Giving Circles: A Powerful Tool for Racial Justice Work

image1By Alli Lesovoy

The question: What can I do to combat racial injustice?

I have a hard time figuring out where I fit in the fight for racial justice. All my life, I’ve seen instances of racial inequality. I’ve spent the past three years doing service in low income communities through my work at Repair the World. I’ve mobilized thousands of young people to volunteer alongside me. The more I saw and experienced, the deeper it pushed me to think about how to make real change. Other than volunteering, I wasn’t sure what I could do as a white person.

Before I took action, I wanted to go to some racial justice trainings. Luckily, in my role as NYC Engagement Associate at Repair the World, I was given the opportunity to attend the a 3-day Undoing Racism Training with the People’s Institute For Survival and Beyond and other shorter trainings. There, I learned that yes, I need to gather my friends and think together about how to move forward, but more importantly, I need to galvanize my fellow white people to work with people of color who are leading the movement.

The trainings gave me the skills to facilitate learning sessions on systemic racism and oppression for our volunteers in food insecurity and education inequality. Repair the World knows that volunteering is more meaningful for the participant, and more likely to lead to ongoing engagement, when coupled with learning and contextualization – in this instance understanding how racial injustice contributes to food insecurity and education inequality. Through these facilitation of learning sessions, I am able to compliment and deepen the volunteer experience. I sought a lasting community with which to continue the work I had begun at the trainings, and I started talking to other NYC millennial Jews about it. Almost everyone I talked to expressed the concern and a similar paralysis – they didn’t know what to do to directly address racial injustice. Going to protests is an important way to show solidarity, but how can we, as white Jewish allies, help support real change? We don’t want to be bystanders and we don’t want to overstep. I learned that my experience of not knowing where I fit into the struggle for racial justice is not unique, but what should I do about it in addition to volunteering?

The solution: Starting a giving circle through Repair the World, AVODAH, and Amplifier.

Repair the World encouraged me to start a giving circle. A giving circle is a group of people who pool charitable donations and decide together where to allocate their funds. We knew we’d need support, so I applied for and was accepted to Amplifier’s Giving Circle Incubator, a program that supports community leaders who are building new circles motivated by Jewish values.

At the Incubator trainings, I realized that a giving circle could be a powerful method of supplementing volunteer work to engage with racial justice. My fellow Incubator participants pointed out that giving circles bring like minded people together to create community around giving. Why not combine it with volunteering and use this as a new way of thinking about racial justice?

Upon returning from the kickoff training, I invited AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps to partner with Repair the World to recruit for and run the circle. I immediately thought of Rachel Glicksman, the Alumni Director at AVODAH, who has experience in the racial justice sphere and could bring in a network of alumni and activists that the circle needed to move forward. Together, we started strategizing the launch of the Repair the World NYC and AVODAH Racial Justice Giving Circle.

Our goal: 10-15 members donating a minimum of $36 each. We set the donation minimum at $36 to make it clear that everyone can make a difference, no matter how much money they can afford to give. A little over $600 won’t end racial injustice, but donating a large amount of money isn’t necessarily the point of participating in a giving circle. Our priority was to create an anti-racist community who educates themselves and fights for racial justice through multiple modalities.

Volunteering is at the core of Repair the World’s mission, so we grounded our philanthropy work in a volunteer experience. At our third of five monthly meetings, we volunteered in Central Brooklyn at the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center to learn about the important anti-violence work they do, and hand out flyers to spread awareness about the organization. We used the experience to see how racial justice plays out around us and deepened our work by learning with a local community organization.

My take away: A learning community with real action

Racial justice discussions permeated every meeting. We used both the individual and collective knowledge of the group members and expertise of outside trainers from the Brooklyn Community Foundation, the Mediation Center, Amplifier, and others. We learned from individuals and community organizations that are working toward racial justice on a larger scale so that we could learn where our small-scale funds are most useful. And, we took action, with our time and our funds.

The giving circle is working. It is a powerful model and a tool to begin learning together, building community, and taking action. We used our Jewish heritage, our collective knowledge, and the knowledge of the local community to guide our learning and our giving. By our last meeting, our members learned about racism and racial justice, researched the role of philanthropy in this work, volunteered, and made a communal donation to two organizations working toward racial justice – Sadie Nash Leadership Project and Jews For Racial and Economic Justice. And we hope this work doesn’t end at our last meeting. Our aim is that by having this experience together, we are generating a sustainable community, and arming our participants with concrete tools to join in the fight for racial justice in their own lives.

Alli Lesovoy, the NYC Engagement Associate at Repair the World, is a participant in Amplifier’s Jewish Giving Circle Incubator. The Incubator helps individuals and and professionals representing their organizations start new giving circles. The Repair the World NYC & AVODAH Racial Justice Giving Circle builds bridges between different types of service – volunteering and philanthropy. Applications for the next Incubator cohort open on July 5th. Click here to learn more.