The Free Black Mamas Fellowship: Bailed-Out Black Moms Organize

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This year for Mother’s Day, incarcerated mothers and caregivers in 36 U.S. cities had their bails paid through public donations. The Black Mamas Bail Out brings together givers and organizers from across the country to free imprisoned moms who can’t afford bail.

Bailing Out Black Moms and Caregivers

Today and every day, tens of thousands of people are imprisoned in the U.S. because they cannot pay bail. Most of the about 2.3 million people in American prisons and jails are people of color. While they are primarily male, women are now the fastest-growing incarcerated population. And, Black women are imprisoned at a rate double that of white women.

Close to 80% of women in jail are mothers. About 66% of the women who are in jail because they can’t pay bail are mothers of minors. Mothers who are imprisoned are unable to work and to meet financial, familial and other obligations, and some see their children enter foster care. These are all reasons why the Black Mamas Bail Out exists. It’s crowdsourced, community-based philanthropy that brings mothers home for the holiday that bears their name.

Black Mamas Bail Out is a program of the National Bail Out collective (NBO), a “Black-led and Black-centered collective of abolitionist organizers, lawyers and activists building a community-based movement to support our folks and end systems of pretrial detention and ultimately mass incarceration.” The mission to bail out Black mothers and caregivers was conceived in 2017 as a joint effort between multiple organizations, including the leading coalitions Color of Change and the Movement for Black Lives. Mary Hooks of the group Southerners on New Ground is credited with the initial idea for this mom-centric bailout.

The Black Mamas Bail Out completed its third round of funding and bailouts in 2019. It has raised close to $2 million and bailed out 308 people. Along with buying parent’s freedom, the project backs women with supportive services such as transportation, sustainable housing, legal aid, food access and child care.

The Free Black Mamas Fellowship

NBO is also now launching the second year of a fellowship for mothers and caregivers who are bailed out. The fellowship gives the mothers a chance to commune, communicate and organize. It “provides an opportunity for Black mamas to devise solutions and cast vision together for the future of their communities,” the group states.

Last year, the paid eight-week fellowship offered “in-person political education and organizing sessions and interactive group webinars” for 20 mothers. It culminated in the women hosting a workshop and sharing their experiences in the closing plenary of the annual FreeHer Conference of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls.

Some of the 2018 fellows went on to lead 2019 bailouts. The six-week 2019 fellowship will consist of two cohorts over the summer and will include the creation of audio, visual and written creative works “that reflect [the women’s] perspective and experiences.”

Some of the guiding questions for the fellowship are: “What’s it like to be a Black mama or caregiver in your community?”

“How can we keep our community out of cages?”

“What do we need to keep our communities safe?”

JeNaé Taylor of #FreeBlackMamasDMV and the Gilda Papoose Collective (NBO affiliates) leads the fellowship activities. She described the program in this way to the HuffPost: “Love shows up in the gaps and is gathering us in this time to bridge the gaps between our mamas and ourselves.”

NBO’s services for mothers extend beyond paying bails because it views bailouts as a crucial but limited aspect of its larger goals.

“We don’t want to have to keep bailing people out until the end of time. We don’t want bails to exist, and we don’t want pretrial detention or jails to exist. We picture ourselves to be abolitionists, so we want a clearing of the prison-industrial complex,” Arissa Hall, NBO project director, said.

A growing number of funders are now backing alternatives to incarceration and cash bail. The New York Women’s Foundation’s Justice Fund is another example of a philanthropic effort to address mass incarceration and its detrimental effects on women, families, girls, and transgender and gender nonconforming individuals. The seven-year initiative launched in late 2018 and focuses on impacted communities in New York City.

Philanthropy Women covers funding for gender equity in all sectors of society. We want to significantly shift public discourse, particularly in philanthropy, toward increased action for gender equality. You can support our work and access unlimited and premium content with one of our subscriptions

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Author: Julia Travers

I often cover innovations in science, the arts and social justice. Find my work with NPR, Discover Magazine, APR and Earth Island Journal, among other publications. My portfolio is at jtravers.journoportfolio.com.

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