Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features Brandi Collins-Calhoun, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy Senior Movement Engagement Associate.
1. What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?
I’m not sure that there was anything I could do to prepare to enter work that would be grounded in philanthropic feminism, especially knowing that the radicalization of mainstream feminism hasn’t happened across all movements and sectors yet. However, I wish I knew the weight of the shift from my life as an organizer fighting for my survival and safety to be centered, to my current role petitioning that my survival and safety is worth funding. I wish I knew how to find the balance and show up for myself through that process. There is often guilt and weight that comes with centering my needs in this work because this fight is so much bigger than just me, but I am reminded that Audre Lorde named that, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” That balance between holding the sector accountable and caring for myself is a radical act that is necessary for me to continue the work.
2. What is your current greatest professional challenge?
Imposter syndrome, always. It’s a challenge professionally to have to leave my confidence and expertise at the door to make room for my identities. Where does my Blackness, womanhood and queerness insert itself in philanthropy? I feel that there are individual seats at the table for each of my identities but not a seat where they can all coexist without judgement or competition. The problem, of course, is that when the sector attempts to silence our complete existence, they silence the depth and strength of our — my — voice. There is no professional development training that can fully prepare anyone for the constant weight of imposter syndrome, especially when so many benefit in its existence. All we can do is work towards its dismantling and abolition.
3. What inspires you most about your work?
Black liberation. Although my freedom and autonomy doesn’t have a price tag, I know that philanthropy has the means and capacity to invest in it for the benefit of those who I love and the generations that will follow. I find inspiration in seeing Black joy in every space we exist because we deserve it.
4. How does your gender identity inform your work?
My gender identity deeply informs and guides my work. My lived experience in this world as a ciswoman gives me a bittersweet insight into the realities of reproductive access and gendered violence. My expertise is informed by my practical lived experience. Academic and professional credentials help my praxis but they aren’t the platform or focal point for my work. However, my gender identity also comes with many privileges that remind me to hold both myself and other ciswomen accountable for our role in erasing transgender kindred and making sure their safety and freedom from oppression is at the root of our work.
5: How can philanthropy support gender equity?
Invest in transgender lives and divest from cisgendered contributions. Foundations are not fully functioning without transgender leaders on their boards and staffs nor are they truly investing in any movement area if there is no funding allocated for issues that center transgender lives.
6: In the next 10 years, where do you see gender equity movements taking us?
In ten years, the gender equity movement will lead us closer towards prison abolition, freedom from state violence, and Black liberation. Both the sector and the movement will see that gender equity isn’t achievable without dismantling the various exclusionary systems that we work for and uphold daily.
More on Brandi Collins-Calhoun:
Brandi Collins-Calhoun (she/her) is a writer, educator and reproductive justice activist. She currently serves as the Senior Movement Engagement Associate with the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, focusing on ways to support philanthropies’ vital engagement with movements that center reproductive access and gender-based violence.
A birth/abortion doula and trainer, Brandi has ties to grassroots organizations like YWCA USA, Southerners on New Ground and Sister Song, and serves on the board of directors for the Carolina Abortion Fund.
Brandi’s writing critiquing pop culture and history through a reproductive justice lens has appeared in such publications as The Root and Rewire News. She is also a 2019-2020 member of the Echoing Ida writing fellowship through Forward Together. Brandi attended the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University where she studied African American History and found her passion for grassroots organizing.
This interview has been minimally edited.
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