Reimagining Safety and Justice for Black Life Now and Forever
By: Tasha Tucker, Program Director, Racial Justice, Trinity Church Wall Street
As a Black woman, a philanthropy executive, and a descendent of enslaved people, I have constantly been trying to unpack this moment. It is heartbreaking, emotional, but it also gives me hope. There is a lot of beauty happening right now, amid the chaos. I have often thought about what my grandmother would think about the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Born in 1919, she went to school until the 8th grade and worked at a cigar factory and as a domestic worker. Growing up, she told me stories of racial terror in our hometown Charleston, SC. I remember struggling to believe that the stories were real, but I also knew that she wouldn’t lie to me. These stories were cautionary tales of survival to inform me on how to walk in the world, but the themes of redemption and justice also featured prominently. My grandmother passed away in 2006 shortly after I began my career in the philanthropic sector, and seven years before the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Working to increase justice and advance human dignity has sustained my interest in the philanthropic sector. As the Movement for Black Lives and the Brooklyn Movement Center and its partners call on us to #defundthepolice and #defundthenypd, I think back to my grandmother. She deeply valued her church, neighbors, and friends. In her neighborhood, these were primarily the entities that supported well-being and fairness. Police were outsiders, and while not all of them were as bad as the worst examples that we can think of, the police did not consult community members on how to provide safety and justice. People in her neighborhood suffered from a lack of affordable housing, equitable educational opportunities, access to healthcare, and social services. This scenario continues today. To fight systemic racism and structural inequality, we must not only increase funding for housing, education, social services, and healthcare, we must ensure that services are culturally responsive. We must recognize the racism that is also imbued in these systems and the need to reimagine these structures to properly provide care and support for Black people and our visions and dreams.
Reflecting more on my grandmother’s neighborhood, I think of the various situations that required intervention because of intergenerational trauma and white supremacy. Sometimes on Friday nights, Mr. Johnny would have too much to drink and start fights with his wife. At the nightclub across the street, there would be altercations outside of the venue. Drug dealers and gangs provided drugs, but people also saw the presence of some of these men as means of safety and protection. The response of police in these situations rarely resolved the root problems or provided any safety or justice. Today, the movement is demanding that we think about the role of the police differently, if at all. We must provide funding for community-developed alternatives to calling the police for everything: social workers, mediators, counselors, and doctors, alternatively. What if we decided to build up community-based, restorative justice interventions? These should be among some of the top solutions.
Far from my grandmother’s neighborhood, I now work to advance the Racial Justice initiative of Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City. Trinity’s core values of faith, integrity, inclusiveness, compassion, social justice, and stewardship guide our grantmaking, which aims to break the cycle of mass incarceration. We seek to build a new, racially equitable justice system that centers restorative justice instead of incarceration. A recent grant to the Public Science Project of the City University of New York supports participatory action research on community-defined public safety, in partnership with a wide array of organizations affiliated with Communities United for Police Reform, a citywide campaign that is working to end discriminatory policing in New York. The Center for NuLeadership on Human Justice and Healing, an independent research, policy, training, and advocacy organization, designed and developed by and for individuals impacted by the legacy of criminalization and mas incarceration is another Trinity grantee, pushing to redirect human and financial resources from punishment-oriented systems to more equitable and human-focused solutions. Grassroots organizing and advocacy are critical to dismantling racist and overly-punitive systems, and Trinity grantees VOCAL New York, DRUM, Rockaway Youth Task Force, and Alliance for Quality Education build power in communities of color to push us towards a new vision of safety and justice.
There is a lot to unpack at this moment. COVID-19 has pushed people to the limit. Black and Brown communities want equity, reparatory justice, and recognition for past harms and systemic solutions. I think back to my grandmother and her sage wisdom and wonder what she would suggest to foundations today. I think she would tell foundations to:
1. Fund projects led by Black and Brown communities that let them name what is community safety and support putting into practice their recommendations
2. Build restorative justice infrastructure so that everyone has access to tools that facilitate healing and accountability
3. Trust community-based Black and POC-led grassroots organizations – give them money and get out of the way
In the wake of this pandemic and the murder of George Floyd, this extraordinary moment gives me hope, as multigenerational, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and LGBTQIA+ folks have taken to the streets to defend Black life and change the world. We have an opportunity in this moment to invest in Black communities and make a commitment to more just and fair systems for not only ourselves but also for our descendants. To honor our grandmothers, ancestors, and those who gave so much to make our lives possible, we must make #BlackLivesMatter now and forever.