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Amirah Fauzi ’18 continued her work as a BOLD scholar with an internship at the Pillars Fund.

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Postcard from a BOLD Scholar

April 17, 2019

Amirah Fauzi is a 2018 Middlebury graduate, current program associate and BOLD fellow at the Pillars Fund. The Pillars Fund is a philanthropic organization that provides grants within the American Muslim community. The funded post-graduate fellowship is an essential experience in the BOLD program, designed to give students leadership training and career development.

If I could work within the non-profit sector—without having to worry about my income—what would I do? This thought exercise materialized into a real opportunity through Middlebury’s BOLD Women’s Leadership Network, a scholarship and network of women dedicated to empowering young women to become leaders in their lives and careers after college. Through this process, I was placed at the Pillars Fund, a national philanthropic organization based in Chicago that focuses on providing grants to non-profit organizations within the American Muslim civic space. Working with Pillars has provided me with the opportunity to hear from hundreds of organizations and observe trends that are slowly building into community practices. A practice that struck me the most was a reframing of our work, away from one that centers the symptoms of white supremacy and focuses more on our communities’ needs.   

Within my first few months as a program associate, I observed Zaheer Ali, Oral Historian at the Brooklyn Historical Society, and a Pillars’ 2019 grantee, skillfully lay the groundwork for this reframing using this quote by Toni Morrison:

The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do . . . . Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.

As a grantmaking organization, it is so tempting to fall for the sense of urgency created by symptoms of white supremacy—and understandably so. They include deadly legislation, scarcity of resources, and lack of mobility. However, as Toni Morrison insists, there will always be another crisis within our communities for as long as white supremacy exists. What if we opened our funding sources to building up our communities rather than fighting the fires that white supremacy creates?

What drew me to work at the Pillars Fund was that its mission statement doesn’t focus on Islamophobia. Instead, it challenges our communities to imagine an America in which we are already a healthy population within our society, and from there, invest in organizations that allow the talent, leadership, and voices of American Muslims to thrive. This practice encourages our stakeholders to invest in organizations that fight intersecting forms of oppression such as poverty (Sahaba Initiative) or organizations that challenge us to evaluate how we might recreate the harmful effects of white supremacy within our own organizations (MuslimARC).

What struck me the most about this practice was that it emphasized the focus I had placed on minimizing white supremacy throughout my personal life as well. White supremacy’s harmful effects do not stop at Pillars’ theoretical framework. Its effects impact our daily lives from what we wear, to what schools we go to and how we treat one another. Since working at Pillars, I’ve begun reframing my own livelihood from living so that my family’s goal is not to “escape poverty,” but to prioritize living healthy and fulfilling lives every day. It’s also helped me fully appreciate BOLD’s courageous vision to trust their fellows and ask: if white supremacy’s symptoms of scarcity, sexism, and lack of mobility were not present, would we thrive in the non-profit sector?

Yes, we would.

—Amirah Fauzi ’18