The Healing Justice Fund: Honoring the Well-being of Environmental Health and Justice Leaders

September 12, 2023
Kalila Booker-Cassano

This past May, at the HEFN Annual Meeting in New Orleans, 100 funders and movement partners gathered to learn from each other, strategize, and build relationships. Over the course of those two days, we heard loud and clear the incredible toll that environmental justice work takes on our colleagues and friends who are grassroots leaders in the field, and that environmental health and justice work often arises from the pain, illness, and death caused by pollution and dangerous chemicals. There is a need for foundations to support not just the work of EJ organizations, but organizational staff’s personal needs for rest and healing, in order for them to effectively do their work now and into the future. This call to action reinforced conversations that HEFN member Maya Winkelstein (2030 Fund) was having with HEFN staff about how to leave something behind for movement partners after our gathering, and served as the spark that ignited the idea of the Healing Justice Fund. Between sessions on the second day of the meeting, that idea became a reality, and the fund was launched.

Funder attendees showed up - fast, and in a way that showed passion and a willingness to be nimble. Within a few weeks of the meeting we had raised $26,500 from 11 donors, far exceeding the $10,000 we had initially hoped to raise. We have so much appreciation for the way in which HEFN members responded to this ask!

From the start, the intention was for the fund to serve as a one-time gifting tool whereby funders could provide support directly to frontline Annual Meeting attendees in the form of no-strings-attached grants to be used by the individuals themselves however they saw fit. There would be no reporting requirements, and no follow-up from HEFN or the donors. The funds were provided in addition to honoraria and payments that HEFN provided to compensate partners for their participation in the Annual Meeting. We also saw this as a way for foundations who didn’t have a designated grantmaking program to support healing justice to give directly to this cause.

In a plenary at the Annual Meeting moderated by Iris Garcia (Kataly Foundation), visionary organizers Konda Mason (Jubilee Justice), Bineshi Albert (Climate Justice Alliance) and Jacqui Patterson (The Chisholm Legacy Project) discussed how a healing justice framework (developed by visionary Southern Black women) can move the environmental and climate justice movements forward. As a concept that takes us beyond the simplistic frame of individual self care, healing justice is a powerful tool for advancing social and environmental justice goals as we seek systemic change, justice, and profound healing for our communities and the planet. This framework strongly influenced the flexibility we saw as crucial to this effort. These testimonies call to our attention the broader systemic inadequacies of our healthcare and cultural approaches to well-being that need to be addressed. In the meantime, we’re grateful to the HEFN community for stepping up to play a small part in addressing this need and honoring the leaders who have given us so much in the effort to achieve environmental health and justice.

Determining who would get the funds was a little trickier, but ultimately HEFN staff decided that the most equitable way forward would be to provide an equal gift to every movement partner who attended the meeting (30 in total); this came out to $920 per person. As the gift amount is over the IRS threshold for taxable income, intended recipients had to complete a W9 in order to receive funds, but no other paperwork was required. Responses were overwhelmingly positive, and a few recipients even had immediate ways in which they planned to use the funds - like an upcoming wellness retreat whose fee was a bit higher than they would have preferred, or a weekend away.

This experience, from initial concept to getting the funds out the door, showed to us the importance of being in right relationship - none of this could have happened if we hadn’t all been in space together at the HEFN Annual Meeting. Additionally, the relationship between and amongst funders and movement partners, and a genuine level of deep engagement with movement partners at the meeting allowed us to dig into real world issues and needs beyond a ‘pitch’, understanding what it means for folks to bring their whole selves into this work.

We acknowledge that this is only one very small, one-time infusion of funds towards a movement that needs more than we could have raised at one meeting, but it feels like a start towards acknowledging the true cost of this work on our grantees and colleagues. The learnings that HEFN takes from this will certainly influence our work in the future, and hopefully the work of our members as well.


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Field Partner Darryl Molina Sarmiento, Communities for a Better Environment
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