Ta-Nehisi Coates Spearheads New Fund Combatting Sexual Violence Partnering With Chicago-Based Organization

Author Ta-Nehisi Coates speaks during the Celebration of the Life of Toni Morrison, Nov. 21, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo / Mary Altaffer, File)Author Ta-Nehisi Coates speaks during the Celebration of the Life of Toni Morrison, Nov. 21, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo / Mary Altaffer, File)

Author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates is teaming up with two nonprofits to launch a new fund that will make awards to champions of sexual violence prevention and that will support education and healing programs, predominantly for Black women and girls, with plans to raise $10 million over the next two years.

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The Courage Fund’s first grant comes from the Ford Foundation, which announced a $1 million donation on Dec. 13. Coates, along with singer John Legend and Sacramento Kings basketball player Harrison Barnes, have also pledged to contribute to the fund. A Long Walk Home and A Call to Men, national organizations focused on sexual-violence prevention and education for two decades, will lead the effort.

Coates, who will serve as an adviser to the fund, said he was inspired to create it after seeing women come forward to testify about sexual abuse during singer R. Kelly’s 2021 trial. Kelly was jailed for 30 years after being found guilty of eight counts of sex trafficking in a New York court.

“My own consciousness was awakened by the courage of Stephanie ‘Sparkle’ Edwards, who, in her lonely quest to end R. Kelly’s decades of abuse, lost friends, family, and a career,” Coates said in a statement. “I wanted to conceive of the Courage Award, which will honor whistleblowers who have risked everything to break this cycle of violence in our community and to support programs for underserved girls and women who are survivors of sexual abuse.”

Coates first heard about A Long Walk Home while serving a residency at the Apollo Theater in New York City. Kamilah Forbes, executive producer of the Apollo, connected him with the Chicago-based nonprofit, which uses art to empower Black women and girls who have survived violence. A Long Walk Home consulted on the “Surviving R. Kelly” documentary and organized a campaign to stop one of Kelly’s concerts in 2018.

Scheherazade Tillet, co-founder of A Long Walk Home, says Coates came to her organization with the idea of honoring people like Edwards who took enormous risks to testify about sexual abuse. Her organization brought into the fund longtime partner A Call to Men, which educates and trains boys and men to oppose violence against women.

“We’ve been partnering up for many years and wanting to do more and more work with them to really make sure that men were also part of the solutions with us,” Tillet says.

The Courage Fund will make awards every other year to advocates and survivors speaking out against sexual violence, Tillet says, with plans to give at least $250,000 to each awardee. The fund will also run public awareness campaigns and operate programs in nail salons, barber shops, and other nontraditional places to educate people about sexual assault. The programs will start in Chicago, with plans to grow nationally.

Tillet says it’s been significant to have support from a well-known figure like Coates, who is a MacArthur “genius” Fellow and recipient of the 2015 National Book Award for “Between the World and Me.”

“I think that helped us get the Ford Foundation funding, that helps us be able to get into certain spaces around these topics that maybe people might have felt apprehensive around,” she says.

Giving to charities focused on women and girls accounted for just 1.8 percent of total U.S. charitable giving in 2020, according to research from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. About $1.3 billion in contributions flowed to organizations dealing with family- and gender-based violence in the United States.

Condencia Brade, strategic director of the National Organization of Sisters of Color Ending Sexual Assault, says few of those dollars flow to organizations that focus on Black survivors of sexual assault. Nearly 30% of Black women report that they have survived rape, according to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey examining data in 2016 and 2017.

“There is a huge gap across this country,” she says. “The Courage Fund creating this resource stream is so important, and I would encourage philanthropy to really take a look at that.”

Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement, says she was also encouraged by Courage Fund’s launch and support from the Ford Foundation.

“It makes other parts of philanthropy wake up and say, ‘Oh, wait a minute. It’s been six years since the #MeToo movement went viral. What are we doing to put our money where the movement is?’”

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