by Milicent Johnson, Founder, the Octavia Fund
Last month you may have read an article written by Victoria Santos entitled “A Place to Rest,” which explored the impact of a collaboration called Nourishment Retreat for Black Women at Commonweal. As I write this morning, 20 Black people having been murdered by a white supremacist in Buffalo: the call for spaces of rest for Black women feels as urgent as ever.
Space for Black women to rest can sound trivial at first glance, but as Tricia Hersey of the Nap Ministry reminds us, rest is resistance—in it we come home to ourselves, remember our truths, and interrupt systems of oppression. Reclaiming our right to rest from systems that tell us that our bodies are not our own, useful only for what they can produce, interrupts the foundations of white supremacy.
I started the Octavia Fund because I believe in Black women, and I want better for us. The brilliance of Black women nurtures new worlds, creates new possibilities, and grows new societies. We lead each other towards freedom like Harriet, we write ourselves into new worlds like Octavia, and, like Alicia, Patrisse, and Opal, we speak truths that you can’t unhear (“Black Lives Matter”). We have mothered movements from our pain, put our bodies on the line for progress, and turned our oppression into global rallying cries for collective liberation.
Intrinsic in who are are is the ability to tend the seeds and soil of liberation past, present, and future from a lineage of Black joy, and power of the Black radical imagination.
But we are tired.
We are exhausted from centuries spent making the impossible possible without recognition or resources. While many of us find our calling in anti-oppression work, the double burden of working for racial justice while bearing the brunt of injustice is quite literally, killing us. Even in spaces and institutions supposedly committed to social justice, we face microaggressions and disparities in pay, promotions, funding, and access to capital. The reality that less than 1% of philanthropic dollars are invested in Black women is just one of too many data points that underscore how philanthropy and society have failed Black women.
We deserve better.
At The Octavia Fund, we’re here to change the paradigm. We believe that space for rest and restoration, thriving networks of mutual aid and support, and abundant resources to create new, more equitable worlds are our birthright, and we’re here to claim it.
To that end, building off of the Nourishment Retreat, our goal this year is to continue to offer culturally rooted, fully funded retreat spaces for Black women across the country. We are also currently fundraising to launch our signature sabbatical program which will award abundantly resourced “Rest Sabbaticals” to five Black activists. And we will provide three seed grants to Black women and femme-led organizations that are building the infrastructure for Black liberation.
When we gather to share joys and sorrows, are received with trust and love, are held in the breadth and depth of the Black experience, and rooted in the legacy and lineage of Blackness, we can remember our wholeness and find our healing. When we are supported by a sisterhood, we know our strength and remember that we matter. When we are able to slow down and listen to what is calling us, we can imagine and create new liberated futures. This is the power of being rested and resourced in community.
I’m excited that The Octavia Fund has found a home at Commonweal, a community that is rooted in healing and justice work, and one that has brought so much wisdom and healing into my life. It’s our goal to help many more Black women experience the wonder of the Commonweal community through retreat. We hope you’ll join us in funding and supporting Black women. If you are interested in learning more or supporting the work of The Octavia Fund, visit our website, or email hello@OctaviaFund.org.