Photo by Brown Books and Paintbrushes

This article was written by Tia Carol Jones and was published in the Citizen Weekly on September 7, 2022.

Candice Washington founded Brown Books and Paintbrushes in 2017 to educate young children about Black culture through art, literacy and cultural programming.

Brown Books and Paintbrushes was one of 63 organizations Chicago Beyond awarded money to as part of its Rapid Response Fund.

Washington used the funding to incorporate mental wellness to literacy, cultural programming and the arts. Brown Books and Paintbrushes was able to purchase 1000 more books and implement mental wellness kits and coping toolboxes.

Chicago Beyond started six years ago by Liz Dozier to support hyperlocal community- based organizations. The goal is to make an impact on the systems level, which includes Chicago Public Schools and Cook County Jail.

Chicago Beyond started the Rapid Response Fund in 2020. It realized there were organizations, whose work was directly aligned with the communities they served, that were doing the work but were oftentimes being overlooked. The Rapid Response Fund provides those hyperlocal community-based organizations with discretionary funds, which meant those organizations could decide where the funds would go.

The plan was for Chicago Beyond to do the Rapid Response Fund one time. During that first year, Chicago Beyond saw the impact the funding made on those organizations, they were putting the resources to use in interesting ways, and it enables them to solicit funds from other funders. It continued through to 2021. This round there were 63 organizations that received a portion of $1.7 million.

“With the dollars what we’re doing is acknowledging that, again, people within their own communities have solutions, they should be supported. We’re just firm believers that this type of thinking, this type of action, Rapid Response, are important and critical to long-lasting impact,” said Liz Dozier, founder and CEO of Chicago Beyond.

It is also important for Chicago Beyond to make sure it is getting the names of those organizations doing the impactful work within the community from people in the community. A People’s Assembly comprised of residents and community leaders who are also on the ground recommending organizations.

One of the things the Rapid Response Fund has embedded in it, is the Healing Stipend. Leaders received $1,000 to help them care for themselves and their team.

“For us, it was just about acknowledging that this work is challenging and it’s stressful. Oftentimes when we think about non-profit work, we’re thinking about clients or those children who are served. We forget the toll this work actually takes on people who are doing the service,” Dozier said.

When Brown Books first started, it focused on children ages 0-9 years old. With money from the Rapid Response Fund, it has been able to expand their reach. Washington knew the coping toolboxes and mental wellness kits were something the program’s participants needed because of feed back from families and research.

“Those mental wellness toolkits, it was crazy just to look at families’ experience those. One of the tools was to help children with breath work. What we have realized from doing this work, surrounding mental wellness, is adults are asking for the toolboxes, too,” Washington said. “We’re just excited to do the work and have the funds to do it.”

Having unrestricted funds helped Brown Books and Paintbrushes because the organization just had to do the work, without having to jump through hoops.

“The work Chicago Beyond is doing is just incredible. I want to be able to support and spread the news of what Chicago Beyond is doing within my community and in my sector,” Washington said.