Cleveland Colectivo Update – 2016

Curious about what we were up to in 2016? Colectivo member Walter Wright wrote this recap.

2016 was a pivotal year for the Cleveland Colectivo. In late 2015, we held the first of two retreats for our members, facilitated by Lisa-Jean (LJ) Sylvia, a friend and supporter of our mission. Our purpose was to clarify the purpose, identity and vision of the Cleveland Colectivo. Having reached ten years of giving, some Colectivo members were feeling uninspired and uncertain about the future of the organization.

First, we reviewed our mission:

"Strengthen our community through collective investments that identify and nurture innovative projects. We pool our funds and share our energy to invest it back into projects that we see as worthwhile and exciting in Cleveland."

Secondly, we went through a timeline of the work behind us, and thought about the work ahead of us. This was inspiring as we reviewed our impact on the community, and on the deepening connection between the members. Recommitting to our vision, we wanted to establish a vision for the next phase of the organization, and to answer a key tactical question:

"Given the current availability of volunteers and the current giving environment, what giving model/process is best for the Colectivo?"

After much discusion, we established four key priorities:

  • Deliberately fostor a sense of community among Colectivo members;
  • Be an opportunity for members and the community at large to learn together;
  • Identify and support champions who work to address systemic issues in innovative ways.

Specific Ideas we discussed included:

  • A "Slow Pitch" event – invite key leaders in a specific impact area and have a deep conversation together
  • A "Genius Award" – identify key leaders and provide them with an unrestricted grant to support their work, and honor their contribution
  • A "Year of Giving"” Theme – pick one area, or a specific neighborhood, for giving

Working to put this into practice, the members convened in April and were asked to bring a few ideas of potential people/projects to support in 2016. Those who brought ideas “pitched” them to the group. There were several projects that Colectivo members themselves were involved in and seeking support, and we committed to do so. Talespinner Theatre, Literary Cleveland, and the Cudell Cooking Club each received $600 to support their work.

However, we decided to use the bulk of our collective funds to support a “slow pitch” event – a deep conversation between Colectivo members and people who are deeply engaged in changing things on a grassroots level. We also began to speak of this as a “Learning Circle,” an open exchange where we ask questions and listen. As we spoke about the event, the idea of focusing on racial justice emerged. And we identified three individuals whose work was felt to be vital:

  • Fred Ward, Khnemu community center in Glenville;
  • Christen Farmer, who has established Birthing Beautiful Communities to work in Hough and other neighborhoods to reduce infant mortality and support mothers and their families; and
  • Jasmine Burnett, New Voices for Reproductive Justice

We reached out to these three leaders and agreed to meet for a “Learning Circle” at the Khnemu Center (966 E. 105th St.) on the evening of August 3 for a conversation about racial justice in Cleveland with Christin Farmer, Jasmine Burnett, and Fred Ward.

The format of this conversation was different from our usual interview dates. We wanted the conversation to be an open dialogue with some of the champions doing promising work to address racial injustice in Cleveland. And we got it! The conversation was frank, humbling and inspiring. Our members in attendance – all white – were anxious to learn about the issues of racism directly from the people affected who are working to address it. We wanted to listen and seek understanding in order to be better allies. This is a different kind of a conversation. Importantly, it occurred in space in the neighborhood and was led by people in the neighborhood.

Each of them received a $250 honorarium for being part of the conversation, and we also later met and decided to grant each of them – Fred, Jasmine and Christin – a surprise $1000 "genius grant" to sustain their work.

We loved the Learning Circle and the focus on racial justice, and hope to convene another Learning Circle in the future.

"Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
~ Howard Thurman

Colectivo members