In this month’s At the Helm, we spoke with Yamani Yansá Hernandez, Interim Executive Director of Groundswell Fund. Groundswell Fund is one of the largest funders of organizations led by women of color, transgender and gender-expansive people of color organizing in the United States and of the Reproductive Justice (RJ) Movement. In the interview, Yamani discusses what it means to invest in those most impacted by systematic oppression and what’s on the horizon for Groundswell Fund.
View highlights of our interview in the video, then see below for more. You can read the full transcript of the video at the end of the interview.
Tell us a little bit more about Groundswell Fund. How would you describe the work to someone who was completely new to it?
Groundswell Fund and its C4 sibling, the Groundswell Action Fund, are both essential irrigation systems to the reproductive justice movement. We are funding intermediaries, so we are not an endowed or a family foundation. We operate more like a community foundation where we raise every dollar that we give away.
In our history in this space, we’re closing in on giving almost $200 million to grassroots organizations doing community and political organizing for racial, reproductive and gender justice. So that’s a little bit about us in a nutshell.
We like to direct our giving to work led by black and/or Indigenous women and trans people of color. We also focus on healing justice, climate justice, and rapid response funding.
Lastly, we try to uplift our grantees with media work and getting their work the attention it deserves because we know the more they’re seen, the more we can help raise the money.
What brought you there? What drew you to Groundswell?
I came to this role from the grantee space. I have led both state and national organizations in the reproductive justice movement. I led the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health for four years, and then I led the National Network of Abortion Funds, both of which are Groundswell grantees.
I’ve always looked at Groundswell as a North Star, as a beacon, as not just a funding source, but an intermediary in the sense of helping navigate funder relationships, tricky conversations, and making introductions.
When they needed someone to step up to the helm, I was happy to help. We talk a lot in our movement about the people most impacted being in leadership roles. So, while I’m not a seasoned person in philanthropy, I am seasoned in organizational leadership and the grantee experience.
One of the things we find most interesting about Groundswell is that not only are you on this incredible mission, but it’s core to your mission that you focus on centering the leadership of women of color, particularly those who are black, indigenous and transgender. What are the results that happen when we really invest in these leaders?
The results when we invest in the people most impacted by systemic oppression are solutions really rooted in the lived reality and not in other people’s fantasies about them and what their lives should be. Our grantees move almost a million people to the polls each year. These voters have been at the source of hundreds of policy changes, both proactive and reactive and largely at the local or state level, which we really believe is the site of power building. We usually do an annual impact report, our latest is from 2021, that breaks down the impact from a policy change and culture change perspective.
Tell us more about those programs and the impact that Groundswell Fund has on these grassroots organizations in their communities.
We give out about $15 million in grants annually and capacity-building support to about 252 organizations.
One of the grantees that I like to lift up is the Afiya Center in Dallas. They entered the reproductive justice movement at the intersection of black HIV AIDS work, but over the years have branched into a full spectrum of services ranging from abortion access to birth justice. They recently had a compelling campaign called “Bring Mila Home.” This was a case where a newborn had been unjustly taken by Child Protective Services due to racial profiling of the family. Their campaign led to the safe return of the baby to her family.
That’s a really powerful example that speaks to how we’re seeing not just attacks on abortion access, but on families that don’t look like the white, Christian, patriarchal norms that are celebrated in this country. Think also of black maternal and infant mortality rates, trans children being denied care and threatened with removal from their families – it’s all part of a larger trend of people needing to organize around actual survival.
You’ve been working and leading in this space for a very long time. What are some of the biggest changes that you’ve seen?
I have been working in nonprofits for 25 years and leading them for about 13 or so. One of the things I’m seeing is a shift in what people organize around. It’s getting a lot more dire. So, people are organizing around a lot of mutual aid and survival needs and not just what has historically been seen as more political and community organizing.
I come out of the abortion space, where we’ve shifted from this charity model of just giving people money to get their abortions to more of an organizing model, you know, the fact that they can’t access abortion is not their fault. In some states, depending on your zip code, you may or may not be able to have the same rights as someone who lives one state over.
So, I’m seeing a lot of shifting to people understanding that it’s highly political.
What keeps you balanced and keeps you going?
I think I try to counterbalance the ferocity and cruelty of our country descending into fascism with equal amounts of love, care, hope, and possibility. We can’t allow ourselves to be crushed by that.
I’m sort of in a recalibrating state of life where I want to do great work. I want to continue doing great work. But I also want to be able to have time and space in my life for the many other things that define me as a whole person. I’m a parent of two children, so I want to be able to do things and not feel like I’m like stuck to my phone 24 hours a day and can’t attend a recital or something without having to be in emergency mode.
Groundswell is searching for a Chief Development Officer. How will this position and the Groundswell philanthropic program in general prepare the organization for the future?
I’m really excited about this hire because we’ve had a founder as a really powerful leader for 17 years or so. So now we’re growing up in a way.
Groundswell had some humble but fierce beginnings. And, we’re at that stage of organization where it’s good to be in institution-building mode rather than startup mode. We have so much room to grow.
There’s more need than there ever has been, so we’re searching for an amazing strategist who understands that we raise every dollar that we give away and that we want to be here for a long time. We want to think about building out our donor base and long-term gifts so that we can have that longevity
One final question. What does reproductive justice mean to you?
Reproductive justice is an actual term that was coined in 1993 by a group of black leaders that were combining social justice with reproductive rights and recognizing that the choices or perceived choices that we make around reproduction are rooted in the experiences that we have, and those are based on racism, based on gender, based on disability, based on housing access, based on income. And originally the term meant the right to have a child, the right to not have a child, and the right to parent the children you have in thriving communities.
So, it’s really sort of bringing all those intersections together and recognizing that our choices aren’t actually our choices if we don’t have equal access to them.
So, it’s more than just about a procedure, but about the full lives that we live, the ability to determine your family and live your life as you define it and not being controlled by the state and a bunch of politicians that never had to think about the things that you’re navigating.