Investor Interviews: Reverend Mariama White-Hammond

Partnership. Creativity. This quarter for our Spring 2022 Investor Update, we sat down with a group of five esteemed Ujima Fund Investors.

Reverend Mariama White-Hammond is the founding pastor of New Roots AME Church in Dorchester. White-Hammond has extensive background in embedding equity and environmental justice into Boston’s communities. She is a fellow with the Green Justice Coalition. She has received numerous awards, including the Barr Fellowship, the Celtics Heroes Among Us, and the Boston NAACP Image award. She was selected as one of the Grist 50 Fixers for 2019 and Sojourners 11 Women Shaping the Church.

Rev. Mariama, you helped found this partnership. Can you tell us a bit about how this started in your eyes?
I was a board member at UCB pretty early on. And, as you know, we think that sometimes what people need to help themselves as they lift themselves out of poverty is resources and money. We believe in the importance of social capital, of people connecting with each other, and what comes out of that. We also believe in the importance of capital capital, the fact that people whose communities have been starved for resources could use a reinvestment of resources.

So what got exciting is, as folks were really investing in UCB building out the network and a model, they were talking a lot more about this question of, “How do I invest? How do I invest in a way that also lifts up my community?” And so, you know, it felt like Ujima was a really powerful option because a lot of Ujima’s core communities are the same core communities that you see the UCB members are coming from.

We wanted to give people an opportunity who were serious about investing. And so Ujima was a great fit. Our investment options for folks are not huge. It was $50. But we felt like it was an important way to reflect the values of UCB.

I think the other layer to that is I know Ujima at the same time was really asking the question, “how do we not be a financial institution that is only about taking people’s money and saving it, but also having a deeper scale of investment?” And so there were already community partnerships that had been put in place that allowed people to get memberships and things like that. And so, it felt like a win-win both for UCB in hearing what its members wanted and needed. And for Ujima in terms of making investments and building relationships, beyond just the money, [although] the money is certainly important.

But I know that both Ujima and UCB see money and resources as a part of it. As a way to help facilitate community, in some instances. That community, that resource sharing, and helping people to have what they need to live, are the bigger goals. And money isn’t the only way that that happens, but it’s certainly an important tool.

I believe in the power of community. I don’t think we need singular leaders, what we need is leader-full communities.

This was such a creative idea. In the past, you’ve talked about thought partnership, you talked about reflecting the system, replicating it, and ways to augment it. I’m just really curious about your thoughts on creativity and movement work.

When I talk about what I think is needed in the world today, I mean, there’s no way to boil it all down easily. But I talk a lot about the three C’s, which I believe are community, creativity, and courage. I think the reality is that we talk about this other world that we need that we hope for that we dream of. It will not come into existence just because we hope for it. I think the work is exactly what you were asking, “how did we all come together?” Well, the reality is that we were building this community and it’s rich, and it’s deep. But I believe in the power of community. I don’t think we need singular leaders, what we need is leader-full communities.

But I also talk a lot about creativity, because I believe that the world we hope for, not a single one of us has ever lived in it. Not fully. We’ve seen snatches of it. We’ve had moments when we could imagine it. But we’ve, none of us, have ever lived in it. And I think part of the reason that people cling to systems that are not working for them, is because they can’t imagine what that better system would be. It doesn’t feel real, they can’t taste it, they can’t see it, they can’t smell it. So the work of justice is the work of imagining a world that is radically different than the one we’re living in. And if we want to do it in a way that brings people along, we have to start creating that other world.

And I think the last C really is courage. And I think that the kind of creativity that this crew has leaned into does require courage because it means going against the grain. And it means actually being open to the possibility of failure, which is also important.

I do want to name that this is a celebration of the things we’ve done that worked. All of us have stories [about what hasn’t worked]. But if you’re going to lean into creating a new world, you also have to be open to the fact that it will not all work out the very first time. And that in those failures, you will find the kernel of the next thing that does work out.

What do you hope that a partnership like this one can accomplish?
I think as we’re doing organizing work, it is so important for us to build good systems and to have a critique. But it is also important for people to feel like they are part of a family of folks trying to do something different. When we, as nonprofits or organizations are territorial, we don’t expand that tapestry and we don’t help people to feel connected.

We are creating a new world. And that world should be strong enough, not just for those of us who are “leaders” in our organizations. It has to extend to the people with whom we’re working, the artists who are helping us, to the kids that our members are raising.

It’s got to be this rich tapestry where people feel like we are a network of people with shared values that are creating something together. And no one organization can do all of that work. So I’m really excited that this is just one example of how Ujima is creating, tapping into, and being part of a network of organizations and individuals that are serious about creating a new world. I know it’s radical to do these kinds of things, except it really shouldn’t be. This is how we need to live.

This is the kind of interdependence and sharing that will allow us to create a sustainable world that really works for everybody. I know that it’s out of the norm. But I dream of a world where this is just like, “Oh, partnership, like, whatever. That’s what we do.”

And I know that we haven’t gotten there. I know that in the nonprofit space, that we often feel like we’re competing for resources, or we can sometimes be as territorial as the lines between our neighborhoods. But if we keep doing that, we are not gonna build this world that we need. We’re not going to avoid the worst of climate change. We’re not going to bring about economic justice. None of those things are possible in a siloed world. They require a rich tapestry. They require a family. They require a reweaving of relationships that make us strong enough to do things beyond what we can imagine. ◼︎

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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