Crowdfunding Site HopeMob Relaunches Without Shaun King and With a New Vision

Nonprofit’s new director the Rev. Leroy Barber explains why he wants to exclusively resource leaders of color

(The following is an excerpt of an article and transcript of a podcast episode originally published on FAITHFULLYMAGAZINE.COM: Faithfully Podcast 9: Crowdfunding Site @HopeMob Relaunches to Support Leaders of Color)

@HopeMob, the crowdfunding platform founded in 2012 by Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King and Chad Kellough, has re-emerged after a period of inactivity with a new director, who shared the nonprofit’s new mission in an appearance on Faithfully Podcast.

When King departed @HopeMob in 2014, the nonprofit’s advisory board sought the assistance of Pure Charity “to step in and help transition current initiatives into completed initiatives, as well as to envision a larger work for @HopeMob and its future,” the company explains on its website. Pure Charity assists nonprofits with fundraising and donor management, among other things.

While the nonprofit is still all about rallying the public to donate funds to causes they deem worthy, @HopeMob has chosen a very specific niche as its new focus.

In his May 27 discussion on Faithfully Podcast, Barber explained why @HopeMob is fully focused on resourcing otherwise overlooked leaders of color and whether projects led by white organizers would be considered for crowdfunding.


NM: Welcome to Faithfully Podcast — At the intersection of race, culture and Christianity. I’m your host Nicola Menzie.

Joining me today on Faithfully Podcast is the Rev. Leroy Barber. Rev. Barber is an activist, pastor, an author, and recently took the helm of the nonprofit crowdfunding platform @HopeMob.

NM: Now, the big news of course, is that you have been brought on as director for @HopeMob. Some of us may not be too familiar with @HopeMob, while some of us might remember the organization when it was founded several years ago by Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King and Chad Kellough. So tell us — what is @HopeMob today?

LB: First off, I’m pretty excited about coming on board and we’re excited to relaunch @HopeMob actually and re-brand it a little bit here around what we’re calling it, support for leaders of color. And what we mean by that is that there are many leaders of color working in a nonprofit world, working in communities, local communities who have very little support. And we’re launching @HopeMob really as the only platform that’s dedicated to supporting leaders of color.

NM: I also read in the brief introduction I was emailed from the organization that not only will @HopeMob now be the only crowdfunding platform devoted to resourcing leaders of color, but it also said that it will exclusively crowdfund projects led by people of color for people of color. So I’m wondering why is this the particular mission? Why is it necessary?

LB: I don’t know if you know this fact or not, and a few people do actually, that 97 percent of the giving that goes towards nonprofits, goes to organizations led by white folks. Annually there’s only 3 percent of giving to nonprofits that goes to organizations led by people of color. We see that as a huge disparity for how work is done locally in communities and how work is done specifically by leaders of color, and quality leaders of color really as well. It’s not about the quality of the quality of the leader. It’s about the access to funding and the access to resources.

NM: Maybe you can give an example or break that down a bit more when you talk about the disparity when it comes to similar organizations in terms of their leadership and their employment at these crowdfunding platforms. How does that disparity actually affect projects led by people of color? Are you saying then perhaps because of the leadership makeup, the staff makeup that they’re not always able to appreciate good projects spearheaded by communities of color, people of color?

LB: Over half, about 55 percent of nonprofit work is done in communities of color. And about 85 percent of nonprofits are led by…actually more than that. The Casey Foundation has given a new fact that only 7 percent of nonprofits are directed by people of color. Which means that you have nonprofits led by white folks leading work that’s done in majority-communities of color without representation within the leadership and/or representation in their employee ranks. Even the employee ranks are only 18 percent.

So you go into a community, right, and this work that’s being done and the people receiving ‘the benefit’ of this work, are people of color (and) most of the time, to the tune of 90 percent, don’t see themselves in leadership. We think that that creates a disparity for people being ‘served.’ If they don’t see themselves in leadership, how is this organization and/or this work or this location, however you want to explain it, how is it ever a possibility for people of color to move into these spaces if they don’t see themselves? And it really becomes an injustice within this space of people trying to represent justice.

NM: OK, so I’m curious then on two points. So who are making the decisions at @HopeMob and then, because of your vision, the specificity of it, does that mean then that projects led by white people are strictly out?

LB: It means that what we put in place with myself is an advisory board made up, again of probably half or more of people of color and those who are the people who will be looking at the projects that will be chosen to be resourced. So we think that helps determining in a different way who gets funded and who doesn’t get funded, at least from our perspectives. If there are people of color making those decisions with people of color for communities of color, we think that that deepens the work.

NM: OK, and I’m not sure if you answered the second part of my question, which some people, when you do debut the new @HopeMob, and they start looking around… a basic question might be, ‘Well, if I’m a white person living in a particular context and I feel like I have this great idea that could be useful, that could be helpful, does that mean then I’m excluded from approaching @HopeMob for consideration?’

LB: No, it doesn’t mean you’re excluded. But, it does mean we’re gonna look critically at that organization to see who’s in leadership, who’s setting the agendas, what the philosophies are about and all those kinds of things to make sure that’s being done in a way that’s developing people well and leaders of color well. I’ve been in this for about 30 years and to watch a 30-year cycle of not seeing people of color arrive into leadership ranks, like we’ve got to figure that out. We haven’t said we’re gonna exclude people of color, but we actually have. In the same way, I’m not gonna say I’m excluding white folks but I’m gonna be pretty… we’re gonna look pretty heavily at who we fund and what kinds of white leaders we fund.

NM: OK, definitely. You see the disparity so you’re working directly at trying to balance things out in a sense, so I totally I get you there. So how does the whole process work then? You know, I have an idea, maybe I have a few co-founders with me, so how do we approach @HopeMob for initial consideration?

LB: So you’ll be able to go on our website, you’ll be able to submit a project, and our advisory board will take a look at that project. And if that project is chosen, then what happens is, we have filmmakers and writers and PR person that will help that person tell their story from their perspective in their words and then highlight that on the platform and ask people to give to that. And then, 92 percent of all that comes in will go directly to that organization.

NM: And I understand that you already have two or three initial projects that you’ve accepted to work with. Can you share a little bit about those projects, maybe one or two of them?

LB: Sure. One that I’m super excited about that will launch next weeks is Jonathan Brooks who lives in the South Side of Chicago in a neighborhood called Englewood. He’s a local pastor, grew up in the neighborhood, went to Tuskegee University, has a Master’s degree in education and an M.Div. and so takes all of that experience and all of his education back to his local community and is working locally to do…support families around mass incarceration, helping folks get high school diplomas, after-school programs, they have created a cafe, a local business in the community. And so somebody like Pastor Brooks is at the same time an African-American leader that doesn’t get the amount of resource that he needs to make all of that work and we want to highlight that work. So that’s one.

And then we want to take a look at mass incarceration through another leader who lives in Chicago, Amy Williams, who’s a state-certified gang specialist and works with young men coming out of the prison system. So these are a couple of the leaders that we’re trying to highlight — or that we will be highlighting and you’ll hear more about. And hopefully people will see what they’re doing and see the quality of what they’re doing and support them.

NM: Touching on your work, you’ve been doing what you’ve been doing for going on 30 years, over 25 years, and I read on your website…under your bio it states that you’ve dedicated more than 25 years to eradicating poverty, confronting homelessness, restoring local neighborhoods, healing racism, and living with what Dr. King called ‘the beloved community’. If you can touch on a couple of those issues that you personally through your ministry and work care about addressing, such as poverty and homelessness. And then maybe if you can explain that reference to Dr. King’s quote about “the beloved community.”

LB: I’m older now, but I started in my mid-20s, my wife and I working with the homeless population in Philadelphia. And we started pretty small, going out, visiting, taking out food and clothes and blankets and those kinds of things. And through that work on the streets really got to understand a deeper level of all of the complexities that went into people’s lives and why they ended up on the streets. So we did that for a long time, and that was actually really a lot of learning and a lot of understanding. Folks taught me way more than I knew, and I was in my early 20s and I learned a lot on the streets from people.

That really pushed me into the space of what poverty looks like, the complexities of it, the intersection of it between education and mental health and racism and all of these things that play into why people either are in and/or stuck in these systems of poverty. So we work to talk about those things to bring more understanding or deeper understanding about those issues to take out a little bit of that ‘Oh, these folks are lazy’ or ‘These folks don’t work hard’ or ‘These folks are victims’. Like, bringing a different narrative to understanding what poverty means. Not just here, but all around the world. Trying to speak into that and bring different conversations to the table.

And, you know, Dr. King really talked about the beloved community in a deep way in saying that there are resources that are available that God has made available that should be shared equally with everyone. And those resources are not shared equally, and how do we share them equally as human beings, as people who are all created in God’s image? And what does that mean and what does that look like when it comes to the environment? What does that look like when it comes to economic resources? What does that look like when it comes to education? What does that look like for different people from different places with different perspectives to share in that? And how do we do that in a non-violent way? How do we create a space of nonviolence where we can disagree and have conflict but get through that in a way that brings everyone along. So the beloved community part is something that we’re reaching towards and trying to reach and trying to push people into.

NM: Finally, I know it’s super early in the game. You haven’t even debuted @HopeMob yet, but maybe a year down the road, 2 or 3 years down the road, what is it that you would like the organization to be known for? What is it you want people to be saying and thinking about @HopeMob 2–3 years from now?

LB: I would hope that there would be enough confidence that we would have told enough stories and fill people in on the incredible work that’s being done in local communities by everyday people who don’t do it for the platform or the prestige but who do it because they love people. Can we lift that voice, that hope that exists in the world so that people can be enlightened and engaged and supportive of that kind of work.