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Imagine Canada reads Collecting Courage: Joy, Pain, Freedom, Love

Imagine Canada reads Collecting Courage: Joy, Pain, Freedom, Love

Collecting Courage by Nneka Allen, Camila Vital Nunes Pereira, and Nicole Salmon

This powerful and incisive collection edited by Nneka Allen, Camila Vital Nunes Pereira, and Nicole Salmon features the voices of 15 Black fundraisers in Canada and the United States. Their testimonies of anti-Black racism in charities and nonprofits should be required reading for sector leaders, allies, accomplices, and anyone whose personal or professional mission involves ‘doing good’.

Imagine Canada’s Anti-Racism Staff Book Club meets monthly for courageous, authentic, and often vulnerable conversations around race, racism, and other systems of oppression. Each of the 11 books and documentaries we have read or watched since our Book Club’s beginnings in late 2020 have, in their own way, challenged us to think critically about how we engage with, benefit from, and can work against systems of oppression personally, professionally, and organizationally. 

Our most recent read, Collecting Courage – with its laser focus on anti-Black racism in the charitable sector, stunningly told through the present-day experiences of 15 accomplished Black fundraisers – was a particularly piercing experience for our group. This collection of testimonies by our Black colleagues in the sector didn’t just hit close-to-home: it is our home, and the walls remain whitewashed.

We are grateful to have had author-editors Nneka Allen, Camila Vital Nunes Pereira, and Nicole Salmon join us for our January Book Club discussion. Their wisdom and generosity helped us to ground our conversation in hope, and to identify actions toward a future where Black nonprofit professionals (as well as Indigenous and other racialized nonprofit professionals) are valued, supported, connected, and thriving as leaders in a philanthropy that puts communities first.

Staff Reflections/Responses to Collecting Courage:

Collecting Courage  is an apt name for this collection of personal reflections from Black nonprofit professionals, primarily fundraisers. The authors show courage in telling their stories but, more importantly, in living their lives in our white-dominated culture and white-dominated sector. Their  stories clearly demonstrate how challenging this is. Virtually all the authors speak of having to learn how to navigate white spaces; edit their stories and themselves to accommodate the feelings and expectations of others; tolerate blatant racism; overlook an endless list of micro-aggressions; assimilate; conform; play dumb, be numb, get the job done; and never, ever, challenge the status quo. The authors are candid about the emotional, mental and physical toll all this inevitably takes on them. We asked the editors what advice they would give to young Black professionals hoping to build their careers in the nonprofit sector. Their response was, “build a support network, because you will need it.” While this is obviously excellent advice, we must work towards changing our sector so that our Black colleagues are less likely to need support to process the trauma we impose on them every day.

(Cathy Barr, Vice-President, Research & Strategic Relationships)

Nneka Allen writes that “the charitable sector is a microcosm of the national culture”. What does it mean to be part of a culture built on structural inequity, and to work in a sector whose mission is to solve problems created by the inequity it perpetuates and upholds? What does it mean to be part of a national culture whose constructs of inherent Canadian ‘goodness’ erase the experiences of Black people, and a sector whose engrained white saviorism and supremacy do the same? What does it mean for a Black fundraiser to have chosen a career supporting communities and have their workplace actively choose not to support them — to be implicitly and explicitly told that in order to do good you must be anyone but yourself? 

Seemingly opposite things can be true. Philanthropy can be transformative and joyful and a function of deep love for humankind, and it can be a source of incredible, deliberate, entrenched harm. Collecting Courage shows Black nonprofit professionals that they are not alone in their experiences of anti-Black racism, and calls on white allies in the sector to take accountability and action by helping redistribute power and reshape the culture of charitable work.

(Malia Rogers, Assistant, Content Management)

Collecting Courage and its canonized words and lived experiences should be required reading for anyone working in the nonprofit sector. The main sections of the book - structured around joy, pain, freedom and love - take you on an emotional journey through these telling testimonies from different yet oh-so-similar lenses. These 15 stories of anti-Black racism experienced by the contributors across the North American nonprofit sector are so poignant and revealing of the often-clouded reality of white-saviourism that is our sector. As Nneka Allen writes, “These stories are sacred history in the making. They are truth and light. And they serve to correct the current philanthropic record.” This is an opportunity for nonprofit organizations, professionals and stakeholders alike to read these powerful words and reflect on their own experiences and actions, so that we can work towards a much-needed transformation in philanthropy. Thank you to these incredible leaders for sharing their stories and pushing this critical conversation forward. 

(Alex Pryse, Manager, Partnerships & Fund Development)

On the website for Collecting Courage, Nneka Allen, Camila Vital Nunes Pereira and Nicole Salmon hold virtual space for Black nonprofit professionals to document and share their own experiences in the sector. With consent from contributors, they share these submissions on the website as a means of extending the power of testimony beyond the pages of the book. We roundly encourage all nonprofit leaders and stakeholders to bring both collections into dialogue and decision-making across their organizations. Staff at Imagine Canada will be drawing on these authors’ stories and on their courage in our efforts to shape a sector where anti-Black racism in charities and nonprofits is a story of the past.

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