A Black Lives Matter fund that unexpectedly raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from Nova Scotians is now uplifting communities across the province through funding for grassroots groups.
The online Black Lives Matter Solidarity Fund Nova Scotia was launched last March by administrators including Lynn Jones, El Jones and Rachel Zellars.
Their original goal of $10,000 was to provide emergency funds to Black families who lost work or were struggling financially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We just received endless numbers of emails from community members saying, 'Thank you so much. This $100 goes towards groceries, gas allowing me to get back and forth to work, diapers, formula,'" Zellars, an assistant professor of social justice and community studies at Saint Mary's University, recently told CBC's Mainstreet.
"The response was really beautiful."
Donations spiked following the Minneapolis murder of George Floyd last May. In early June, nearly 4,000 people flooded Spring Garden Road in Halifax for a demonstration against anti-Black racism and police violence, as similar events swept North America.
The fund raised more than $300,000 before it closed last October.
The closing timing was partly because the GoFundMe platform has a limited period for fundraisers, Zellars said, but the administrators also knew that it was time to share the funds throughout the province with other Black community organizations.
An accountant was brought on board to help with reporting and transparency, ensuring communities can see where every dollar is going.
Zellars said it's especially important to show the funds are properly handled in light of the scrutiny around the BLM Global Network and unaffiliated "Black Lives Matter Foundation," which has accepted donations that do not support the movement.
The Black Lives Matter Solidarity Fund Nova Scotia is now dividing $225,000 among eight anchor organizations throughout the province, including several in rural communities.
The anchor organizations will make decisions locally about how best to use the money in each region of Nova Scotia and report back to the fund administrators, Zellars said.
She said the trend of online mutual aid is an ideal way to get direct funding to people or projects in need that "otherwise would not be so easily funded."
One of the anchor groups is Shelburne's SEED (South End Environmental Injustice Society), chosen to help to disseminate the funds through southwestern Nova Scotia and the South Shore.
SEED member Vanessa Hartley said it's a lot of pressure to ensure the money goes toward the right projects, but it's also been a "very rewarding" experience to connect to groups around the region they might not have before.
Hartley told CBC's Mainstreet they held a virtual meeting with community members to discuss how the funds should be used, then sent off their choices to the fund administrators for approval.
Since the money is barrier-free, it can reach anyone, Harley added. This is a big deal for some groups or projects that might not have non-profit status and can't access government grants or funds.
Hartley said they've set up a $3,000 Black Lives Matter emergency fund, accessible to anyone in the region needing financial assistance, help with medical expenses or other aid. That pot of money will be dispersed by July 15 on a first-come, first-served basis.
They also created a $1,500 entrepreneur fund for Black business owners who can apply for grants up to $500, and a student-assistance program in Liverpool.
SEED also put $1,500 toward their own UV water filtration fundraiser. They are hoping to raise enough money for 30 filtration units, which are about $500 each and kill water bacteria.
These devices would go into people's wells in the south end of Shelburne, where Hartley said clean water is an issue.
"It's kind of a Band-Aid solution," Hartley said.
"Many times Black communities and Black organizations have to do the work for themselves, and usually fight for the things that they never created the mess for."
The seven other anchor organizations are: Menelik Hall Association (Sydney); Upper Big Tracadie Seniors Action Club (Monastery); Cumberland African Nova Scotian Association (Amherst); Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia (Cherry Brook); Richard Preston Centre for Excellence Society (Halifax); Upper Hammonds Plains Community Development Association (UHPCDA); and Valley African Nova Scotian Development Association (Kentville).
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
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