'The revolution will be funded': Meet the Black and Brown Workers Collective - Generocity Philly

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Dec. 12, 2016 12:52 pm

‘The revolution will be funded’: Meet the Black and Brown Workers Collective

For the past year, the Black and Brown Workers Collective has been fighting for the rights of Black and Brown nonprofit staffers doing on-the-ground HIV/AIDS work.

Shani Akilah (left) and Abdul-Aliy Muhammad.

(Photo by Tony Abraham)

You might know Black and Brown Workers Collective (BBWC) as the fiery group of activists that lead the protests against racism in Philadelphia’s Gayborhood this past fall, or maybe as the group that, a few weeks later, called for the resignation of Office of LGBT Affairs director Nellie Fitzpatrick.

Regardless of what you might know about BBWC or how you remember them thus far, it’s what the intersectional LGBTQ and racial justice outfit stands for that should catch the attention of nonprofits — specifically, organizations working with the HIV/AIDS community.

It’s something everyone should agree on, because it just makes sense: Services provided to communities should be led by people who are from those communities. Not just boots-on-the-ground foot soldiers, but as leaders in executive positions.

Despite the fact that HIV and AIDS disproportionately affect people of color, Black and Brown workers at HIV/AIDS nonprofits are being underpaid, overworked and passed over for leadership positions, according to BBWC member Shani Akilah.

“There are a number of people who tend to come in with degrees, tend to be white and tend to be fresh out of college,” Akilah said.

That’s why BBWC, which Akilah describes as a “socialist group with anarchist tendencies,” has begun archiving the narratives of Black and Brown workers — people who are experiencing deliberate wage disparity, racial bias and sexual abuse and harassment.

“There’s an example of someone who, because they didn’t code switch, were targeted and policed,” said BBWC member Abdul-Aliy Muhammad. “He was hired because he could be relatable.”

In other words? Good enough for a foot soldier, but not fit for leadership. This is the bigotry BBWC is fighting against. It’s why the collective put out an 11-page call to action this past summer. The document serves as an outline of the ways in which systems of oppression interlock and manifest in the nonprofit sector, said Akilah.

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BBWC’s intentions are simple: Create accountability by getting Black and Brown workers the pay they deserve and the opportunity to lead.

Speaking of leading, it took a minute for BBWC to get organized. They might have sprung into the public eye this past fall, but come February, the group will be a year old.

“We were very clear at first about pushing back against politics of respectability. There were a lot of people who felt we needed to perform for white people,” said Muhammad. “You don’t need that. Your power is not determined by how people perceive you. That’s not the work of the collective.”

Another challenge has been anonymity. BBWC’s ranks are 200-deep, but fear of facing retribution at the hands of employers prevents some folks from showing up for protests.

“There are a few of us who can risk putting our bodies on the line to show there is resistance,” said Muhammad. “It’s read as a small core group, but it’s a movement.”

At this point for BBWC, it’s the immeasurable wins that serve as signs that what the group is doing is working, from making headlines with Gayborhood protests to receiving thank yous from community members.

After finishing the archival project, BBWC’s next challenge will be finding a way to finance the group. Akilah and Muhammad, who are both doing consulting work to feed themselves so they can continue their work with BBWC, said they’re looking to start a cooperative.

“The revolution will be funded,” said Akilah.

Considering the possibility of cuts to AIDS funding under President-elect Donald Trump, it will have to be.

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