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Finding evidence of our collective courage and strength

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

215 People's Alliance
Photo courtesy 215 People's Alliance


By Casey Cook

In the last two months, we’ve all tried to adjust to seeing our friends, family, and coworkers mostly through a computer screen. Personally, I’ve experienced waves of feeling isolated and disconnected, even as I spend all day in meetings. As I track the spread of COVID-19 from the confines of my South Philly rowhome, I’ve also felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of loss and grief. It’s clear to me that we will not be returning to how things used to be.

But each Friday afternoon, I have a meeting on my schedule that leaves me feeling reenergized, hopeful, and interconnected. It’s the weekly convening of our community grantmaking committee for our Solidarity Fund for COVID-19 Organizing, a rapid-response fund we established at Bread & Roses Community Fund on April 8 to support vital community organizing during this crisis. Thanks to the generous support of our fellow Philanthropy Network members Independence Public Media Foundation, the Samuel S. Fels Fund, and Douty Foundation, we were able to launch the fund with $350,000.

During our Friday meetings, the committee reviews applications received that week and makes grant decisions. The fund has two priorities: funding community organizing related to COVID-19 and funding movement organizations that need urgent support to weather this storm. As I seek ways to lift my spirits, I’ve had fleeting moments of encouragement when I come across a feel-good clickbait story about an act of kindness during COVID. But on Fridays, when I hear firsthand about the spontaneous, creative, and resilient ways community organizers are responding to this crisis right here in the Philadelphia region, I am filled with lasting faith in our collective courage and strength.

I’m immensely proud to share that in the first six weeks of the Solidarity Fund, the community grantmaking committee has made $405,500 in grants to 42 grassroots community organizing groups. Community organizers, accustomed to being nimble in the face of lean resources, are creating new ways to share space, break isolation, and nurture community cohesion. They are mobilizing the most marginalized people within our communities to find ways to help one another even during physical distancing. I like to picture all of this work happening every day, proliferating across the city and beyond, because people are stepping up where they see need.

Mariame Kaba, a community organizer whom I respect and admire, wrote beautifully before the pandemic on how she connects her work to larger movements: 

“I think often of the people I don’t know who I will never meet. Thousands of miles away working for some justice in their own ways. When I think of these people, I’m encouraged in particular because I feel a small part of what they are trying to do and they are part of my effort. I take comfort in the fact that everywhere, every single place on earth, there are people fighting, building, trying, meeting, resisting, working to shift the world in the direction that I too hope it can be shifted.”

I, too, might not ever meet the thousands of people who are being nourished, connected, and healed by those 42 grassroots community organizing groups. But every day, I am grateful for their essential work, and I feel privileged that we are supporting their organizing through the Solidarity Fund. Thanks to donations from hundreds of individual donors and funders, we continue to make grants to new groups each week. I invite you to spend a few minutes reading about the Solidarity Fund grantees: I promise you’ll join me in feeling the power and ingenuity of our community.


Casey Cook is Executive Director of Bread & Roses Community Fund, and a board member of Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia.