February 25, 2021  |  Announcements

Family Independence Initiative Launches UpTogether Equity Fund to Recognize and Support Black Leaders 

Nearly 400 Black leaders in FII’s core cities are each receiving a $3,500 cash investment 

Oakland, California (February 25, 2021) – Family Independence Initiative (FII) has distributed $3,500 cash investments to nearly 400 Black leaders in its five core cities — Boston/Cambridge, Chicago, Detroit, Central Texas and Oakland — through its UpTogether Equity Fund. 

The national nonprofit, which has invested directly in people and communities for 20 years, created the fund specifically for Black leaders because of the entrenched racism embedded in our health, economic and social service systems.

Black people who receive the cash investment work as activists, organizers and/or grassroots leaders to advance the fight for Black liberation, end systemic racism and create a more just and equitable country.

Ernest Frohm, one of the UpTogether Equity Fund recipients, owns and teaches at Frohm’s Martial Arts in East Oakland. 

“I’ve studied in the martial arts for over 43 years and I teach our community. Martial arts has allowed me to take our youth and the young at heart out of the city to widen their view of the world and themselves. Our goal is to empower our youth to become leaders through mentorship, discipline, love and a family atmosphere.”

The UpTogether Equity Fund — named for FII’s online community platform — launched at the beginning of February in honor of Black History Month and accepted applications until February 10. Black leaders nominated themselves by completing an online application that highlighted their leadership and the primary focus of their work in the Black community. Selected leaders were chosen at random from the pool of applicants. 

One of those leaders in Central Texas, is passionate about local governmental change. 

“I would like to see Black people brought into the planning stages of policies,” Jaquita explained. “I want local people vetting their district attorneys and judges.” 

Jacquita works with anti-racist candidates to run for office in her city, county and congressional district. “I am on local boards and commissions in my city to make sure they take an equitable approach to how contracts are distributed. I’ve run for office three times, and lost, but will continue to run so that I can make change at a policy level.” 

In partnership with donors, FII committed $1.27 million dollars to the Equity Fund to demonstrate a shared commitment to trusting and investing in people, recognize the impact of racism and to inspire philanthropy and government to take action toward the long-term and sustained investment in the unique contributions of Black people. 

“Considering the impact of policies that disproportionately target and affect Black families’ ability to create and grow wealth, it’s easy to understand why Black families are far more likely to experience poverty and have a tougher time escaping it. We created the UpTogether Equity Fund in recognition of this and in celebration of Black leaders who work tirelessly every single day to improve their lives and communities, without recognition,” said Jesús Gerena, CEO of FII. 

“For generations, leaders in every Black community have given their talent, time and resources to make their community stronger,” said Paula Sneed, chair of FII’s Board of Directors. “Some provide jobs. Others take action toward improving the quality of housing, food choices, educational opportunities or health outcomes. They are pushing for environmental, political and social justice. They are fighting against racism and its impact. These are the leaders we celebrate and thank for all that they do.” 

A fund recipient in the Boston area works with a climate justice program to educate people in the Black community about climate change, its relationship to racial justice and how they can prepare to build social resilience in their community to deal with extreme weather impacts. 

“In a society dominated by capitalism, it’s very rare that one would give out something not hoping to receive anything in return. I think it’s a tremendous opportunity [for FII] to be a blessing to folks that are doing some type of social justice work – in whatever capacity – for the Black community. I’m thoroughly surprised and pleased to be a recipient. It certainly is a blessing.”

The Equity Fund investment is unrestricted. Awardees can use the money however they want and do not have to pay it back. 

An UpTogether Equity Fund recipient in Detroit provides education and mentorship to families in under-served communities with a focus on empowering parents to advocate for their children. 

“[I will use the funds] to provide my families with technology support and training as they navigate virtual learning with their children. Families need access to the internet, hot spots, tablets, laptops and basic school supplies that children would normally have access to in the physical buildings,” she said. 

Jennifer, a Black leader in Chicago, is the co-founder and co-director of the #LetUsBreathe Collective. The Collective is housed in The #BreathingRoom Space, which is a Black-led artistic community organizing center on the South Side of Chicago. The mission of the #LetUsBreathe Collective is to disrupt oppressive systems, amplify marginalized voices, and serve people and communities most directly harmed by mass incarceration, police violence, and systemic injustice. 

“I plan to use the funds to support with the expansion of the #EverybodyEats program, including the garden and farm. I also imagine funds being used to expand and build tangible healing spaces in The #BreathingRoom, like a movement apothecary and a communal site for healing in the community.” 

FII is working to expand the UpTogether Equity Fund to invest in Black leaders in additional areas. To learn more or to donate to the fund, visit fii.org/donate.

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About Family Independence Initiative

Family Independence Initiative trusts and invests directly in people living with low incomes so they can work individually and collectively to achieve prosperity. Through our technology platform, UpTogether, people experiencing poverty can build and strengthen their social networks and access unrestricted financial transfers so they can support each other in accomplishing their goals.

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