This is an incredible moment for criminal justice reformers: there has been more attention to mass incarceration and racial justice in the last year than there has been in a long time. This is excellent news – and yet much of the discussion misses a vital question that CCDA members know well: how do we respond to violence as a society in a way that creates wholeness and healing for those most harmed?
The truth is that people of color are more likely to be victims of violent crime than their white counterparts. Yet, people of color have long been marginalized from traditional victim services and support that would address their victimization and trauma. In many communities, informal groups and community-based organizations – including churches and other faith-based groups like yours – have filled this gap, providing counseling, grief support, candlelight vigils, healing circles, individual and community advocacy, and much more for those who have been impacted by violence. And you have done this work with little or no funds to support your efforts.
Now, there is a way to expand this vital work. In 2015, the federal government more than tripled funding for victim services through what is known as “VOCA funding.” These funds present a unique opportunity to advance racial equity and extend the reach of victim services to include all survivors, all without having to draw a penny away from the essential and life-saving services that are already supported by these funds.
Equal Justice USA is working to help nontraditional providers to access these funds. For example, a minister’s association that wants to put victim advocates in the neighborhood churches where violence is most rampant; a program that works with formerly incarcerated men who are victimized after their release; an association of black churches that organizes around poverty, education, and health; and many more.
These organizations and others like them may not identify as victim service providers, but so many of the people they serve have been harmed by violence. Being closest to the trauma in their communities, organizations and community groups may have informal ways of providing support, many of which are rooted in unique social, cultural, or spiritual contexts, or provide the only services available to people of color in their areas.
If you are serving such a constituency, or you know others who are, download EJUSA’s toolkit: How to Apply for VOCA Funding: A Toolkit for Organizations serving Communities of Color and Other Underserved Communities. The toolkit serves as a roadmap for organizations interested in applying for VOCA funding for the first time. It breaks down eligibility requirements, types of services, and guides groups through the process of identifying ways that their support in the community can align with VOCA funding. It also includes organizational capacity building tools like creating a budget, managing funds, tracking data, and reporting on your impact.
Please spread the word about this new resource and funding source – and contact us with questions!
Latrina Kelly-James is the Grassroots Capacity Building Specialist at Equal Justice USA. She helps groups that provide services to crime survivors in underserved communities to build capacity, eliminate barriers to funding opportunities, and enhance their impact. Her advocacy on behalf of crime victims began at age 13 when she launched a letter-writing campaign to protest the local newspaper’s use of inflammatory photos of murdered black boys in coffins, purely for their shock value. She currently volunteers with the North Carolina Second Chance Alliance and serves on the U.S. Human Rights Network’s Taskforce on International Civil and Political Rights. She is based in Charlotte, North Carolina, is originally from Connecticut, and has written a book of poetry. She is happy to answer your questions about VOCA ([email protected]).