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The Ella Baker Organizing Fund
53 West Jackson, Suite 701
Chicago, Illinois 60604
Note from our Founder:
I, Curtis Muhammad come from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s (SNCC) organizing tradition. We were directed by Mama Ella Baker to start where we are and to go deep. Her spirit inspired an over decade long investment by SNCC organizers in the strength and ability of everyday people to provide the leadership necessary to solve the problems of our community and change the world. It was the organized leadership and participation of everyday people in the movement for freedom that won some of the basic civil rights we have today. It was organizers knocking on everyday people’s doors day after day, engaging them in conversations about the world they wished to see and supporting them in organizing to realize that vision. And I was one of the people’s organizers.
The problems facing Black people in America today are worse than ever before. A Black person is killed every 28 hours in the United States, and over a third of young Black men are essentially slaves via mass incarceration. Ms. Baker’s words, spoken in 1964, sadly still strongly resonate today: “Until the killing of black men, black mothers' sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother's sons, we who believe in freedom cannot rest.” We need the same kind of movement of the fifties and sixties to happen today, and we need to build support for the current “soldiers in the army for freedom.” So, I sold my house, and I am donating the money from the sale to the establishment of “The Ella Baker Organizing Fund.” I have asked a small group of people who share my sentiments to create and manage the Ella Fund, and serve as its Organizing Committee.
I have asked the Ella Fund Organizing Committee to create the Ella Fund for the sole purposes of hiring, training and supporting bottom-up organizing and to build mass community support for the young leaders on the front lines who are risking their lives because “Black Lives Matter.” It is a critical moment to support the Black Lives Matter Movement and its related causes as this movement evolves, spreads and manifests itself in various ways and forms. And I have asked the Ella Fund to put me on the staff as its in-house Organizer Trainer in the Ella Baker organizing methodology as my final gift to the Freedom Struggle.
The Ella Fund will have three main goals. The first is to seek out the young leaders already engaged in and dedicated to the Black Lives Matter struggle and its related causes where they are working: Ferguson/St. Louis, Missouri, New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. The Ella Fund will train and give fellowships to some of these young leaders so that they can commit to full-time organizing, both locally and nationally. They will become experts in how to listen to and engage everyday people in struggle and support their leadership and organizing for radical change.
Second, the Ella Fund will support the building of the infrastructure that allowed the SNCC youth of the sixties to carry on an organizing program for almost a decade. In communities organized by SNCC, the people developed their own Freedom Schools to educate its young people. They built Freedom Houses where young SNCC organizers could live together rent free and in safety, and continue to do their work. SNCC communities also developed cooperatives that produced revenue and took care of basic needs such as food, clothing and transportation. Under the mentorship of Ms. Baker and a large network of elder freedom fighters, an economic infrastructure was built that allowed almost 300 young folk to spend almost a decade organizing the people to fight.
For additional support, SNCC developed “Friends of SNCC” groups in almost every major city in the U.S. and on college campuses. Under the direction of grassroots people, these Friends groups raised funds, volunteers, and support for people who got arrested. They participated in protests, organized media, set up Safe Rest and Recuperation Spaces, and created the Medical Committee for Human Rights to treat injuries. Friends of SNCC brought together teams of lawyers who defended the youth and put forth legal demands in the courts on behalf of the demands of the movement. The Ella Fund will recruit elder Freedom Fighters and the people of conscience of today to help today’s young soldiers in The Black Lives Matter movement and its related causes.
Third, the Ella Fund will focus on the development of a mass economic base for the movement through a number of strategies. It will call upon progressives who believe in organizing and care about justice to invest in the Ella Fund. It will call upon those in the Arts community- the Belafontes and Portiers of today- to use their songs, their dances, and their popularity in service of Black Lives Matter. It will call upon its organizers to fundraise within the communities they are organizing. An additional fellowship that focuses on developing this mass economic base also will be supported by the Ella Fund.
Ultimately, the Ella Fund will bring together Ms. Baker’s work; a network of SNCC movement elders who had been on the battlefield for most of their lives, and the resources, gifts, skills and talents of that movement in the service of today’s young people who are rising up and learning to organize. In bringing all of these components together, we shall not be moved and we shall not be stopped!
In the words of Ms. Baker, “In order for us as poor and oppressed people to become part of a society that is meaningful, the system under which we exist has to be radically changed. This means that we are going to have to think in radical terms. I use the term radical in its original meaning—getting down to and understanding the root cause. It means facing a system that does not lend itself to your needs and devising a means by which you change that system.” This is what the Ella Baker Organizing Fund is all about.