“We are this massive collection of thoughts and experiences and sensations that are moving at the speed of light and we do not get a chance to pause and look at them for just what they are.” Rev. angel Kyodo williams
“Why don’t other philanthropic organizations fund individuals?”
“We would love to take a quiet month and are not sure that people will be on board.”
“How did you get your funder to let you move money like that without reporting requirements?”
“We just couldn’t do what you are doing.”
Sometimes we forget that the flowers that we delight in during spring and summer did not sprout overnight. There were months of growth, mystery, and magic happening beneath the dark soil that we did not see, before the flowers unfurled and produced the sweet fragrances and foods for us and our plant and animal relatives to enjoy. Threshold Philanthropy was conceived during a pandemic, a racial uprising, and through a text message in a Target parking lot. Beth texted Morgan and offered an idea, a seed if you will. She asked, what if you and I create something with Lindsay? Morgan was like, could you elaborate? Beth said, here’s what I know, you two lead it and center yours and your communities healing. Beth wanted to retire, Morgan and Lindsay wanted to leave their jobs, and all three wanted to see the sector change. Our origins are not like most philanthropies, most are lead and funded by white people and have way more structures and processes in place.
Morgan calls Threshold a trust exercise, she and Beth have been a part of each other’s lives for six straight years, committed to being in authentic and loving relationships with one another. Being offered this opportunity came as a welcomed surprise for Morgan and she would not have said yes under any other conditions. Lindsay was dreaming of work that felt and looked like liberation, when she heard Beth and Morgan’s offer, it did not take long for her to see that this was her invitation and answer. She said yes and really had to trust Morgan that Beth was who she said she was. Which meant being in a very different relationship with a white boss than Lindsay previously had. Beth came to Lindsay and Morgan with “What would you want in your dream foundation?” They got to dreaming and documenting their ideas in notebooks: virtual documents, months of recorded zooms and audio messages. They revealed their aspirations, plots, dots, intentions, and hopes to Beth and she said, let’s go!
Freedom dreams invite us to be clear and specific about naming and creating the conditions that will support us to grow and flourish. Lindsay, even with having imposter syndrome and questioning, did I do enough to deserve this dream job? Had been hungry and ready to create structures centered in dignity and belonging. She heard her internal struggle and chose to believe that her worth did not equate to an unknown measurement of “doing enough” and embraced this opportunity as the gift that it was. She named her first needs, which were that her and her family’s needs were just as a priority as her work, which meant that her schedule would reflect that: making Morgan co-CEO, investing outside of the traditional stock market, and for her colleague Cristina to come on board. These requests were an invitation for Morgan and Beth to reciprocate trust and reflect on their needs as well for this partnership as they grew together. Over the span of a year, through texts, phone calls, tears, drinks, dreams, grief, learning together, shedding old patterns, joy, and deep friendships, Threshold Philanthropy grew quietly from a seed to a bud.
“Literally, these people came from Europe, stole people from Africa, came here, took over the whole continent, killed and raped millions of people, and then set up a culture for all of us to follow. In what universe are we going to be “good” people? Our culture is brought to you by the executive producers of slavery.” Richie Reseda
There is a rise of hiring Black, Indigenous, people of color into leadership positions as a way to say, we are inclusive and radical. Being brought in to clean up other people’s mistakes and expected to create sustainable and healthy changes while the previous conditions are still in effect is not radical, that is misguided, to put it mildly. That’s why we prioritized talking about what we wanted this work and organization to feel like because we did not want to replicate and perpetuate the harmful practices that had run us out or burned us out. While learning about ourselves and one another, we were reminded that we are made up of all the people and events that came before us in our lineage. Unearthing where we learned our behaviors and beliefs can be overwhelming. We needed a container and a word for us to feel brave enough to share and witness each other. Our safe word was pineapple, so when we felt others were falling back into old patters, topics were intense, responses felt yuk, and emotions were hard and uncomfortable, we would check in with each other about what was needed for us to honor everyone’s learning process and we’d adjusted from there. We did this work with the support of Wildseed Society, Resmaa Menakem, Angela Powell, our staff coach, reading materials rooted in abolition and liberation together, scheduling monthly joy activities, making time for therapy, play, and rest all as an integral part of the work. Our philosophy is that when we are well and resourced our work and relationships are healthier and more sustainable.
Rev. angel Kyodo williams talks about this unlearning and naming process using the metaphor for our bodies as houses that are made up of things that were put there by other people. You open a drawer and realize that White Supremacy told you that you weren’t enough because of your gender. Open the cupboard and see that this culture taught you to fear black men. Enter the linen closet and there is the old story that your mom told you about never depending on anyone but yourself. Then walking in the bathroom to find that patriarchy told you that crying is a sign of weakness. Society sent you messages that talking about money was impolite and your worth is tied to how much you produced. Following the roots of each belief and practice, observing, uprooting, and mending all the places, that look rotten and tangled is a necessary and lifelong practice for creating worlds of healing, dignity, and belonging.
Ruth Łchavaya K’isen Miller tells us that the worst toxic and predatory forms of colonization that was brought to Indigenous people was “deficit thinking, fear-based thinking, all or nothing, me or you thinking which is fundamentally opposed to community investment,”. Here are a few more clues to which pathways you might want to uproot. (1) Where you see yourself being led by your trauma, (2) when you are choosing to hoard power and resources instead of sharing, and (3) when you succumb to the superior/better than or inferior/pitying mentality. Everything takes time, and the belief in scarcity and urgency are not in service of our healing or liberation. Alexis Pauline Gumbs talks about interrupting the “your life is scarce!” narrative and moving at a pace that honors relationships and thinks in future generations and not just the individual.
Choosing vulnerability and moving towards connection is not always pleasant and the possibilities of creating abundant structures of care, love, patience, joy, and opportunity are endless! This revealing and healing process is lifelong, and we are just beginning. The more we practice owning our stuff, knowing our inherit worth, and healing, our transformation is possible. Like a washing machine that agitates your clothes to get the dirt out, this process is cleansing, clarifying, and agitating. When those pathways are clear, the way forward gets a little easier and all of us get a little more free.
“I would tell the coming generation that, We are preparing ourselves for you, we are readying this place for you, and that you, our descendants are worthy of fighting for and worthy of a safe and healthy home.” Ruth Łchavaya K’isen Miller
The artwork for this blog is by our very own Liz Rideau! Lookout for our newsletter coming out at the end of the month. Featuring our updated website and our previous blog stories. From here on out, the blog will live in the newsletter:)