By Krishan Mehta, PhD, November 26, 2020
Collecting Courage: Joy, Pain, Freedom, Love, edited by Nneka Allen, Camila Vital Nunes Pereira and Nicole Salmon, Gail K. Picco Books, Civil Sector Press, November 24, 2020, 227 pp., $39.99 CAD/$29.99 USD
Philanthropy is often defined as an expression of love for humanity. But in an age where Black bodies are deemed dispensable, where Black labour is too often taken for granted, and where Black voices are dismissed and silenced, we must ask ourselves: What happened to philanthropy? How do we reckon with the harsh injustices found in the charitable sector? Who will uncover the truth?
In Collecting Courage fourteen Black writers – charity and fundraising leaders from across Canada and the United States – come together to speak truth to power. Or perhaps better yet, to reveal a powerful truth.
To set the stage, co-editor and contributor Nneka Allen, in her introductory chapter, poignantly traces anti-Black racism as we know of it today back to the transatlantic slave trade, in which trafficked Black bodies became “human fuel for the economic engine” in the making of Canada and the US. She carefully digests a long and complex chronology, giving readers the tools to connect the experiences of Black fundraisers with our sordid colonial past. While reading each chapter, I found myself reflecting on Allen’s seminal recounting: How does this writer’s experience of migration and racism reflect those from generations before? How has the colonial violence of white supremacy morphed into that writer’s story of microagressions in the workplace? How are resilience and joy passed down from generation to generation? Allen’s offering to bridge the past with truths found on each page is just one of the many special gifts found in this collection.
As the title suggests, the book is organized into four main ideas or, dare I say, outcomes. While the authors hitch their work to one of these themes, readers will encounter a unique confluence of pain, joy, freedom and love in every story. Each writer draws on their personal experiences of racism to call out the fallacy of institutional benevolence, the impact of cruel leadership, and the systematic erasure of Black people across the charitable landscape. But their stories don’t end here. Contained in every chapter is a message of faith, gratitude, understanding or a call to action. For Black people and all readers moved by these narratives, a rallying cry emerges – an urgent call to bring about change for those who stay and endure, and for those yet to come.
Many of the stories in Collecting Courage are punctuated with poetry, song lyrics, and quotes from an array of voices in the Black liberation and civil rights movement. These additions act as creative punches and opportunities for readers to pause and synthesize the gravitas of each writer’s story. Co-editor and contributor Nicole Salmon’s chapter, “Come, Take a Walk with Me,” for example, is entirely written in poetic verse, evoking all of the readers’ senses with brilliant sound and imagery, each section concluding with a refrain that underlines how these life altering experiences course through the body to reach the soul.
This verse speaks to me
As if tucked away in the abyss of me
As if sucked into every cell and fibre of me
These words captivate and speak to me
Cause it is who I am and aspire to be
For those of us working and volunteering in non-profits, this book is a must read as you deepen your personal commitment to equity and social justice. It is a raw and honest chronicling of how racism, white supremacy and patriarchy permeate the world of charitable giving, and the impact it continues to have on Black people. Moreover, it provides readers with a sense of community, comradery and confidence that progress is indeed rooted in collective action. There are many lessons for readers outside of our domain as well, and I expect that this book will make waves in an array of fields and disciplines where justice is long overdue. Within these pages you will discover the solidarizing spark from which social movements find their energy and strength. And it is at this critical juncture where truth meets action.
Collecting Courage is the first and only book that is brave enough to expose the poison that pervades our institutions, corrupts the corridors of power, fuels hate amongst its people, and allows injustice to flourish. But that’s not its endgame. Each writer, by laying bare their pain, also expresses a special resilience through which they find love for oneself and community, create a space for healing, and invite everyone to rebuild a sector that sees its own truth and potential.
As I reflect on the harrowing and heroic experiences of these fourteen brilliant writers, I am reminded of Dionne Brand’s poignant claim about the transformative and visceral impact of writing:
“Books leave gestures in the body; a certain way of moving, of turning, a certain closing of the eyes, a way of leaving, hesitations. Books leave certain sounds, a certain pacing; mostly they leave the elusive, which is all the story. They leave much more than the words.”
Thank you to Marva, Sherrie, Christal, Nicole, Muthoni, Kishshana, Mide, Niambi, Heba, Camila, Fatou, Birgit, Naimah, and Nneka for the courage you inspire – for your readers, for one another, and for, of course, the love of humanity.
(Krishan Mehta, PhD, is AVP, Engagement at Ryerson University. He also teaches in the Philanthropy and Non-Profit Leadership graduate program at Carleton University and heads up the Fundraising Management Program at the G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education.)
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