Black Community Building Collective: Greatness, Reclaimed
The Black Community Building Collective is a coalition of 15 Black-led organizations brought together by United Way of King County to build relationships, form strategies that impact the Black community and implement those strategies with United Way funding that cedes decision-making power to communities. The Collective launched in 2020 to invest $3 million in local, Black-led organizations. We’ve invested an additional $1.5 million in 2022 and we anticipate more funding in later years.
United Way features monthly spotlights of Collective members. This month, we’re spotlighting Reclaiming Our Greatness, a Seattle area-based organization that creates transformative outcomes for youth and families with case management and resource development. The organization serves more than 150 people annually with those services and thousands more through rental assistance outreach. We spoke with Reclaiming Our Greatness founder Marshaun Barber to learn more.
United Way of King County: What are the origins of Reclaiming Our Greatness?
Marshaun Barber: My background is that I was a civil legal aid attorney for TeamChild [a legal advocacy program for youth] for three and a half years. I’ve always been heavily involved with young people and advocacy and trying to make their lives better with the resources that are available. During my career at TeamChild I did a lot of work with juveniles that were faced with being tried as adults.
I just kept noticing that the folks who knew how to navigate the education and housing systems to meet their basic needs had better outcomes. In 2019, I decided to leave the legal practice full time and start Reclaiming Our Greatness. We got our first work in the housing stability arena; our first contract was with United Way working with kids who had multiple moves during the school year and using case management and potentially access to some type of rental assistance support to create more stability.
United Way of King County: How did you scale your work from there?
Marshaun Barber: Having that success [with United Way] we were able to do work with the Emergency Rental Assistance Program in King County and provide outreach assistance and application completion assistance with landlords. During 2020, we had a partnership with Holgate Street Church of Christ and Seattle Public Schools to provide in-person learning support for 39 African American students furthest from educational [opportunities] in Seattle Public Schools. We also provided housing and case management support for those families.
United Way of King County: And Reclaiming Our Greatness recently launched a partnership with your alma mater, Seattle University School of Law. What does that entail?
Marshaun Barber: It’s a family law partnership: We bring Seattle University the clients–primarily Black and BIPOC members of the community who would never have access to legal representation–in the arenas of domestic violence protection orders, first-time dissolution, child support and parenting plan access.
United Way of King County: Where did you come up with the name, “Reclaiming Our Greatness”?
Marshaun Barber: I wanted something that was positive and elevated Black and brown people. Usually when you’re talking about helping people or working with people that need these services and assistance, often they are cast in a negative light. Black and brown people are already great. We already know that. So, I was looking for a name that elevated our greatness and our resilience. And I wanted to honor the fact that there are good things already here, but with help and advocacy we can continue to do great things, make a meaningful impact and create an overall experience that people who work with our agency never forget.
United Way of King County: What does it mean to be part of the Black Community Building Collective?
Marshaun Barber: I’m able to connect with this amazing group of Black leaders; it’s the first time for me to feel supported in this work. I don’t have a historical background in running a nonprofit. I have ideas about where we need to elevate community, particularly Black community in King County who are struggling to maintain their housing and the move to push them out further south. Juggling all those things but also getting the support from other Black leaders who’ve had nonprofits and been leading them longer has been very valuable and monumental for me.
The support through [Black Community Building Collective] funding has allowed me to increase my staff, and it’s led to the launch of multiple programs. Now we are also officially a part of King County under Best Starts for Kids and the Youth and Family Homelessness Prevention Initiative. We provide [families] with rent, stabilization resources and ongoing case management to address some of the other issues impacting their ability to remain stable.
United Way of King County: You’ve made significant strides for an organization launched right before COVID.
Marshaun Barber: Actually, our organization was founded in 2019, but we didn’t get our first contract finalized (and started the work) until August 2020. We are busy right now, growing, expanding and trying to take up space at certain tables to advocate for the allocation of funds for Black and BIPOC community members. And we are trying to walk alongside those groups to help make their overall experience better and help them get stabilized, so they don’t have to utilize these programs long-term and [thus] break up this generational history of lifelong poverty.