a majority of whom are women. In a recent interview with ImpactAlpha, Jessica explained that The Runway Project is “not just putting loans out. We’re trying to support and connect that ecosystem to wrap around the entrepreneurs.” Jessica even has plans to expand the Runway Project, aiming to deploy larger funds and help black business people in other cities.