.How Rise Together Became a Model for Philanthropic Groups

BIPOC-led organizations awarded $400K in new grants

When community members gather on Friday to celebrate $400,000 in new grants that will be awarded to BIPOC-led organizations, it will also be a celebration of how far the Rise Together initiative has come in the last two years. 

The coalition of BIPOC community leaders was originally formed in 2020 to help the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County distribute $350,000 in pandemic-era funding to BIPOC-led organizations. However, it soon became obvious to Community Foundation CEO Susan True and Engagement Officer Stacey Marie Garcia that this was about far more than distributing money. What began as a way to bring representation to local philanthropy became a movement, as the network of leaders continued supporting one another’s vision of racial equity, working together to ensure its success in a structure that ensured BIPOC leaders had decision-making power over the process. 

Ultimately, Rise Together became a model for how philanthropy can be done, with decisions around funding BIPOC-led communities and organizations being led by members of the communities themselves.

Following this initial success, the initiative continued to grow. In April of this year, Rise Together added 11 new members to the circle, including Esabella Bonner of Black Surf Santa Cruz and Blended Bridge; María Ascencion Ramos Bracamontes of Campesina Womb Justice; Angela Chambers from the Tannery World Dance & Cultural Center and Santa Cruz County Black Health Matters Initiative; Dr. Rebecca Hernandez of UCSC University Library; Jaime Molina of Community Action Board and National Compadres Network; Thomas Sage Pedersen, Speak for Change Podcast and Everyone’s Music School; Jennifer Herrera, County of Santa Cruz Health Services Agency; Elaine Johnson, Housing Santa Cruz County; Chairman Val Lopez, Amah Mutsun Tribal Band and Amah Mutsun Land Trust; and Kara Meyberg Guzman, co-founder of Santa Cruz Local. 

Beneficiaries of the latest round of funding include the Cine Se Puede Fellowship, an initiative launched by Watsonville Film Festival to support local, emerging Latinx filmmakers. 

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“We work with a cohort of filmmakers for a year, providing funding of up to $1000 per project, offer ongoing mentorship, masterclasses and workshops with award-winning directors, peer-to-peer support and meetings with industry representatives, including Netflix, Sundance, Latino Public Broadcasting and California Humanities,” says Consuelo Alba, co-founder and Executive Director of the Watsonville Film Festival. “The Rise Together grant made our dream of supporting local Latine filmmakers possible.”

Cine Se Puede Fellow Megan Martinez Goltz appreciates “accountability and community” as the most influential aspects of the fellowship, she says. “Being part of this process has encouraged me to commit to a project with realistic goals, timelines and resources. It has helped connect me to a community of filmmakers who I can call on for support and who can call on me. I know my most recent productions have been my best work yet because I was able to work with other fellows and see how we can all come together in a way that elevates the entire project, rather than always trying to do multiple jobs on set by myself because I didn’t know who to work with or how to finance a way for us to work together.”

A $50,000 grant made it possible for Senderos—“an organization focused on helping folks preserve their cultural identity through art, music, dance and navigating through the resources that are available here in the community,” as Board President Helen Aldana explains—to hire Gabriela Cruz as executive director. Cruz is the first full-time paid employee in the organization’s 20-year history—after being 100% volunteer-run for 20 years. 

Similarly, the Santa Cruz County Black Health Matters Initiative received $40,000 to hire a part-time director, part-time program manager, curator for community events and coordination and a finance manager.  

Kara Meyberg Guzman, co-founder of news site Santa Cruz Local, which was awarded an $18,000 grant to help fund a part-time staff position to “help us develop a Spanish news product,” says that, “Working with the coalition has made me appreciate how philanthropy could work differently.” Guzman has been thinking about “what fundraising looks like for our newsroom and how we could take a more collaborative and relational approach” ever since.  

New Rise Together member Stephanie Barron Lu of Positive Discipline Community Resources feels the impact of being invited to be a part of the group. “Being given a seat at this powerful, diverse table of hard workers and heart workers has helped to validate within myself that I am not an emerging leader; I have fully arrived,” Lu says. The organization’s $35,000 grant will be used to fund a “robust transformative and inclusive strategic planning process,” and strengthen PDCR’s work of “bringing connection-based, trauma-informed support and learning groups to caregivers, educators, parents, farm working families and now youth in the Pajaro Valley across diverse sectors of our community.” The grant will also partially fund a program manager position for one year, supporting the organization’s sustainability and growth. 

Community Archivist at UCSC’s University Library, Rebecca Hernandez, PhD, whose program “employs a variety of community-centered approaches to the work, including developing and advising on oral history projects, pursuing post-custodial collection models, assisting with preservation and conducting community outreach,” sums up an overarching takeaway of being a Rise Together member: “I really appreciate that we represent a wide cross-section of people who bring many different perspectives,” she says. “It reminds me to keep an open mind.”

New members and a next round of funding is only one more step along the way of Rise Together’s ongoing ascent. “We know that communities of color and organizations that are led by and for people of color are often under-resourced,” says Community Foundation CEO True. “We have a long history of under-giving to people of color organizations in this country. We’re excited to offer donors a chance to connect, make meaningful relationships and to be a part of community-centered solutions. The more we grow, the more solutions and more dreams that we’re able to fund. We’re really excited for the leaders that are a part of Rise Together, but also for community members who want to see this county do better than we’re doing now.”

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Liza Monroy
Liza Monroy
Liza Monroy is the author of the essay collection Seeing As Your Shoes Are Soon To Be On Fire, the memoir The Marriage Act, and Mexican High, a novel. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, LA Times, Washington Post, O, Longreads, and Marie Claire, among other publications. She loves living in downtown Santa Cruz.
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