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December 2020

In Midnights, In Cups of Coffee… 

By | Field News

I was in my twenties when I first saw Rent on Broadway. Having grown up acting in community theater and even having a stint on a TV show (story for another day), I am a die hard fan of the electricity that sizzles off live stages. That night in the Nederlander Theatre, something shifted in me. I went from being a removed appreciator of great talent to rocketing to my feet to clap and cry and dance and shout. I felt seen and moved and I knew that through theater, art, music and dance, people can connect and transport us out of our bodies and lives if even just for moments.

The year of 2020 has felt like a decade.

There have been some wild chapters—murder hornets, locust plagues, alien sightings. There have been dark, frozen moments, watching as that white police officer calmly knelt on George Floyd’s neck, an eerie execution in broad daylight captured on an iPhone and sent for the world to bear witness.

Were it not for the pandemic, for the Great Pause — as I call this year — would we have all slowed down enough to allow this time, this lynching at the hands of a police officer, this violation of a Black body, to have jolted us so violently? Because we slowed down and stood still. Was it the one-two punch of the accompanying video of the white woman calmly calling in a hit on the bird-watching Black man who asked her to obey the laws of the park that allowed things to click into place for so many? To realize there are entire subsets of laws, mores, metrics that say if you are white you can do just about anything. If you are Black and Brown, you are already condemned.

The Great Pause brought uprisings across the world. With so many sick and dying from COVID-19, so many out of work, the realization that the system is rigged was either long brewing or newly ignited—and people of all ages and races ran to the streets. Marching in masks, singing, and demanding that this time, THIS TIME, we need liberation instead of placation. We need to invest in abundance not admonition. We need to pedestalize the heroes, not the captors.

In my own home, the Great Pause brought a new reality. My husband lost his job at the beginning of the pandemic—and in turn gained five new ones. He is now the Dean, the Coach, the entire IT department, the Facilities Director and the “Projects as Assigned” Manager. My 10-year-old daughter began remote learning. She now types faster than I do, and has figured out ways to make every day seem special, and to “play” with friends virtually.

As someone who traveled at least a week out of every month for as long as I can remember, and who attended evening events two to three times per week, I have never spent so much time in one place. Turns out I can grow a thriving vegetable garden. I love working out in the mornings. I do my best cooking with jazz playing and dancing is something that helps move a meal to completion.

How do we adequately measure a year, the musical Rent asks us to consider.

In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, a year in the life?

I will measure 2020 in blessings. Here are a few:

The Blessing of Brilliant People. The Field Foundation staff is something else. They were not spared this year. There were cancer battles, loss of family members, repeated moves, care for our children, care for parents. There were struggles to find mental wellness in the face of extreme anxiety, to find balance in a world that seemed to need us every hour, every day. And this team rose when required and took time out when needed. I am proud of them for all of this. From launching Tuesday Teach Ins centering BIPOC organizers working to defund police, to serving on virtual panels while barefoot in their homes. From writing many newsletter items to lift new voices, to supporting new COVID funds and ensuring the dollars given centered racial justice and personally participating in mutual aid networks near and far. The way they each show up fully for this work is breathtaking and inspires me every day.

The Blessing of Vigorous and Respectful Debate. The Field Foundation board—and especially our leader, Board Chair Gloria Castillo, has set the bar high for trusteeship. So much in foundation-land is unseen. In happens in between the grants, in the boardrooms, in the committee meetings. Field is not new to racial justice work. We have, in fact, been training up for this moment. But this year we rooted in deep. Our Investment Chair Kym Hubbard led our continuing journey of understanding what racial justice looks like in a socially responsible investment space. Our Finance and Audit Chair Lyle Logan led us in understanding our spending policy and pushing us to understand what “impact” and “return” means to a legacy, not just to a ledger. And each of our trustees showed up fully to discuss, and, yes, debate—what the role of a racial justice foundation should be today and tomorrow. This is amidst grief and illness, hard-earned sabbaticals, and through fractured limbs. How does one thank a collective that redefines trusteeship as service to something bigger? Special shouts out to Dr. Cathy J. Cohen and Stephanie Field Harris for being unafraid to lead discussion on where we might journey next.

The Blessing of Collective Action. This year as we physically distanced, new collectives sprung up. Virtual institutions formed—without name, or pay, and with only a pressing need to rise to this moment. From the Just Action collective that will work in 2021 to help make real all those racial equity statements institutions put out, to the COVID Mapping Project, a collective of 20+ researchers and foundations committed to rebuilding with an eye on long-term racial justice recovery, this year taught me that here in Chicago we are not individual institutions but an ever-growing ensemble dedicated to the larger work.

The Blessing of Being a We. This is where you come in. So many of you, and others locally and nationally, inspire the heck out of me. You show me how to be kind and firm. How to have grace and mettle. How to be vulnerable and angry. How to be dreamy and steadfast. I have hope for what comes next because the boldest and brightest minds are at work on reimagining. Nonprofit leaders, public sector colleagues, philanthropic co-conspirators, artists, storytellers, organizers, and journalists. Our foundation is growing and rising to this moment because of the company we keep.

Make no mistake. This year has left each of us threshed. Grief, illness, anxiety—they have not spared our families and our loved ones. And yet. In that threshing comes a re-rooting, a new planting. I am stretching into 2021 firmly rooted in the history and promise of racial justice. Deeply humbled by the blessings of people working together across difference, knowing our difference is our strength. I am walking into the year a fierce believer. Knowing that in me, in you, in the bigger we—we will find sanctuary. I am growing and rising to this moment because of each of you.

Measuring in love,
Angelique Power, President

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year
from the Field Foundation!

 

Though we are physically separated, we are grateful for this year’s many blessings. We remain committed, passionate and excited about the work of racial equity and community empowerment — now more than ever.

From our Field Family to yours, Happy Holidays. We wish you all a safe and happy 2021 filled with peace and justice!

Unapologetic: On Black Women Making Cinema & Centering Themselves in the Narrative

By | Field News

Unapologetic poster courtesy of Kartemquin Films 

 

When Ashley O’Shay was growing up she mainly had Black women around her acting as her caretakers, teachers, close friends, confidants, and role models.

So it was natural when O’Shay, a novice filmmaker, picked up her camera, it was to tell the story of Black women whose stories aren’t often chronicled or told in major ways. This past summer, O’Shay released her first full-length film, Unapologetic.

Through her documentary, O’Shay helps explain the movement for Black lives and why so many recent protests and uprisings have been organized and led by African-American women.
Many of us are just now starting to study, listen and understand this current protest movement. O’Shay has delivered a sophisticated and layered film that interrogates and explains this movement through a Black, queer feminist lens.

Still, the film is being released, and even celebrated, at a time when there are conflicting public perspectives on how to handle police misconduct, law enforcement agencies’ swelling budgets, and the role of police in vulnerable, marginalized communities.

It’s no wonder that many in the mainstream public generally have affectionate and warm feelings related to police: from the very beginning of movie making, there have been films, television series and documentaries showcasing the lives of law enforcement and telling their stories, research and news reports show.

But films uplifting the leadership, evolution, development and struggles of Black girls and women are less common, said Karla Fuller, a lecturer and associate professor in the Cinema and Television Arts Department at Columbia College Chicago. Movies and films have the power to challenge stereotypes and change hearts and minds, Fuller said. But the only way to do that is to give the backstory of Black women in the movement who are often only seen from a one-dimensional lens on the nightly news.

“The way to change…is to humanize and focus on individual stories, background, families, friends, support and struggle,” Fuller explained. “That is the way to get to people’s hearts. It’s the only way. Because right now, not enough people see Black humanity.”

Sergio Mims, who selected Unapologetic to be screened at the Black Harvest Film Festival, echoed a similar sentiment. But it’s the uniqueness of the film that compelled him to screen it, said Mims, a film critic and co-programmer of the popular, Chicago-based film festival, which showcases the stories, images, heritage and history of the Black experience worldwide.

“It’s a Chicago movie and it’s about political activism [here],” he said. “Chicago has a long history of political activism … but there really haven’t been a lot of films about it, which is hard to think about.”

The films that highlight activism, tend to focus on an older generation of men, Mims said. Unapologetic challenges that narrative, he said.

“It profiles two women, from two very different backgrounds, but who came together for the same purpose. That was even more fascinating,” he said.

A priority of Field’s Media and Storytelling portfolio is to support voices from Chicago’s communities that are too often overlooked. We are especially focused on African, Latinx, Asian, Arab and Native American (ALAANA) voices that provide balanced perspectives and nuanced views from residents who don’t get their stories told.

Documentary films specifically can be used to advance social change. But too often, people of color don’t have ownership of stories in their communities, according to Beyond Inclusion, a Ford Foundation research report written by Sahar Driver, PhD. Marginalized residents are excluded from social justice storytelling and don’t benefit from its transformative potential, the report revealed. The Ford Foundation also helped fund Unapologetic. 

For five years, O’Shay filmed the journey and experiences of two African-American women in Chicago who are frontline organizers in the Black Lives Matter movement.

Ambrell Gambrall is better known as “Bella BAHHS” and is an artist and daughter of incarcerated parents. She has seen directly the impact of the prison industrial complex on her West Side family. And as a result, she turns to organizing and activism as a path toward Black liberation, the film documents.

Janaé Bonsu, the second protagonist, is pursuing a doctoral degree during filming. Through her research and organizing, Bonsu came to understand the way systemic racism and especially the criminal justice system damaged Black families.

The film goes beyond the women’s roles in marches and rallies and takes viewers into their homes and quiet spaces, and into intimate moments with their families.

“I started this film because I felt, what was lacking, was a comprehensive media piece about the lives of women behind this movement,” O’Shay said. “I knew these women had lives, passions, careers and loved ones outside of their public images and personas. I wanted viewers to see there are all types of women involved in this movement. It’s not just one particular idea – a Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King or religious-type leader. This movement comprises all types of people.”

Still, O’Shay’s film is revolutionary because it focuses on Black women, who have been historically excluded as documentary subjects. As a Black woman director, O’Shay herself is a rarity because of obstacles in the film industry and systemic racism.

“I think that who is behind the lens matters as much as who is in front of the lens,” O’Shay said recently. “When I go out into the field with my camera to document a protest event or rally, I’m still a Black woman in America. That is still how people are going to see me. And that’s not something I feel I can abandon because I have a camera in my hands.”

When O’Shay premiered her film in Chicago over the summer – at an outdoor, socially distant screening – she tried to limit the audience to 50 guests. But as word spread, nearly twice that number showed up, forcing her to scramble to get enough headphones so everyone spread out on their blankets and lawn chairs on the grass lot behind the Museum of Science and Industry could watch.
O’Shay admits that this moment means her film has mostly been embraced warmly. Still, she worries about how unwelcoming cinema can be for ambitious artists.

“I’m privileged,” she said. “I’ve been trained. But there are people who have great stories … who don’t get access into spaces because institutions too often only believe in and invest in one type of person.

“So ultimately, I wish there was more risk-taking by investors, gatekeepers and financiers. They decide what the media space will look like and they should see, there is not enough diversity there.”

Lolly Bowean
Media & Storytelling Program Officer 

 

ABOUT MEDIA AND STORYTELLING
Lolly Bowean manages the Media & Storytelling portfolio. The goals of the Field Foundation’s Media & Storytelling program, a partnership with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Democracy Fund, are to: create more just and inclusive narratives about Chicago that foster policy change; amplify the voices and impact of African, Latinx, Asian, Arab and Native American journalists, media makers and storytellers in the local media landscape; and support more reporting and storytelling by traditional and alternative journalism platforms about the root causes of the city’s inequities. Learn more about our program here.

We begin accepting applications for the next grant cycle on December 15. The deadline for submission is January 15.


Chicago Racial Justice Pooled Fund

 

The Chicago Racial Justice Pooled Fund is a commitment from thirteen foundations to raise and move $3M to Chicago organizations building and sustaining movements for justice that center Black lives and address anti-Blackness. The Fund will provide grants to Black-led community organizing groups as well as allied community organizing groups addressing anti-Blackness. While $3M is not an equitable amount to address the violence that racial injustice has ravaged, this is the first step of many needed towards a more just Chicago. The Field Foundation is a proud contributor.

The application process is now open and will continue until further notice. Click the logo for more information.


Registration Now Open for Field Foundation Information Session 

 

The Field Foundation is hosting an information session at 11 am, Tuesday, December 15, 2020. The Letter of Inquiry portal for summer 2021 grant consideration also opens that day. The session will provide general guidelines to our grant making and include details about our grants in Art, Justice, Media & Storytelling and the Leaders for a New Chicago Award. Registration is now open.