During its fall meeting, the Board of Directors of the UCC’s Council for Health and Human Service Ministries approved grants to five organizations working to end systemic racism. The grants were announced following the meeting, held virtually Nov. 16-18, 2020.
Grants in the amount of $3,000 each will be given to the Grassroots Law Project, Ohio Poor People’s Campaign, The Bail Project, the Overdose and Drug Use Ministries of the United Church of Christ, and the New Ballet Ensemble in Memphis.
“Following the release of our Statement on Systemic Racism, CHHSM staff members came up with seven organizations for possible grants. These five were selected by unanimous Board vote,” says Michael J. Readinger, CHHSM president and CEO. “All are highly worthy, boots-on-the-ground organizations working to end systemic racism on a variety of social and legal fronts.”
CHHSM’s statement on systemic racism grew out of its June Board meeting, in response to the murder of George Floyd on May 25 and the subsequent country-wide outcry against systemic racism and police brutality. Paula Barker, CHHSM’s executive assistant for events and administration, wrote the grant process documents, organized and led the Board of Directors session that determined the grants, and organized the Board’s decision-making process.
“The dollar is one of the most hardened tools in continuing to foster racism and disenfranchise groups of people,” Barker says. “Likewise, philanthropic funding to organizations that work to dismantle racism is hard to come by. It’s important that we live our mission to become more just, caring and compassionate. It’s equally important that we begin to define what just, caring and compassionate means in action and deed.”
The grants are just one small step in that direction. In order to fund the groups in additional significant ways, Readinger says the Board also is looking at how some or all of the grantees might be designated for contributions by attendees to the 2021 virtual Annual Gathering in lieu of paying a registration fee.
About the Five Grantees
Grassroots Law Project bridges the gap between grassroots organizing and legal expertise in criminal justice reform by brining millions of people together to address the most pressing and egregious failures of the legal system, hold lawmakers accountable, and advocate for deep structural change.
The Ohio Poor People’s Campaign is committed to lifting up and deepening the leadership of people most affected by systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, and ecological devastation, and to building unity across lines of division. It works to dismantle unjust criminalization systems that exploit poor communities and communities of color and transform the “war economy” into a “peace economy” that values all humanity.
The Bail Project National Revolving Bail Fund helps prevent incarceration and combat racial and economic disparities in the bail system. It provides free bail assistance to low-income individuals who are legally presumed innocent and whom a judge has deemed eligible for release before trial, contingent on paying bail. This enables clients to return home to their families and communities while awaiting court dates. Additionally, since bail is returned following a case, the monies can then be used three or four times each year to help clients.
“The Bail Project makes such a vital difference responding to the injustices of mass incarceration in our country, and how the bail system in particular intentionally and disproportionately impacts communities of color and poor people,” says the Rev. Elyse Berry, D.Min., CHHSM’s associate for advocacy and leadership development. “Its work was brought to my mind when no officers were charged with any crimes related to Breonna Taylor’s death.”
The Overdose and Drug Use Ministries (ODUM) of the UCC brings together pastors, lay leaders, theologians, people who use drugs, service providers, activists and other collaborators in order to advocate for and increase the engagement of local churches in ministries with people who use drugs, people who have been affected by drug use, and people who may be at risk for or have experience incidents of overdose. It focuses on providing resources that equip local churches to engage in overdose and drug use ministries in their communities, with particular attention to the intersections of stigma, trauma, drug use, faith and spirituality.
ODUM “explicitly names how we continue to lose lives to systemic racism, particularly through policies related to the war on people who use drugs,” says Berry. “ Its work upholds and works for the inherent worth of all people, and does so through advocacy for larger systemic change” as well as with local work with individuals and communities.
The New Ballet Ensemble and School, located in Midtown Memphis, brings children and youth together from across the mid-South, providing a professional standard of dance training, regardless of the ability to pay. In 2014, it received the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award as the best creative youth development program for using engagement in the arts and the humanities to increase self-direction, academic achievement, graduation rates, and college enrollment. Its approach equips its students with expertise, life skills, and job/college readiness.
CHHSM’s efforts to help dismantle systemic racism and centuries of white supremacy must include helping partner organizations, says the Rev. George Graham, CHHSM vice president. “If we say we want to eliminate racism, then it’s important that we offer financial support to organizations who are doing this work,” Graham says. “We are pleased to be able to make contributions to these five organizations that are focused on this work in a variety of ways, from grassroots organizing to the arts to overdose prevention to justice system reform.”