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Newsletter May 2016

From the President

Much of the focus of Akonadi Foundation’s work over the years has its roots in the campaign against Proposition 21. That initiative, entitled ‘Juvenile Crime’, was approved on the March 2000 ballot and changed many provisions in the law relating to the sentencing, process, prosecution and treatment of young people. It increased sentences for certain crimes, reduced protections and types of probation for youth and forced more youth to be tried as adults. One particular heinous aspect of the law was the power it gave prosecutors to unilaterally determine that a child as young as 14 should be tried as an adult. This process, known as “direct file”, departed from previous practice of requiring an impartial judge to make the determination of where a youth should be tried, thus vastly increasing the number of youth in the adult criminal system.

During the campaign in 2000 many young people went to the streets in opposition to the initiative. Youth of color, in particular, were instrumental in the analysis and communication of the detrimental effects such a law would have on their community. Young leaders rose to the challenge, organized thousands of people, young and old, to work together against the initiative. The energy, passion and strategic leadership that the young people of color brought to the fight was truly inspirational and has remained a north star in Akonadi’s approach to grantmaking, not only in the issues we fund, but the way in which we conduct our funding: community and youth organizing are central to our work.

Despite the vigorous protests, the initiative passed. Now, sixteen years and many ruined lives later, there is an opportunity to change some of the worst parts of Prop 21. A new initiative, the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016, may be on the November ballot. The initiative would authorize more rehabilitation opportunities for young people and get rid of the process of direct files of youth into the adult system.

Such changes would be welcome. Whatever the outcome of the November ballot, Akonadi will continue to focus on the strong smart leadership of youth and young adults of color in Oakland, who everyday are protesting against the injustices inherent in our systems and organizing their community for a more racially just world.  We firmly believe that is the way real change will come about. It is at the heart of who Akonadi is.  

This deep value that all of us at Akonadi share will continue even as the leadership of Akonadi Foundation changes. I have received so many well wishes since I announced that I was transitioning from the role of President of Akonadi to board member. Thank you all for your kind words.  Our search continues on schedule for a new President while we continue our work. The new President will have an opportunity to bring new vitality and strategy to Akonadi’s work, as well as a new program officer for our Arc Toward Justice Fund. We are all excited about that.  

As we look forward to this transition, we are mindful of our roots. We are proud of the amazing work so many young people have accomplished and grateful that we have been able to support them. And we will continue to do so in the future.

In Solidarity,
Quinn Delaney
Akonadi Foundation President


Akonadi Staff
Grants Manager Iris Garcia, Deputy Director Gina Acebo, Renee Geesler Comms, Sheena Johnson Program Officer 

Interview by Renee Geesler with Sheena Johnson, Beloved Community Fund Program Officer

Sheena Johnson is the Program Officer for the Beloved Community Fund at Akonadi Foundation. In addition to managing the Beloved Community Fund, she also supports the overall grantmaking strategy with the Akonadi Staff and develops the Organizational Learning approach around displacement in Oakland. In this interview by Renee Geesler, Akonadi Foundation’s Digital Engagement Coordinator, Sheena describes why she is inspired by the Beloved Community Fund.

The Beloved Community Fund is a monthly fund intended to support public events and spaces that use art and culture to build voice, power, and self determination in communities of color. Describe the main priorities of the Beloved Community Fund.

The Beloved Community Fund supports arts and cultural events that are free and open to the public that celebrate and are rooted in communities of color in Oakland. At the heart of the Beloved Community Fund, we are really looking at this idea of what it means to claim space for communities of color in Oakland to celebrate, love, and to heal with one another.

As the fund grows, we continue to think about how to deepen our approach. In particular, we are interested in projects that are centered around arts and culture as it relates to grassroots organizing and movement building. We are excited when we see proposals that look at policing, structural violence and state violence, particularly in the black community. Proposals that center around combating stereotypes of youth and young adults of color, projects related to healing from trauma in our communities. And based on our past grantmaking, we see an opportunity to deepen our work in deep East Oakland, and West Oakland, and are interested in expanding our reach to the Latino, East Asian and Pacific Islander communities. When we talk about working with communities of color, we also honor that we are not homogenous. That we all have different ways in which these systems and structures impact our lives. So for all of us at Akonadi, we continue to try to lift up what it means to support those of us of color who are on the outer margins, for example, how do we think deeply about what it means to support sexually exploited minors of color, trans black women, or migrant communities of color, and their life experiences. We seek to deepen our engagement with those who are on the margins of these structures and most marginalized to learn, and to center their leadership and vision.

Why is it important to create these cultural spaces?

The culture is the people, the people are Oakland. We are in a time where displacement is a tremendously impacting who has the right to stay in Oakland. There is a real question about the longevity of communities of color in Oakland; Will there be a place for us?  And culture is integral to that conversation. I am very much interested in projects that make the linkage between the role that arts and culture have in movement building, and fighting for justice. For example, Oakland Carnival is a cultural event that happens each year, and this year in particular the organizers want to integrate a march as part of this festival because they see that there is an assault on the cultural community, particularly the Black and Latino arts community in Oakland. Through their work, they see that their ability to celebrate culture is directly linked to their ability to exist here in this city, and so there is an urgency to bridge activism and art.

Sheena, you are an artist, a dancer, and a community builder. Why do you feel this fund is so important personally?

Maybe it’s cheesy, but dancing saved my life. Being an artist has given me a place to heal and to find my voice. Most of my work as a choreographer looks at internalized oppression, particularly through the lens of being a black queer woman who grew up in a poor and working class household, with a single mom, and how internalized oppression impacts our ability to live fully. We can look at structural violence, and that is real and certainly impacts us daily. But the other piece for me is really how we, as folks of color, as black folks, internalize that oppression. The arts, and dance in particular, has been my vehicle to look at myself in the mirror around issues of internalized oppression, pull all of those things out of the hard to reach places, and give a name to them. Honoring that it is a process of healing, and art can be a powerful tool towards that healing. When I say that dance saved my life, it has actually opened up possibilities for me to heal in ways that I never knew were possible because of the privilege of time and space it has afforded me. Through BCF supported events, the hope is that we are offering communities of color that same power of time and space to heal, reflect, and imagine.

Talk more about the intersection of art, culture, racial justice and healing and why it is so important to lift up this intersectionality for communities of color to thrive.

When I first moved to the Bay, about ten years ago, I took the School of Unity and Liberation’s (SOUL) Revolution 101 course. The next year, I was invited to come back to do an Art and Activism session with the participants. The question I posed to the room of activists was, ‘What is needed for Revolution?’ People listed a lot of different things including strategic movement building, organizing, and making alliances globally. I said, those are all very good things, but I want to push back and say that I believe that a pre-condition for any revolution is that, as people who are most impacted by oppression, we actually have a space to heal. And for me, arts and culture is a critical tool for that healing. Culture in particular, because our cultures have been stripped from us. We have been socialized in a western construct, so how do we learn to decolonize our minds and reclaim our indigenous cultures? Art and culture provide a place where we can build our voices, our imagination and creativity, so that we can imagine that our world can be different. There is certainly an urgency to fight against oppressive systems but I also want to argue that there is also an urgency to build our muscles to imagine how to live outside of, and beyond these oppressive systems, so that when they topple we don’t replicate the same thing. We often don’t have that space to imagine how things could be different, so arts and culture are both critical to that conversation.

Arc Toward Justice Grantee, Ella Baker Center at their 'Night Out for Safety and Liberation' event
Photo Credit: Brooke Anderson


We are expanding our Arc Towards Justice Portfolio!

The Arc Towards Justice Fund was launched in 2013. After three years, Akonadi Foundation is expanding the portfolio by adding new organizations in 2016 to deepen our racial justice ecosystem grantmaking to support successful movement-building for racial justice and social change in Oakland.

Arc Towards Justice grant partners receive an initial one-year core-operating support grant up to $85,000. Additional grants are available to Arc Towards Justice grantees, including support for organizational strengthening, travel and events. Click here to learn more about the Arc Towards Justice Fund criteria and approach. 

To apply to the Arc Towards Justice Fund, please complete this Eligibility Quiz to determine whether your organization qualifies.

June Beloved Community Fund Information Sessions

Akonadi Foundation invites you to an information session to learn more about our Beloved Community Fund, our monthly fund for Art and Culture Events in Oakland.
The Beloved Community Fund supports free public arts and cultural events that celebrate, and are rooted in, communities of color in Oakland. In this information session, we will cover the Fund's criteria, application process, what we are looking for in an application and answer your questions.

Wednesday 6/1, 4-6 pm, at Akonadi Foundation, 436 14th Street, #1417, Oakland
Saturday 6/4, 2-4pm, at 81st Avenue Library, 1021 81st Ave, Oakland, CA 94621
Thursday 6/9, 6-8pm, at West Oakland Youth Center, 3233 Market St, Emeryville, CA 94608

Please RSVP HERE by May 30th

Grantee Highlight: AYPAL

We are happy to highlight a Beloved Community Fund Grant recipient, AYPAL, Building API Community Power, an Oakland based non profit whose mission is to empower low-income Asian & Pacific Islander immigrant and refugee youth to be leaders for school reform, and neighborhood change. AYPAL youth have been working on campaigns to bring attention to displacement issues in the face of the rapid development that is taking place in Oakland.  AYPAL will celebrate 18 years of community organizing in Oakland’s Chinatown at their May Arts Festival, 'Reclaiming Our Roots' on May 14 from 11 to 4 p.m. at San Antonio Park in Oakland. Hear more about their advocacy work, and their campaigns against displacement in this KPFA Apex Express Radio interview with Joshua Fisher Lee and Lubab Alkkhayyat.

See our full list of 2016 Beloved Community Fund Grantees, and click here to see a photo slide show of the events that were supported through the Beloved Community Fund in 2015. 

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