Investing in Equity

Our Ancestors Would Be Proud

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The musky fragrance of bright orange marigolds, or cempasúchil, greeted Rise Together leaders who came to the Community Foundation during Dia De Los Muertos for a celebration of $320,000 in grants to their organizations. Rise Together is a coalition of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) leaders and a team from the Community Foundation working collaboratively to advance racial equity in Santa Cruz County.

Over the course of three granting cycles, the Foundation has now awarded $1.1 million to the coalition thanks to generous donations to the Rise Together Fund for Racial Equity by community members from all walks of life.

*Header photo: Elaine Johnson of Housing Santa Cruz County and Kara Meyberg Guzman of Santa Cruz Local.

Consuelo Alba of Watsonville Film Festival explains about the Dia De Los Muertos tradition.

Celebrating with Tradition

The celebration started with gathering around a traditional ofrenda filled with flowers, candles, food, drink, colorful skulls made of sugar, and photos of beloved deceased family members. Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday that celebrates life and death by welcoming back the souls of relatives who have passed away. Together, we welcomed in the spirits of our mothers, fathers, and grandparents—farmers, laborers, union organizers, immigrants, restaurant and factory workers, teachers, and activists—by sharing stories about them and how they still inspire us today.

Consuelo Alba, co-founder and executive director of Watsonville Film Festival said, “It was so meaningful to bring our ancestors into this Rise Together space at the Community Foundation. They were able to witness the work we are doing to build a more just and equitable Santa Cruz County. I know our ancestors would be proud.”

Members of the 2023 Rise Together cohort which includes community organizers, social justice and arts leaders, journalists, indigenous cultural practitioners, storytellers, social workers, healthcare professionals, youth mentors and educators, and immigrant advocates.

Collective Action for Equity

Since its inception, the Rise Together coalition has made decisions collectively including developing the purpose and goals, determining the grantmaking process, and making award decisions.

Rise Together grants support the group’s six goals BIPOC communities in Santa Cruz County: increase upward economic mobility; amplify, value, celebrate, and preserve stories, arts, culture, and community events; increase equity and anti-racist policy; deliver essential services and improve well-being; continuously give and grow sustained funding; and come together in community with trust and the safety to be our whole selves.

This year’s grants will both sustain work started last year and launch new projects that leaders had dreamed of but did not yet have the funding to make come to life.

Susan True, CEO of the Community Foundation and a member of Rise Together, said that the coalition is continuing to evolve. She explains that this year, rather than presenting grant proposals to their peers and making funding decisions accordingly, the coalition embraced a model where each organization received an equal investment of $20,000. “The members had many in-depth discussions developing this new process which is intended to further joy, knowledge, connection, and support for each other’s work instead of the anxiety of a traditional grantmaking process.”

Susan continued, “Rise Together invests in our members, our work, and our dreams from a foundation of trust and mutual support. We invest in each other to advance the Rise Together goals collectively in a spirit of passion and optimism for each members’ gifts, talents, needs, and strengths.”

She added that the time spent on making grant decisions will now focus on learning about each other’s projects and strengthening collaborations between member organizations to advance the coalition’s shared goals.

Angela Chambers, Youth Program, Development & Engagement Director for the Tannery World Dance and Cultural Center said, "TWDCC is thrilled to be a recipient of the Community Foundation's Rise Together investment. Beyond continuing our vital programs and operations, including annual events, youth programming, our SCOPE Scholarship fund, Diaspora Performance projects, and our rental program, we're collaborating with Santa Cruz Economic Development (SCED) to break ground on a new TWDCC studio building in 2024 at the Tannery campus. All funds raised and received during this time are vital to stabilizing operations as we head into this exciting next chapter for the organization."

Awards will also help hold community conversations about equity in affordable housing, nurture the careers and professional development of emerging BIPOC nonprofit leaders; provide heart-to-heart tri-lingual parent coaching; empower youth through cultural activities and sports; and more.

“When we hear the words ‘racial equity,’ the meaning can feel both overwhelming and unclear. Rise Together shows us a path forward that is inclusive and actions that our whole community can take so that all residents have what we need to thrive,” said Susan.

2023 Rise Together Investments, totaling $340,000:

Amah Mutsun Land Trust (AMLT)

To help Tribal Members’ travel expenses within Mutsun and Awaswas territories to enable participation in local events and Tribal events such as stewardship of Native plant gardens, tribal gatherings, and ceremonies.

Aztecas Youth Soccer

To support clubhouse rent, soccer equipment, uniforms, shoes, warm-ups, and league fees.

Black Surf Club Santa Cruz

To program capacity and help cover essential expenses such as staffing, storage space, and program costs. To promote mental, physical, spiritual, communal healing through surfing, education, advocacy, and wellness.

CA Film & Cultural Center

To support the film archive project, skilled teachers for Young Adult Film School, free meal deliveries and instruction, and facilitated groups, resources, and growth opportunities for youth and young adults identifying as BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and/or neurodiverse.

Campesina Womb Justice

To prepare and fund campesinas to attend a Mixteco doula program to prepare them for offering support at Watsonville Community Hospital. The goal is to pay campesinas to attend the workshop and then to work in their communities as promotoras de salud integrating indigenous Mixteco maternal health knowledge and traditions.

Community Action Board Santa Cruz County

To support CAB emerging leaders of color by connecting them to professional coaches, writing coaches, leadership development opportunities, self-care strategies, and supporting their individual professional career pathways. We’ll invest in Leaders of color and leaders serving communities of color and elevate their confidence, leadership and ultimately increase how they impact the low-income community through their work.

Estrellas de Esperanza

To bring visiting folkloric dance teachers from Mexico to Watsonville and purchase outfits for the dances learned last year on the Rise Together funded trip to Veracruz.

Housing Santa Cruz County

To hold community conversations about affordable housing, increase storytelling efforts for fundraising purposes, and provide professional development support for staff.

Positive Discipline Community Resources

To sustain the ability to provide 100% free tri-lingual parent coaching and be of service to flood impacted Pajaro families with children 0-5 years old through advocacy and efforts (providing shared leadership through the Pajaro Disaster Long Term Recovery Alliance as well as participating in County led Pajaro Recovery and Resilience meetings).

Santa Cruz Community Health Centers: to support the development of a Patient Advisory Council and the JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity) team of the health centers to continue supporting BIPOC patients and staff.

Santa Cruz County Black Health Matters Initiative

To support staffing and data collection related to Youth Ambassadors programming and development. Funds will also go directly to outdoor SCCBHMI county and state park activities and data collection for adults in 2024.

Santa Cruz Local

To support Noticias Watsonville, the Spanish-language division of Santa Cruz Local's newsroom. In 2024, Watsonville area residents will vote for a county supervisor, city council representatives as well as local ballot measures. We want to make sure Spanish-speaking residents in the Pajaro Valley have free, nonpartisan, independent information about the candidates and measures. We will also inform residents how to participate in the election. We will press the candidates on the issues we hear from Pajaro Valley residents.


To support the development of sustainability plans and projects to mentor the new executive director, professional development for our instructors, and leadership restructuring that is more reflective of our Indigenous values.

Tannery World Dance & Cultural Center

To provide operational and programming support during the build up to a major capital campaign for new dance studios to support the 6,500 program participants.

UC Santa Cruz University Library – Community Archives Program

To build trust and connection through programming to help preserve stories and community memory.

Watsonville Film Festival

To support Cine Se Puede, a program for emerging Latine filmmakers, to hold workshops in the community, and provide and educational outreach opportunities.

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