NoVo Foundation + Freedom Cities Funder Briefing

In October 2017, Funders for Justice (FFJ), a program of Neighborhood Funders Group, hosted a funder briefing on the Freedom Cities Movement at the NoVo Foundation office in New York City. FFJ got the chance to sit down and talk with NoVo's Ramatu Bangura, Program Officer for Advancing Adolescent Girls’ Rights, and Jesenia Santana, Program Officer for the Initiative to End Violence Against Girls and Women, about the foundation's vision and funding of the movement. Below is an excerpt from their conversation and a recap of the briefing.

Ramatu Bangura

FFJ: The last year or couple years have been really the challenging ones in many parts of the country with police accountability and gender and racial justice. As you’ve tried to grapple with everything going on with police accountability and gender and racial justice the past two years, what have you learned about the role of philanthropy in this work?

Ramatu: Jesenia and I came into our roles as Program Officers coming from working as advocates and activists. While we’ve had an opportunity to help shape NoVo’s response to this current moment, NoVo has since its inception been a funder that both invests in and is in invested in movement building. Therefore, I don’t see a drastic change or uptick in that commitment. Instead, our work has been trying to figure out how to respond to this very particular moment—figuring out what our role should be in dialogue and community with both our existing partners and new and emerging work. Our role is not to take up space better suited to activists, but to figure out ideologically and logistically how we get the resources to folks, how we remain open to dialogue and conversation, how we respond rapidly, and how we influence our sector to do better.

Jesenia: A couple of things—our partners have always told us that the way that change that can happen is for philanthropy to support people on the ground to do base-building and organizing work, provide long-term and flexible support, make sure that groups have what they need to build and sustain their capacity to respond to these kinds of moments and acts of resistance.

Jesenia Santana

FFJ: What is it going to take to change philanthropy? Philanthropy has a pretty strong culture and, as you said, doesn’t always fund the intersectional, movement-oriented, or nimble work?

Jesenia: First, philanthropy needs to trust more that the people on the ground doing the work know what they’re doing and know how to use the resources. Second, it needs to be in relationship with partners, where we can all vision together towards the world we want. We need to be willing to ask: what does it mean for us to also be transformational? How can we push ourselves to look towards a larger vision; not just to how things may be different in the next two years. I think a large part of this is about letting go of power—transformational work simply won’t happen without that. Philanthropy will also have to be open to experimentation and risk—in order to support transformational work, we have to embrace experimentation.

Click here to read the full interview.

Freedom Cities Funder Briefing Recap

October 26, 2017

Recognizing the need for a visionary approach to the challenges facing all communities under attack by the new political regime, EnlaceElla Baker Center for Human Rights, and Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI)—organizations with decades of experience organizing and advocating for women, Black and immigrant families, and poor and low-wage workers—have come together to initiate the Freedom Cities Movement. Launched on inauguration day by multiracial immigrant workers and allies, this emerging movement has articulated an innovative, intersectional analysis and model that seeks to make entire cities, towns, rural areas, and communities safe for all oppressed people in the U.S.

The discussion featured:

  • Zachary Norris, Executive Director at Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
  • Cindy Martinez, Lead Organizer at Enlace
  • Daniel Carrillo, Co-Director at Enlace
  • Carl Lipscombe, Deputy Director of Black Alliance for Just Immigration
  • Moderator: FFJ Co-Chair Tynesha McHarris, Fellow at NoVo Foundation

The speakers framed the funder briefing by providing the political context around the formation and launch of Freedom Cities. They then spoke on how Freedom Cities began, the community impact of their work and collaboration, and their strategies to advance their work both internally within their organizations and externally through advocacy and inclusive narrative-building.   

Key Take-Aways 

  • FREEDOM BEYOND SANCTUARY: Freedom cities came out through a proactive vision of economic opportunity, gender justice, racial justice, and intersectionality. It means looking beyond sanctuary to truly free our communities. As Lilla Watson said, “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is tied with mine, then let us work together.”   
  • FREEDOM IS THE GOAL OF ALL MOVEMENTS: Because of the durability of the systems that perpetuate injustice and the intersection of these issues, we must de-silo our work.   
  • FREEDOM IS REDEFINING SAFETY so that we can think beyond criminalization as a way to resolve our problems, and find healing and transformation. Criminalization must also be tackled as a whole—winning the smaller battles are part of the strategy but we must remain focused on the big picture of dismantling systems the perpetuate injustice.
  • OFFENSIVE & DEFENSIVE STRATEGIES must both be at play. Being on the defense is unsustainable for the long-run, so we must think about our offensive efforts and align them with the movement we’re leading.
  • COLLABORATION IS KEY to strengthening this grassroots-led and initiated movement. We can pool together the people and resources we already have to build the base and to truly think about what it means to have inclusive narratives, movements, and communities.

Next Steps for Funders

  • Fund the movement—follow up with organizers to find out how to support locally or nationally.
  • Organize within the philanthropic sector and spread the word to other funders that if you are committed to the humanity and freedom of all, you need to learn about freedom cities.
  • Stay in principled and disciplined struggle with organizers and folks continuing to learn and grow.

Reach out to us at to learn more about how Freedom Cities connects movements for racial justice, worker justice, immigrant rights/migrant justice, and an end to state violence.