BY ADINAWA & LAYLA
ADINAWA: Thank you so much for joining us today. I would love it if you can start by introducing yourself, what you do and what you care about.
That’s a big question. My day job is as a community manager for an organization called One for Democracy, which is a pledge that asks people to give one percent of their assets to democracy work. My night job is also in the philanthropy world – I work on personal and family philanthropy, and I volunteer with an organization called Resource Generation, which is a membership community of people 18-35 years old with wealth or class privilege committed to the equitable distribution of wealth, land and power.
ADINAWA: That is such important work. How did you find your way here? Is this something that you have just always been interested in? How did you learn or even know that these problems were so important to take on?
I originally came to this world through food work. I taught food education in public schools for a decade or so. My most recent job was teaching gardening at a school in East Harlem, and I loved it so much. I miss teaching, and I miss the joy of being around kids. But I attempted a job transition at the wrong time – I left my job March 5th, 2020, so I was unemployed for six months at the beginning of the pandemic. COVID was a big wake up call for me, and I spent those six months reflecting on what to do next. I come from a wealthy family, and it’s something that I’ve always tried to grapple with. Working in the nonprofit world, I tried to hide a part of myself, but I finally realized, “I have the wealth, so I might as well use it for good.” So for those first six months of the pandemic, I was volunteering full time with Resource Generation and got really deep into the work. I was looking for work either in development or nonprofit fundraising, and I ended up in this role with One for Democracy. My deep passion is not democracy work – it’s social justice work – but one crucial way to do social justice work is through protecting and improving our democracy.
ADINAWA: That’s such an interesting background that you have. With the work that you do, I guess I’m just asking for you to go deeper into how you personally grapple with seeing injustice and then working with an organization that interacts so closely with those who may not be as privileged and if there are reflections that you like to do just to make sure that you’re staying level-headed.
For the past year, I have not worked directly with poor people at all because I’m on the side of fundraising and grant making. I’m working with people with wealth, which is a whole different world. I spent the last ten years working in poor schools and I am missing a lot of that personal connection and seeing why we do the work we do. This work is hard. It’s really exhausting. But I’m constantly reminded that people leave philanthropy when it gets hard and emotionally taxing. And I just listen. I listen to people. I listen to books. I just listened to the book Decolonizing Wealth, which is all about how people in the US attained wealth to begin with. And it talks a lot about how hard philanthropy work is and how easy it is for people to leave. I stay level by remembering the kids that I worked so closely with.
ADINAWA: Thank you! My next question is kind of what you just mentioned. I mean, it’s intensive work you do and I’m just sort of thinking about when organizing it. I know so many young people start out and are so powered up by this type of work. I’m just thinking or wanting to know your advice, maybe personally, but I just like how you do push through those moments when it’s really tough and you’ve been doing some of this work for quite a long time. So just think about how you stay motivated.
It’s all about self care. It’s a priority. I’m bad at stepping back and not taking work home with me (which is harder now that I work from home), but I use certain self-care tactics that everyone should be doing. I use a 5-minute journal. I’m therapy’s biggest proponent. I don’t like meditating, but I do it. And I exercise most days. Right now, I also work half time and volunteer half time. I have chronic illness, and when I was working full time, I was constantly in and out of flares. I’m in this incredible position of privilege where I can do that, and I married into health insurance benefits. Everyone deserves to have this ability, but I recognize that’s not the system we’re currently set up in.
ADINAWA: Thank you for sharing that. I ask because I think that it’s just really important to do just what you said and just step back because we need people like you. So burning out and running a race instead of a marathon can be detrimental to the cause overall, so thank you for sharing.
I was having a hard time at work a while back, and I was considering other options. And there’s one incredible woman of color in my organization. She basically said to me, “Why are you considering leaving your job? Might you consider pushing through and staying in the work for others?” And I was like, “Oh, crap. Yeah, I can do this.”
ADINAWA: Yeah. It’s also great to have mentors or just people to keep you pumped up. So now I’m interested in hearing more about some of your work with food and the differences in the two worlds that you’re working with, but mostly just your experience there and some important lessons or some jarring things you can share with us from that work.
I came into the food world thinking that I wanted to be a dietitian. And then I realized how much I hated dietetics. Dietitians sitting behind a desk and telling someone what to eat is never going to create change. We’ve watched all of these diets fail forever. So I got into a more of a public health perspective. My favorite thing in the world is teaching cooking. It brings me so much joy. First of all, I love eating, but I also love seeing kids eat and learn to love vegetables. Teaching a kid how to grow a food, and then cook it, and then eat it is the most beautiful thing. Philanthropy doesn’t bring the same sort of joy, but it is a necessary evil. There are certain moments where I feel like I have big wins, but I don’t wake up in the morning smiling ear to ear, like I used to when I worked with silly five year olds. I ended up in this job because I was unemployed, but I intentionally left the world of teaching. I felt that it wasn’t really my role anymore to be teaching in poor schools when I have access to people to fundraise. I won’t leave philanthropy anytime soon, but food is definitely my passion.
ADINAWA: It’s hard not to have a passion for food. Not only is it a necessity but it’s also delicious. So that’s really amazing. Thank you. I’m going to let Layla ask a couple of questions now.
LAYLA: going off of what Adinawa was asking earlier about how you initially got involved. I was wondering if there was any one person from either one of these organizations whose story kind of resonated with you or who just really encouraged you to first get involved?
I found Resource Generation in 2017. I was grappling with my wealth, and I didn’t know what to do with it. I found an article online about a book called Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence, by Rachel Sherman. And in the comments section, someone had commented about Resource Generation. I went to the Resource Generation 101 all chapter info session, and a chapter member stood up and shared her story.
We do something called Sharing Money Stories, which is basically the story of how you found yourself in Resource Generation. How did your family accumulate wealth? What are you doing to redistribute that wealth, and how does it make you feel? So she got up there and she actually shared numbers – she shared how much she has access to. She shared a story of her family. And I had never heard anybody talk about money like that before. Money is a very sensitive topic. It’s very hush hush. I’ve received messages not to talk about money for my whole life, so that was just incredible.
And with the food world, going back to twelve years ago, I was an undergrad. I had a professor named Mary Summers who taught a class called Politics of Food. And like I said, politics scare me. But the class had good reviews, so I signed up. That class totally changed my view of everything. I ended up taking seven classes with Dr. Summers and getting as deep into the food world as I could. I worked on a little project where we made granola bars with middle schoolers, and then the students sold them in the school store. That little project has exploded, and Rebel Ventures now sells granola bars to every single school in the School District of Philadelphia.
Layla: Thank you for sharing that, and it’s really cool to hear that you had a support system around you. My next question is as a high school junior, I’m wondering if there’s any way you think that younger people can get involved in this philanthropic work that you’re doing or just in these causes in general?
Absolutely. So for young people with wealth, I would encourage everybody to reach out to Resource Generation. We are a national organization. There’s 18 chapters. New York City has the first or second biggest For young people with wealth, I would encourage everybody to reach out to Resource Generation. We are a national organization with 18 chapters. And if people don’t have a chapter in their immediate area, we have tons of national programming. For young people without wealth or class privilege, there are tons of opportunities to get involved with social justice organizing. In NYC, North Star Fund is my favorite organization in the entire world. There are other orgs doing great work for young people in NYC – Teens Take Charge and Integrate NYC are two examples of high school students who are organizing in their communities. Also, I’m always mindful of saying this as a person with wealth, but fundraising is for everyone. North Star Fund offers a giving project, which is a cross-class, multiracial fundraising cohort. Everyone can break into this world, and starting with your networks is a great way to do it.
Layla: For sure. On the topic of fundraising, a huge part of your work, obviously, is by collecting donations. You talked about how that’s a little taxing earlier, but how are you able to get other people to have the same passion for these causes that you do and get people to donate?
There are two kinds of people: some who are so eager and want to move money right now (I guess I probably fall into that camp), and then people who need some encouragement. And that’s what social justice orgs and organizing spaces do. They meet people where they’re at and bring them in slowly. Having the ability to meet people where they’re at and knowing that not everybody is going to support every org helps. My family doesn’t support the same orgs that I do, but there are places that we align, and finding those places that you align is crucial. My favorite part about what I do is that I don’t just fundraise for one place. I can support somebody in moving money to the spaces that make sense for them.
Layla: Okay, this is kind of a random one but I’m personally curious. You said that you’ve been working from home because of Covid but I was wondering, because I have a club at my school where a big part of it is also fundraising and it was really difficult to do that with the pandemic, how you adapted to the circumstances and how you were still able to do fundraisers that obviously couldn’t be in person and still keep people just as energized about these causes as they were before?
It’s hard and it depends what community you’re working with. The organization I used to work for had a huge gala each year that raised a million dollars, but the gala was canceled in April 2020 and they were unable to do it in 2021. So for many orgs, it’s been a challenge. But I’ve found that funding actually greatly increased during the pandemic for most of the places I fundraise for, as more people realized that social justice causes matter and Black Lives Matter. Also, my whole goal before November 2020 was to get Trump out, so everybody was pouring in money. I’ve only ever fundraised in a virtual world, but some things that we have done that have worked really well are one on one Zoom conversations, and literally asking for a dollar amount. That’s a fundraising 101 tip – think about who you’re talking to and say, “can you give fifty dollars to this today?” And maybe they say yes, maybe they say no. And either one is okay.
The Resource Generation community is also primed to be fundraised. We use a practice called transformative fundraising, which is where you talk to somebody and say, for example, “How do you feel about the world? How do you want to see the world? How much money do you want to move to make that feel in alignment?” It’s also super important to be mindful of who your audience is, because we’re in a time of multiple crises, and not everybody is able to move money right now.
Layla: Thank you, that’s all for me. Adinawa do you have anything else to ask?
adinawa: I feel very enlightened by your work. I really love what Resource Generation is doing, and my last question is before joining, how was your philosophy different or how have they evolved since your time joining and doing that work?
100% different. Most people who come into this world went to a liberal arts school or have a super liberal upbringing. I always considered myself liberal, but I didn’t have that drive to actually do something about it. I’ve always done direct service work, which is fine, but it doesn’t get to the root cause. A good example that I like to give is that I used to support the food bank. The food bank is incredibly important, but it does not solve hunger. But an organization that I’m on the board of now is called Community Food Advocates, and we actually do advocacy around food by getting to the root cause. Food insecurity isn’t a result of food issues. Food insecurity is a result of poverty and racism. That’s probably the biggest change that I’ve seen in myself – working in and moving money to root causes. I’ve also been moving further and further to the left because organizing spaces tend to do that to people in a beautiful way.
Adinawa: I bet. I find myself becoming more and more radicalized the more I read. So I definitely am grateful for friends who are opening my mind and showing me resources to learn more about the world. So thank you so much. That’s all the questions that Layla and I had. Thank you so much for sharing your story and the work that you do. I feel like I’ve learned so much during this time. I’ve been jotting down every book you’ve mentioned so far. So really, really happy about that.
One more good one – Winners Take All is an amazing book about philanthropy.
Adinawa: Amazing. Thank you so much for your time today. It’s been wonderful!
Thank you both so much. You’re doing amazing things and I love the site.