At GEO’s 2022 National Conference, hosted in partnership with Forefront, grantmakers and other practitioners had the opportunity to come together in Chicago, Illinois, to explore challenges and uncover solutions with fellow grantmakers who are leaning into transformational change in order to create a just, connected, and inclusive society where we can all thrive. The conference program included Short Talks—engaging, 20-minute, keynote-style presentations that challenge current philanthropic culture and practice and inspire participants to think about the topic, their work, and/or their lives differently.

My name is Tanya Watkins, and I’m the executive director of Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, also known as SOUL. See? And its sister C4 organization, SOUL In Action.

SOUL is a radical, Black-led and Black-centered faith-based organization, working at the intersection of racial and economic justice in Chicago Southland. If you come across someone who happens to be familiar with SOUL and you ask them, what does SOUL do, they might say, “Oh, yeah, that’s that organization that goes out there and fights with the police.” Or, “That’s that organization that stood outside the Chicago Board of Trade and fought with the banks and the billionaires.” Or, “Those are those people that are always fighting to #FreeThemAll and defund the county jails.” They might look at me and say, “Hey! Ain’t you that loud girl that’s always fighting with the mayor and got dragged out of City Hall in handcuffs?” And I’d be like, you’re not wrong. Even when my kid was little and they were trying to describe what I do to their teacher, they were like, “My mom fights mean white people.” Imagine having to explain that at report-card pickup.

But that word, “fight.” That word was in every speech that I gave in direct actions. It’s been my go-to word to rile people up at every meeting. Hell, it even felt like I was fighting for funding. “Fight” had not only become synonymous with my organization, but it had begun to encapsulate my very personhood. I started to believe that the only way I could survive in this world, particularly as a Black woman and especially in this work, was to thicken my skin, build my brigades, and just resist. My reality as a so-called movement builder was to be in perpetual struggle with everything. I mean, that’s really what folks would like you to believe, right? The words we’ve been called, the words I’ve been called—a thug, a terrorist, a BLM Soros-funded gang member. And for the record, I don’t even know George Soros. I have never seen this man, and he has never given me a check. But in the eyes of the public—and oftentimes philanthropy—movement builders like me exist solely for the battleground, if we even exist at all. Loudspeakers in hand, risking our safety on the frontlines of marches and direct actions, our value intricately wrapped up in the number of bodies we turn out, how much noise we make, how many sound bites the press picks up, the number of legislators we unelect or run screaming out of office, or the pieces of bad policy we fight back.

Read the full article about funding for radical liberation by Tanya Watkins at Nonprofit Quarterly.