Community Advisors

Driven by our new mission of championing equitable public education in Berkeley, the Berkeley Public Schools Fund has spent the past year redesigning our grantmaking programs and processes to be explicitly anti-racist. 

A cornerstone of antiracist grantmaking is a new movement called ‘participatory grantmaking.’ Participatory grantmaking, according to the Nonprofit Quarterly, is an approach where “a cross section of the community participates – not just those who are inclined to do so,…and not just experts, but ‘real people,’ whose lived experience is equally valuable when it comes to decisions affecting their lives.” 

To that end, this fall the Schools Fund recruited 7 Community Advisors to join the Schools Fund’s 7 existing Board Program Committee Members in the review, scoring, and awarding of LEADING for Equity grants. 

Originally nominated by key district BIPOC leaders, chosen for their lived experiences in Berkeley’s public schools, and compensated for their time and expertise, these 7 Community Advisors included high school students and parents from across BUSD. This year’s Advisors included three Berkeley High students: Muskana Cyrus from the Black Student Union, Miguel Calderon Sanchez from the Bridge program, and Ashanty Moreno-Silva from the RISE program. The team also included 4 BUSD parents: Milani Pelley from Berkeley Arts Magnet’s PTA Equity & Justice committee, Gaddy Barbero-Reyes from the Spanish-English Two-Way Immersion program (at Sylvia Mendez Elementary and Longfellow), Shauntee Edwards from Longfellow’s UMOJA program, and Elizabeth Homran representing Berkeley’s Arabic-speaking Middle Eastern community.

Community Advisors came together with the Schools Fund’s Board Program Committee in equal numbers to intentionally share power around grant awards. And the broader mix of perspectives was immediately palpable. Said Community Advisor Shauntee Edwards, “The diversity of grant reviewers’ age, gender, experience within BUSD and cultural background was impressive. There is so much strength in community building through diversity.” 

From the point of view of the Schools Fund’s Board, the addition of the Community Advisors was an equally powerful milestone. “Change is afoot and I love it,” remarked Madan Kumar, Board Chair and Program Committee member and BUSD parent. “Tradition and status quo are designed (in some cases) to keep people in their places. We change when we all have a seat at the table. We are all capable and we all deserve to participate/experience self-determination.” For Board Program Committee Chair Lynna Tsou, who is also a BUSD parent, “One of the most significant changes was listening to the students. Their takes and comments – they are, in some cases, actually living the grants.”

Beyond engaging Community Advisors, the Schools Fund has diversified our grantmaking to include additional antiracist practices. For example, we are trying to ‘open our door’ wider and invite more diverse and first-time applicants to walk through it. This includes broadening grant categories and seeking out nontraditional applicants through a steady focus on relationship-building. Once potential applicants show an interest, we are offering up new tools (like easy-to-use budget templates) and new supports (like Open Office Hours) to support their proposal development. As grantees move through their project cycle, Schools Fund staff continue to offer technical support around goal-setting and evaluation methods. And at the tail end of a project, the Schools Fund is broadening our “grant reporting” practice to be less burdensome on grantees and more authentic.

With grantmaking season now over, the Schools Fund looks forward to an ongoing relationship with our Community Advisors. And the feelings of partnership appear to be mutual. “I would love to work more closely with the Berkeley Public Schools Fund,” commented Community Advisor and BUSD parent Milani Pelley. “I am convinced that is where I need to be to make changes for equity in the Berkeley Unified School District.”