California Black Freedom Fund

Ben McBride

Ben McBride 

Founder,
Bring the HEAT Campaign

“My own story makes me committed to ensuring that no more Black boys and Black girls have to stand under the moonlit sky, staring down the barrel of a gun in fear for their life. This is what frames my call to be responsive, to reduce violence and why I’m a deep believer and proponent of the California Black Freedom Fund.” – Ben McBride

What is the significance of the California Black Freedom Fund in this moment, and in shaping a racially just California? 

The California Black Freedom Fund is an initiative to end structural racism in California that has been impacting Black people by investing $100 million into directly impacted communities who are ready to take those steps forward into liberation. The fund is a targeted strategy to ensure that we resource the necessary power-building strategies that are happening across California to ensure that Black people can belong, thrive and have agency over their lives. It is a fund that is actually going to take philanthropic dollars targeted at Black-led organizations who historically have been denied the opportunity. 

What makes the California Black Freedom Fund different is that it’s targeted. john a. powell from the Othering and Belonging Institute talks a lot about targeted universalism — that universal strategies don’t lead to universal goals, only targeted strategies lead to universal goals. The importance of the California Black Freedom Fund is that it’s going to take money that oftentimes has avoided the ways that Black leadership functions on a grassroots level, and target those organizations to be resourced. 

The other thing that has happened in Black communities for years is that many of our strategies to survive under white supremacy and structural racism have been strategies that have been developed without the benefit of capacity-building, and without the benefit of a lot of the great skills that we know live in the philanthropic and nonprofit and even private sectors. What the California Black Freedom Fund will do is not just move money, but move capacity-building, training and bring much needed power to these great leaders and organizations who have been doing work for years so that we can ensure not that they just continue to do the work, but that they’re enabled to do it better.

Why is it critical for philanthropy to fund grassroots advocates and community leaders, especially Black leaders? What have been some of the key gaps?

The California Black Freedom Fund is a step in the right direction for creating belonging, equity and ensuring that Black people have the opportunity to thrive in California. Historic anti-Blackness has plagued our society and institutions. The philanthropic field has oftentimes left Black-led organizations outside of the pool of receiving resources to ensure that Black communities and Black families have the opportunity to scale up the necessary strategies for them to have healthy food, have safe neighborhoods and to access housing. This fund is going to enable us to resource those communities. We’re not creating new things. We’re resourcing existing leadership strategies that have been operating in under-resourced structures for too long. 

When we think about the gaps and challenges that the Black community faces, we’re dealing with the reality that Black people have to participate in structures that were never designed for us to thrive. We have a criminal justice system, an education system and a housing system that are rooted in a history of anti-Blackness and structural racism. What we need is to not only resource strategies that help Black folks engage in the work that’s happening, but to do some deep resourcing that actually recreates the public structures that we have. This moment is a moment for all of us to think about how we abolish the systems and structures that are anti-Black and resourcing Black leadership to build structures that not just work for Black people, but will work for everybody. 

Why is it important to you as a movement and grassroots leader? Why are you involved in this effort?

Empowering Black people’s agency — in the financial, education and healthcare systems, and in having access to the kinds of jobs and employment opportunities that really create the opportunity. If we’re going to bring about change for the future, it means that we’re going to have to invest in recreating and reconstructing these systems. We believe that the people closest to the problem are closest to the solutions. No longer can we have this money operating at the 30,000-foot level. We have to move this money into grassroots organizations, into mom-and-pop shops who have been operating for years. We need to give them the resources informed by the pain of Black people in California so they can inform the kind of solutions we need to create. 

This moment really matters to me because when I was 19 years old, I found myself in downtown San Francisco staring down the barrel of a gun. It wasn’t the gun held by someone in my community that looked like me. It was a gun held by a white police officer who saw a threat in the body of a six-foot teenage Black kid. I was afraid and terrified at that moment because the fact that I grew up in church, that I was a college student, that I spent time in private and public school and had a family that loved me didn’t matter. So, when someone asks me what this moment means to me and what has called me to this work, it’s the fact that what’s happening in 2020 is not something that has just started. It’s something that has been happening to Black people for too long in our country, and now we have the opportunity to do something about it. 

My own story makes me committed to ensuring that no more Black boys and Black girls have to stand under the moonlit sky, staring down the barrel of a gun in fear for their life. This is what frames my call to be responsive, to reduce violence and why I’m a deep believer and proponent of the California Black Freedom Fund.

What’s your message to Black organizers, specifically in California? 

To those of us who have been fighting the good fight and to Black organizers who have been on the front lines, I feel you because I’ve been there with you. We have protested for too long. We’ve organized our people all the way into the night. We’ve been put in jail. We’ve been criticized by many for being Black identity extremists. We’ve found ourselves exhausted. I want to say to you that the only reason we are here in this moment is because, for 400 years, that African woman survived the hell of slavery. She went through that plantation every day, imagining us in her future and believing that when the baton was passed to us, we would not give up the fight, but we will commit ourselves to the very important work of continuing to make this country one where Black people can authentically belong. I want to invite us to see this fund as an opportunity for us to not just enrich our work and be able to accomplish more for our people, but also as a way for us to take care of ourselves. Because, at the end of the day, we are the ones who have given our lives to ensure that this continual struggle for liberation moves forward. 

What is your call to philanthropy?

People get hit with invitations all the time to think about how they can be a part of doing good in the world. They are inundated with proposals and different ideas, and everybody feels like they have the silver bullet to respond to our social moment. I would encourage funders not to see this invitation with the California Black Freedom Fund as just another one of those initiatives. California plays a strategic role in the way that this country moves forward. The changes that we’ve made across the country have started here in California. The fight for marriage equality started here, and the three strikes law that imprisoned people for making different decisions in their lives and breaking the law started here in California before it went across the country. This is a unique opportunity for us in a time of polarization to model something in California — a partnership between private, public, social change and cultural leaders, to come together and bring our money, our time and our resources so that we can not just change California, but ultimately change this country. 

This is an opportunity that we want to invite you in to bring more than your wallet, but to bring your heart, to bring your energy, to bring your background. In order for us to get to the place where we want to go, it is going to take all of us together. This is the invitation for you to be a part of the California Black Freedom Fund.