In case you didn’t know, GlobalGiving is an online fundraising platform that brings donors and non-profits together in an online marketplace i.e. they connect the people who are leading innovative social impact projects to the people who would like to donate money to support them.
They have partner non-profits all over the world, including about over a hundred in Southern Africa, who have been helping me reach out to other NGOs who were interested in learning more about social media and online fundraising. It’s been a great opportunity to volunteer for an amazing foundation in an area I’m so passionate about (new media for social impact) — and get encouraging feedback in return.
Since I myself raised over $15,000 in 30 days to fund this project, I’ve been able to use myself as a case study, which I feel has really resonated (and been helpful) for my participants; I have a whole bag of personal anecdotes, lessons, tips, tricks, and strategies inspired by a real life successful case study to pull from. Thank you all so much for that — your support of my campaign has really contributed to my success here.
Here’s what some attendees had to say about the Johannesburg Social Media & Online Fundraising workshop:
“The workshop was wonderfully presented, fresh, exciting and to the point! Well rounded presentation to give a kick-start to online funding and using social media.” — Keep the Dream
“I found the group discussions and advice from Spectra resulting from the discussion feedback most useful.” — Cresset House
“The workshop gave insight and opened our minds to the endless possibilities of on-line fundraising! I left excited and somewhat anxious to get moving on the Social networks!” — Joburg Child Welfare
The feedback I’ve received from workshop participants in three cities — Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg, has been overwhelmingly positive. I couldn’t have imagined being any more satisfied with the way things went in South Africa. This press coverage from a local community paper is more icing on the cake!
Here’s the full article, transcribed below:
Various charities in and around Johannesburg will add impetus to their fundraising drive if Spectra has anything to do with it. Representatives of different charities gathered at Craighall Park’s Reea Foundation for Global Giving’s online fundraising and social media workshop led by Asala.
“The most important hing to teach NGO’s about social media is that online work is not that different ofoffline relationship-building,” Asala told representatives from various organizations. These included Horses Helping People, Khulumani support Group, Cotlands, Keep the Dream, Leseding Community Development Projects, Youthworx Development Association, Cresset House, Cabsa, Dona’s Mates, and the Papillon Foundation.
“I point out tools available to the organizations, like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, and e explore different steps they can take to raise awareness, engage with people online, and solicit donations.”
According to Asala, charitable donations received through social media increased by 29% last year; an impressive figure considering the funding crisis currently experienced by charities around the world.
“While online giving is growing, it does not replace offline fundraising. It’s an alternative source of funding, and relationships must be established and maintained. It might be digital technology you’re working with, but your’e still speaking to people,” said Asala.
According to the media-savvy Asala, the foundatino of the workshops is getting people to understand the value of social media as a business tool.
“I find people often don’t realize how much they actually know about social media or just how easy it is to use. Workshops like this often make people say, “I can do this,” she said.
Dtetails: www.globalgiving.org or www.spectraspeaks.com
I’m so grateful to the REEA Foundation for hosting the Johannesburg workshop (even supplying cake for the attendees!) and being all-round accommodating of this crazy activist’s on-the-fly / last minute arrangements due to a constantly changing itinerary. It was a really fun day, a wonderful trip, and an encouraging kick-off to my trip.
In summary, my post called for marginalized communities–especially, in this instance, black women– to be more aware of the way the mechanism of racism and colorism in Hollywood too often keeps us sensationalizing debates about Hollywood’s perception of our beauty (and even, as in this case, pits us against each other), rather than embracing the opportunity for us to affirm our collective power as both media producers and consumers.
For me, this debate was yet another moment in the cycle of abuse between the black community and the gatekeepers that control white media; the fact that Zoe Saldaña, another woman of color was getting a lot of backlash (via comments that suggested she was hijacking a role meant for black women, dismissing her self-identification as a Black Latina, not to mention personal attacks against her character etc), was discouraging, to say the least.
It’s one thing to criticize the white supremacist media machine that is Hollywood; it’s another thing entirely for us to let that criticism distract us from seeing how that machine is designed to keep us fighting each other over scraps (e.g. debating over who gets the few lead roles written for women of color) more often than we brainstorm how we can work together to grow and harvest enough seeds to keep nourishing us all.
As long as we keep Hollywood and mainstream media at the focal point of our discussions (and criticisms) around media representation, we will remain stuck in a very unproductive cycle.
Same Ole’ Mainstream Media vs. Nuanced Alternative Media
Despite being interviewed by the reporter, and sharing my thoughts about the importance of black communities recognizing the ways in which alternative media–and initiatives to produce more black-owed and -directed content–could lead to better representation in the future, the article didn’t do much at all to move the conversation forward. In fact, it maintained the status quo.
The NYT article‘s framing of the issue was barely nuanced. In a nutshell, here’s how it went: black people are angry because Zoe Saldaña doesn’t look like Nina Simone, here are other examples of black people protesting the casting of light-skinned actresses, Hollywood is racist and will always prioritize profit, oh well.
Conversely, Huffington Post Live was able to expand the conversation beyond the sensationalized polarity because black women actually led the conversation.
Further, this lively panel was facilitated by Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, an academic, activist, journalist, and television personality (i.e. the male version of my idol Melissa Hill Perry). Hence, the collective response to the messy biopic debate was way more nuanced, poignant, and thought-provoking.
In this case, black women’s voices didn’t just play a supporting role; the panelists had more control over the conversation, the media through which they were sharing their perspectives, and thus, the outcome.
Even though I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the way the conversation was framed (or even the way it ended), the segment, for me, proved that the more ownership we take of media, the better we have of ensuring that our stories and perspectives are authentic, complex, and representative of the plethora of issues we care about.
Black Women Must Re-frame (Then Lead) the Conversation
In the NYT piece, Cynthia Mort, the director, of the biopic is quoted as dismissing the historical implications of her casting choice by stating, “It’s a Biopic, not a Documentary,” and thus, a creative take on Nina Simone’s life. Her response offers more proof (as if we needed any at this point) of how rampant white privilege is in Hollywood; that a white director gets to use an African-American socio-political icon as formidable and celebrated as Nina Simone as creative fodder with no consequence should be scaring folks into finally moving beyond these cyclical conversations that aren’t getting us anywhere.
So, for instance, instead of a segment titled “Why Does Hollywood Light-Wash Blacks?” (’cause, seriously, we already know the answer to that), how about we as media professionals and activists get into the habit of tackling more action-elicit questions e.g. “How Can Black People Combat White-Washing of Our Images in the Media?”, especially when we have five brilliant black women social commentators on standby? Just a thought.
When I was interviewed by the reporter for NYT, she revealed that she’d spoken to a high end stakeholder in the biopic, who said, and I quote, “Listen, Zoe is hot right now,” as justification for the casting decision.
Yaba Blay, Africana Studies teacher, scholar, and consultant to CNN Black in America recently commented:
… although I think casting Zoe is a bad move (and disrespectful to Nina’s image and estate), I also think we have to hold “us-folk” accountable. Why haven’t any Black filmmakers made a film about Nina yet? Doesn’t the late, great High Priestess of Soul deserve more than one movie? Or is it only now that a White filmmaker is doing her own thing with Nina’s image that we recognize/remember her legacy? Rather than (or in addition to) complaining, we need to be creating.
Similarly, amidst the familiar stagnant critiques of racism and colorism in Hollywood that were saturating the Huffington Post Live segment, Ann Daramola , stated repeatedly, “Why are we surprised? Why should we continue to expect that Hollywood will tell our stories for us?”
we have so much work to do to get our stories spread. We need to build a media infrastructure as formidable as Hollywood’s that can distribute these stories and support those at the margins who are telling and creating them. We need to create platforms that we own, community-owned media centers that are not at the mercy of funding cycles or internet service providers.
To Ann’s point, if we can accept that we are actually not surprised, and we know that Hollywood won’t change, I think we’d naturally focus more of our efforts on highlighting and supporting solutions, of which there actually are many.
We Need More Than Black Media Producers; We Need Black Media Consumers, Too
During the Huffington Post Live segment, Michaela Angela Davis highlighted a few of these solutions: AFFRM, an African-American film distribution company dedicated to diverse cinematic images; Image Nation, a film production company nurturing a strong local film industry in the United Arab Emirates; Nollywood, Nigeria’s thriving film industry (and the 3rd largest in the world), which produces and distributes films made with very small budgets.
Still, what good are black-owned film production initiatives if we as a community don’t call for more strategic consumption and critique of the media produced by them? What value are we assigning these solutions in the media if we ourselves reduce them to being one-off mentions, tangents in the larger conversation about racism and colorism in Hollywood?
In a 25 minute segment, a total of about 3 minutes (yes I timed it) was dedicated to highlighting solutions already in place, before getting right back to criticizing Hollywood.
It isn’t enough to simply mention that there are minority film professionals already contributing to part of the solution (i.e. by creating more media). We need more discussions around their work’s value and potential to subvert the power structure in the film industry.
I don’t doubt for one second that criticism of Hollywood plays an important role in keeping Hollywood accountable. I just question how often that phrase (“keeping Hollywood accountable”) keeps our voices restricted to being reactive, when we are way more powerful when we use our voices in service of others; young black women, for instance, who need to know that there is hope for them to have flourishing careers in film and media; older black women who are tired and frustrated with Hollywood’s chronic appropriation and alteration of our histories.
We owe it to each other to more frequently use our voices to highlight our resistance, and use our collective power to increase support and visibility for the projects that will get us closer to the future we wish to see, because it is possible. Here’s how:
Black People Are Repeat Consumers of Blockbusters, Why Not Redirect the Dollars?: A quick scan of this study on black movie-goers from BET Networks shows that the black community has way more power than it’s using e.g. African-Americans go to the movies 13.4 times a year vs. 11 times for general market, they’re repeat movie-goers for films they like, and are heavy consumers of alternative media. However, in this same study, when listing the top films supported by black audiences, only 3 out of 19 films featured a prominent African-American character. What would happen if we changed that? What would happen if made it a priority to only support the films we want to see? Think on that.
Hollywood Taps into Their 1% and So Should We: When I published my call for more creation and support of black media, the most popular attack at the plausibility of profitable black media infrastructure was limit to capital. That is certainly an obstacle to contend with, but from the recent successes of the Tyler Perry franchise, Steve Harvey’s Think Like a Man, and other projects, not one that’s insurmountable. There is a black middle class and elite in the entertainment industry, creating and leading their own projects, raising millions of dollars for Obama. Let’s not erase their accomplishments by continually perpetuating the idea that there is no capital for projects we’d like to see at all.
There are so many other avenues to explore when it comes to black alternative media, even if for the purpose of mainstreaming that media eventually. So why do the most vocal commentators on this issue keep reverting to the same old conversation i.e. the “problematicness” of Hollywood?
As one of the panelists, Michaela Angela Davis noted, the colorism evident via this casting decision is very triggering for black women, who constantly have to defend their right to feel beautiful, appreciated, and respected. I imagine that’s part of the reason it’s been so challenging for us to break this cycle; our feelings regarding the media’s (mis)representation of our beauty and aesthetics have been either continually invalidated, or worse, ignored.
Still, we cannot let our pain keep us lingering outside of Hollywood’s gates, hoping for an apology, expecting retribution, or worse, throwing stones at the few of us who have managed to make it inside. We must embrace the idea that we can be gamechangers, that our collective power is formidable, that we can create media that’s better and more representative of who we are, for the sake of young black girls everywhere, for the sake of Nina Simone herself. Time to change the game.
Food for Thought: When the facilitator stated that he didn’t want his daughter growing up to think Nina Simone looked like Zoe Saldaña, it would have been incredible to have all those brilliant minds put their heads together and offer, from their various perspectives, ways in which we as community could ensure such a thing never happens.
Instead, via a vote about who each panelist would have liked to see play Nina Simone, the conversation ended with these black women on the bench as spectators of Hollywood’s game.
After such a lively conversation, I couldn’t think of anything more disempowering to end on a note that ultimately suggests to young black girls that Hollywood will always be upheld as the ultimate validation of their voices, their stories, their work. Can we please change this?
Here lies an opportunity for us to commit to handling the next conversation like this differently, to frame future conversations around racism, colorism, and media around solutions, which tap into our power as a community, and send the message to future generations that change is indeed possible.
Even though we have very far to go, I believe this conversation was a solid start. Take a look. And let me know what you think.
Based on how often marginalized people talk about the power of “community”, especially within the realm of grassroots activism, one would imagine the non-profit industry would have evolved into a flourishing ecosystem of recyclable free-flowing skills, bartered services, and shared progressive ideas by now.
Yet, when you think about how many grassroots groups and non-profit organizations are working on the same exact issues and, unfortunately, due to this overcrowding, are often fighting each for resources in an unhealthily competitive manner (e.g. hoarding funding opportunities, barring access to resources, guarding intellectual capital, etc.) it’s easy to conclude that, often enough, this is not the case.
Let me put this in context: there is a funding crisis, everywhere; not just in the US or in the UK, or even in Africa, but globally.
In the U.S., the financial crisis didn’t just negatively impact the wall street suits, or even the industrial blue-collars, but the many grantmaking foundations that have provided the steady source of funding to non-profits for years. As a result of Wall Street’s snafu, a number of foundations have needed to significantly reduce the size of their grants; a few of the larger ones have even merged. As I’m quickly learning via my ongoing Southern Africa social media project, the effect of this can be felt all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, too. Downes Murray International, an African fundraising consulting firm writes:
“While some major Western donors to Africa, like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, plan to maintain or increase their giving, many are scaling back their efforts in Africa in order to concentrate shrinking resources on projects closer to home.”
Here in South Africa, in an attempt to slow down the funding drain, governments have significantly cut back subsidies for critical social services, beefed up funding requirements and tightened up monitoring and evaluation practices, creating a domino effect of non-profits cutting back on most of their programming, or shutting down completely.
Even outside the non-profit industrial complex, grassroots groups are feeling the pinch of the financial crisis. In a recent online fundraising workshop I hosted, an attendee complained about being inundated with messages from “too many smaller, community groups all asking for support for the same issue.”
The harsh reality is that under the current economic conditions, many not-for-profit organizations have just two choices: adapt or die.
After years of dependency on government aid and foundation grants, non-profits are being forced to operate more like businesses (e.g. diversify their revenue streams, reduce overhead while increasing output etc) just to keep their heads above water.
Ironically, non-profit professionals may have to adopt a few strategies from the same “capitalists” in the corporate sector they once characterized as greedy and selfish for their unwavering focus on profitability and expansion. Yet, if this means, sustainability and wider reach for organizations striving for long-term social impact, could this shift towards running more like a business be such a bad thing?
Due to the funding crisis, complete dependency on charity, government, and in the case of Africa, foreign aid, is no longer an option. And, quite frankly, the non-profit industry could do with a good dose of the kind of survivalist creativity that’s prevalent in the corporate sector, such as collaborating with other players to pool resources, using strategic partnerships with similar organizations to strengthen service offerings, or even merging to widen their reach (or prevent closing up shop completely).
Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that activists and non-profits should only ever consider collaboration as simply a tactic to navigate financial crises; organizations, especially the ones working with communities that are particularly marginalized, constantly under-resourced, and over-looked for more traditional forms of support, should already be working together, not just to save money, but for the sake of furthering their collective missions.
We have a moral obligation as people who are working towards social justice, to always choose the path that maximizes our social impact and/or increases our sustainability, regardless of what the economy is doing.
So, again, why aren’t more non-profits collaborating? What have we got to lose by working together? Why isn’t collaboration not happening as frequently as we suggest it should, especially when we have so much to gain? I hope to explore some of these questions in part two of this series.
Got an opinion on that? Why do you think we have so many activists, non-profits, and social impact initiatives doing similar work, yet not working together? Ego? Time and resources? Lack of awareness? Are you an individual activist doing social justice work? What has kept you (or turned you off) from collaborating in the past? What do you see as the “cons” for collaborating (as there are certainly a few). Note: This is a no judgment zone. Please share freely, as the conversation around collaboration is important for us to have if we are to move forward.
This post is part of my Africans for Africa project updates: I’m traveling through Southern Africa for 6-months offering free social media, online fundraising, and organizational development strategy workshops to African women, LGBTI, and youth grassroots groups. I publish stories, reflections, lessons learned, and interviews from along the way.
Never Doubt a Small Group of Dedicated Women…
I recently visited the Ibhabhathane Community Centre, the only pre-school available in Rieebeck East, a small farm village with a population of about 700 people. Needless to say, providing good quality education (much less early childhood development) is a challenge. But a small group of dedicated women are making a difference.
An elderly black South African woman (she’s serving food in an apron in the video) reached out to Yolande, a white afrikaans woman, then a new resident to the small town, asking for her assistance in setting up a small center to care for toddlers; many of the young children were left idle / unattended, without sufficient social stimulation, and were growing up with developmental challenges, further impeding their success at the local primary school.
Yolande, a teacher by training, worked with the local community to open the first creche (pre-school) in an abandoned wooden shack. A few local women volunteer to teach and play with the children every day in their native language, Xhosa. And, over time, they remodeled the shack into a warmer, more colorful space. The roof needs to be fixed, and the floor needs to be re-tiled, so fundraising is top priority for them as they hope to grow and implement higher quality programming (in a more conducive environment) for their children.
A few of their goals include building a comprehensive library of children’s books, acquiring funding for more teachers, and a bigger space so they can take in more children, who, without the centre, would remain idle in the village, as the unemployment (and alcoholism) rate is very high.
Rieebeck East, My New Favorite Getaway
During my visit, I stayed with Yolande, the project leader, and her husband, Marc (a talented visual artist and photographer) in their charming Bohemian style mud house, located just outside the township. The interior was painted aqua blue, and they had beautiful art they’d collected from over the years hanging on the walls. Yolande, who comes from a family of mosaicists, has tiled the counter tops, floors, and walls in a simple, yet accentuating masonry of pastel yellow, silver, grey, and black tiles and pebble stones.
On the night I arrived, they happened to be entertaining friends from out of town, so we all built a fire for a brai (South African barbequeue), and spent the rest of the evening drinking wine and conversing passionately about the arts, apartheid, and the media’s spin on the murder of 36 protesting mine workers. Nothing like spending an evening outdoors, by a fire among fellow artivists; it was the most fun I’d had in several weeks.
My remaining two days there were a lot quieter, a much-needed oasis of nature, peace, and serenity, especially after spending nearly three weeks in the cold city of Cape Town. I woke up each morning to the sound of their fives dogs, three cats, and a whole lot of chickens, then watched the sun ascend from the horizon (which one can see for miles and miles around), as I sipped Rooibostea. The landscape was breathtaking, and the warmth with which I was tended to, moving. It reminded me that as a traveler, there’s only one way to find home away from home; don’t search for it whole; find snippets, bits & pieces wrapped in small acts of kindness.
When I left, I felt refreshed, rejuvenated, and with two new friends whom I can’t wait to visit again. Maybe next year.
A Bit of Kindness, Returned
Ibhabhathane Community Centre is currently trying to raise about R8000 (~$1000) to get high speed internet installed. Currently, there is no connection in the very small town, and Yolande needs to drive about 45K up a dirt road to the nearest university to use the internet (her mobile data modem is much too slow for anything more than checking email). Getting the infrastructure installed will make it easier for her to improve communications with potential donors (and the outside world in general), and also, increase Ibhabhathane’s social media engagement, which they’d like to use for fundraising.
I made this video for them because I was moved by how much they’ve accomplished with so little, and also, how kind everyone was to me, a total stranger, just passing through. I’ve visited about 20 NGOs since I arrived in South Africa in July, and this is the one with the idea — and the people — that have touched me the most.
So, here’s the short video I made — a snapshot of “A Day at the Ibhabhathane Community Centre”. I hope you enjoy it, and consider supporting them as well. You can donate to their project here.
Here’s a brief synopsis of one of my talks, “The Power of Storytelling: LGBT Rights, The Media, and the African/Black Diaspora” in case you (or someone else you can refer me to) would like to bring me to your high school, college or university campus, or conference. It’s the very first talk based on my Africans for Africa project traveling through southern Africa and supporting African women and LGBTI women in their use of social media. Please share, forward, disseminate!
Due to your continued support of my work, I’ve been able to maintain my status as a frequently requested speaker at schools, universities, and conferences around the world. I couldn’t be any more grateful to you, and have recently committed to consolidating/packaging information about my work to make it easier for you to advocate for my presence in your spaces. So, sign up for my mailing list to receive information about more talks, presentations, and workshops, and of course, my appearances near you!
As nearly 100% of my speakers fees gets re-invested back into community projects, such as my latest, Africans for Africa, by booking me, you’ll not only be bringing smart, insightful, thought-provoking, and engaging conversations to your space, but supporting my work overall which aims to amplify the voices of marginalized communities.
If you have any questions at all, click the Contact Me button on the right! Or, send me a message.
The Power of Storytelling: LGBT Rights, The Media, and the African/Black Diaspora an informal talk/presentation on the Africans for Africa project, by LBGT and media activist, Spectra Speaks
There is an African proverb that goes, “Until lions write their own history, tales of the hunt will continue to glorify the hunter.”
If one were to go by the media’s portrayal of LGBT rights in Africa, the queer history of an entire continent would most likely be reduced to a series of atrocities, with a speckle of sensationalized triumphs as determined by the west. This phenomenon is far from trivial, as the relationship between what the media says and what policy does is entrenched in government. Hence, it is important to ask not only, “Which stories are being told?”, but also, “Who are the storytellers?”
As a counterpoint, in the US, queer people of color, who have historically been erased from LGBTQ narratives, are steadily, yet aggressively reclaiming their chapters in history, producing media that more authentically portrays their complex lives, and weighing in more loudly than ever during national discourse about LGBT rights.
The growing popularity of new media has contributed to the leveling the playing field; from independent indie films that have been funded via crowdsourcing platforms, to YouTube web series offering eager audiences alternative narratives, new platforms are emerging through which the LGBTQ Diaspora can tell their own stories.
As a queer Nigerian writer, and new media consultant, I have made it my responsibility to cover the progress of LGBTI Africa at the grassroots level; to document our history as told by us (vs. through the eyes of western imperialists or saviorists); and to amplify the voices of changemakers in our communities who are leading the way.
As a juxtaposition to white-/western narratives about the LGBTQ Diaspora, this interactive presentation will take a look at a few of those stories, with a special focus on emergent narratives challenging western depictions of LGBTI Africa.
The talk will also share some findings from my Africans for Africa project, a crowd-funded initiative to train and support LGBT African activists and nonprofits to harness the power of social media in telling their stories, and in so doing, amplify their work, and thought leadership.
Duration: Ideally, 1.5 Hrs (w/ Q&A), but can be reduced to a 45-60 min talk without slides.
Audience: General / All Levels, High School or College Students, Student Identity Groups (GSAs, African Students Association, Women’s Groups etc), Activists, esp. for “Allies”
Possible Venues: Keynotes, Conference Presentations, Sessions, Classroom Visits
Departments: Women’s and Gender Studies, Media and Communications, Black/African Studies, History Departments
Spectra Speaks, Bio:
Spectra is an award-winning Nigerian writer, women’s and LGBT activist, and thought leader behind the afrofeminist media blog, Spectra Speaks (www.spectraspeaks.com), which publishes global news, opinions, and stories about gender, culture, media, and the Diaspora.
She founded Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston), a grassroots organization that creates safe spaces for LGBTQ women of color, including immigrants and the African diaspora. Six years later, she launched the QWOC Media Wire, a national media hub run for and by LGBTQ women of color, in order to strategically address the dearth of voices represented in mainstream media.
Spectra speaks widely on diversity, movement building, and a media as a tool for social change. She’s currently travelling through southern Africa collecting untold stories from women and LGBT communities for an upcoming anthology. Follow her blog at www.spectraspeaks.com, or her daily musings on Tumblr (http://spectraspeaks.tumblr.com/) and Twitter @spectraspeaks.