New Platform Gives Black-Led Baltimore Groups a Chance to Shine

'Black Futures Micro-Grants' offer ‘no-strings’ support for black-led community groups in Baltimore.

(Photo by Steelplug)

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At first, Nichole Mooney ran Black Girls Cook out of her own pocket and with whatever money she could scrounge up on GoFundMe. The Baltimore nonprofit offers periodic six-week classes to girls from the city, teaching them about all aspects of cooking, from planting seeds to harvesting produce and creating dishes. Mooney started the program five years ago, and says she manages to run a six-week course for fifteen girls for around $5,000, which covers the cost of food and equipment.

“We essentially teach girls of color between the ages of 8 and 15 the meaning of ‘farm to table,’” Mooney says.

Two years ago, Black Girls Cook got a fiscal sponsor, giving it access to grant funding. This year Mooney is hoping to expand the class size to 20, and has also begun presenting special events, like a workshop in Baltimore called “Beauty-Food,” teaching girls in northeast Baltimore how to create skincare products out of items they might find in the kitchen.

Last month, Black Girls Cook was one of 25 Baltimore organizations to submit to the Black Futures Micro-Grant video contest run by CLLCTIVLY, a Baltimore organization that helps connect community organizations in the city. After a two-week voting period, the winning group will be given a $1,000 grant to spend as it sees fit. The application was easy, Mooney says: Just a two-minute video describing the organization’s work, incorporating one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa. In the case of Black Girls Cook, that’s Umoja, or Unity.

As of this writing, Black Girls Cook has pulled in 48 votes. The leading entry has more than 500.

“You have to get people to vote daily, which is kind of tedious, but it’s easy compared to other grants,” Mooney says.

Jamye Wooten, the founder of CLLCTIVLY, says the group plans to give out one grant a month for a year, and see where it goes from there. The point is to give some of the many small, Black-led, under-resourced community groups in Baltimore access to some measure of support without making them jump through too many hoops. Future grant offers might feature an essay contest or a photo contest, or include monthly themes focusing on LGBT- or youth-led organizations. For Wooten, incorporating principles into the application is key because, he says, “Principles are the keys to decentralized organizations.”

Wooten is also co-founder of Baltimore United for Change, a coalition of community groups that joined forces after the death of Freddie Gray in 2015 to push for police reforms and support for poor communities in Baltimore. His communications firm, KINETICS, also helped launch the Baltimore Children and Youth Fund, which awarded $10.8 million in grants to 84 organizations last fall, as Next City reported.

The applicants for the first round of Black Futures grants represent a broad range of community organizations in Baltimore. One is an app for connecting people to Black-owned businesses called Bburb. Others represent groups organizing for health care reforms or advertising life-skills workshops, mentoring, and event productions.

One of the goals of the Baltimore Children and Youth Fund is to help small organizations compete for funding on a more level playing field with professionally staffed nonprofits. The Black Futures Microgrants are aiming to do that on an even smaller scale.

“It is truly no strings attached, so I’m not mad if you take that thousand dollars and go to the spa. I’m really not,” Wooten says. “Folks are working hard in the community and it can be stressful … If the community believes your organization needs to be honored, I’m not monitoring what you do with a thousand dollars.”

In addition to the Black Futures grants, CLLCTIVLY, which launched last month, is also creating an “asset map” of Black-led community organizations in Baltimore, as part of an effort to connect grassroots service organizations around the city. Wooten hopes community groups will use the asset map to form coalitions and prevent duplicating efforts with other established organizations. He says it’s the goal of CLLCTIVLY to embody the principles of civil rights leader Ella Baker and her maxim, “Strong people don’t need strong leaders.”

And Wooten says he’s hoping the Black Futures Microgrants will raise the profile of small organizations, whether they win a grant or not.

“We’re really trying to just center these Black-led organizations that are often underfunded and under-resourced,” he says.

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Jared Brey is Next City's housing correspondent, based in Philadelphia. He is a former staff writer at Philadelphia magazine and PlanPhilly, and his work has appeared in Columbia Journalism Review, Landscape Architecture Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Philadelphia Weekly, and other publications.

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Tags: baltimorecommunity-engaged design

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