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Black Resilience: Building Power in the Bay Recap Blog

We keep our story alive, we keep our history alive by remembering, by reflecting, and renewing ourselves at every possible opportunity.” – Opening Preliminary delivered by Brotherhood of Elders Network Chief Network Officer Greg Hodge

This past September, over 200 members and champions of the ASCEND: BLO initiative, comprised of more than 300 Black-Led Organizations (BLOs), came together to learn, share and celebrate with one another during the 2nd annual ASCEND: BLO 2020 Virtual Network Summit, Black Resilience: Building Power in the Bay.

ASCEND:BLO was launched in 2018 as a seven-year capacity-building model designed to support the growth, sustainability, and impact of BLOs in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties. This year’s virtual event came at a critical and exhausting time for BLOs that are addressing the devastating effects of COVID-19 and systemic racism on their communities.

“Young people are trying to make sense out of things that are so conceptually tough to make sense out of,” said Serena Wilson, Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness of East Oakland Youth Development Center. “We are definitely seeing the trauma [of COVID-19]. We are also definitely seeing a lot of resilience and ways in which as a community we can really make sure that we are providing space for healing.”

Understanding that this is an adaptive time for the Network, ASCEND:BLO, with the support of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation used the Summit to release 10 mini-grants totaling $2,000 apiece to organizational recipients that included African American Community Service AgencyHealthy Hearts InstituteTabia African-American Theatre Ensemble at the San Jose Multicultural Artists Guild, Marcus Foster Education InstituteRichmond Neighborhood Housing ServicesLower Bottom PlayazGreene Scholars ProgramSister to Sister 2, Inc. (DBA Serenity House), Alena Museum, and Weekend-Adventures.

Attendees were also inspired by powerful speakers that included Gregory Hodge of the Brotherhood of Elders Network and Khepera Consulting; James W. Head of the East Bay Community Foundation; Stuart Burden of Silicon Valley Community Foundation; Judy Belk of The California Wellness Foundation; Fred Blackwell of the San Francisco Foundation; Dr. Robert K. Ross of The California Endowment; and Lateefah Simon of the Akonadi Foundation.

The ethos of the Summit was beautifully captured in the keynote speech by sociologist and civil rights leader Dr. Harry Edwards, whose career focused on the experiences of Black athletes. Dr. Edwards referred to four waves of sports activism as an organizing model to encapsulate what he said Black Resilience means over time. Dr. Edwards reminded us that to have Colin Kaepernick take a knee, we first needed Muhammad Ali to demand “what is my name?” when addressing his religious beliefs. This was only made possible by the nonviolent approach that Jackie Robinson modeled for fans by not engaging with white antagonists – later adopted by Martin Luther King Jr. during the Montgomery bus boycotts. Each generation grew upon the next, Dr. Edwards explained, and has become bolder, more resilient, and more willing to take on repercussions for their beliefs in order to build power and gain a seat at the table.

Similar to the narrative that Dr. Edwards addressed, the BLO leaders in attendance have been addressing the issues of systemic racism for decades, and often times have lacked the support, resources, and unapologetically Black designated spaces to explore that. The ASCEND: BLO Summit is the kind of safe place many organizers and leaders have craved to freely speak and address how to overcome these barriers collectively. Attendees were able to join one of the 8 dynamic breakout sessions developed by and for BLOs. Each year these sessions are one of the highlights of the Summit! “I spend so much of my professional time with predominantly white people; to be in a space with impressive Black thinkers from different social and professional backgrounds is inspiring,” said an ASCEND:BLO attendee.

The Black experience in this country represents over 400 years of resiliency, and BLOs understand the road to building true equitable power in the Bay is a journey that will rely on the waves of the future to eradicate the pains of the past.
ASCEND: BLO is staffed and led by the The East Bay Community Foundation.  If you are interested in learning more about the ASCEND: BLO initiative (Accelerator, Stabilizer, and Network) or donating you can learn more here or contact the following staff members:

Byron Johnson,
Capacity Building Initiative Officer
Zakiyyah Brewer,
ASCEND: BLO Program Associate
Special acknowledgements:
ASCEND:BLO Funders’ Collaborative: Akonadi Foundation, The California Endowment, The California Wellness Foundation, County of Alameda Supervisor Keith Carson’s Office, East Bay Community Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, Kapor Center, San Francisco Foundation, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Sobrato Family Foundation, Stupski Foundation, Walter & Elise Haas Fund, Y & H Soda Foundation, JP Morgan Chase Foundation, and the Target Foundation.
Program Partners: Be the Change Consulting, Blooming Willow Coaching, Catchafire, Jeweld Legacy Group, Leadership Incorporated, Saad and Shaw, Walker and Associates Consulting, Teng & Smith, and Black Funders Network of the Bay Area.

Thank you to our generous donors and funders, the EBCF staff and Board, and the ASCEND: BLO Advisory Board (Julia Beatty, Tom Ellebie, Juliet Ellis, Fran Jemmott, Susan Taylor Batten, Sherece West, and Thurman White).