2020
Annual Report

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Letter from Our
Executive Director

Mission, Vision
& Values

Stories of
2020

Muslim Narrative
Change Cohort

Year in
Review

Grantmaking
By The Numbers

Grantees

Letter from Our Executive Director

Like many of you, Pillars started 2020 with a different plan. We kicked off the new year with the first gathering of the Muslim Narrative Change Cohort and announced an incredible new group of grantee partners who were poised to tackle Census outreach, voter mobilization and so much more.

In March, the Pillars team moved into our new office space at the FBRK Impact House, excited to be invited to work alongside some of Chicago’s leaders in philanthropy. A few days later, before we’d even finished setting up our desks, our team shifted to remote work and we started to accept that the world as we knew it was forever changed.

We didn’t really have time to dwell on what could have been. Immediately, we saw our grantees step up, going above and beyond to tackle new challenges presented by the pandemic and the heightened attention to racial injustice. We heard from Muslim artists and activists whose performances and speaking engagements were canceled, and in response, we established a relief fund to cover their personal expenses. We started a digital interview series—Pillars Pop-Up Conversations—connecting artists, activists, and change makers with communities across the country.

Internally, we strengthened our team, welcoming a Communications and Outreach Manager and creating new avenues for deeper engagement with our talented trustees. I am so proud of what Pillars was able to accomplish this year, of the organization we’ve built, and of the talented group of people who make it all possible. Despite countless challenges, our team pulled together to support each other, all while adjusting our plans to make Pillars stronger than ever.

Thank you to the grantees who fight for us, the trustees who believe in us, the funders who put their trust in us, the fellows who help us imagine a better world, and our staff who give it their all to make that vision a reality.

I hope you enjoy reading Pillars’ story of 2020 and what we were able to achieve this year. We are poised to go places in 2021 that would have seemed impossible even just a few years ago. We may not know what the future holds, but we are ready to face it, together.

Kashif Shaikh
Co-Founder and Executive Director

Mission

Pillars amplifies the leadership, narratives, and talents of Muslims in the United States in order to advance opportunity and justice for all.

Vision

We envision a society where Muslims have access to every opportunity, are free to fully embody all of their identities, and are empowered to pursue their greatest aspirations.

Values

Courage

We know that dismantling the systems of oppression that impact our communities requires courageous interruption, especially when resistance incurs risk. We consistently strive to uphold justice, even if it is against ourselves.

At Pillars, we value bold action in the face of inequity.

People

We honor the unique, multidimensional experiences of our people and communities. We recognize that self-care and collective-care are needed to sustain our work and power our movement.

At Pillars, we value the right to a joyful existence.

Abundance

We recognize the overflowing talent, leadership, and generosity that lives in our communities. We lean on this fullness to confront the painful reality of injustice and transform it so we all have what we need to thrive.

At Pillars, we believe there is enough for everyone.

Imagination

We acknowledge the need to reshape society beyond the bounds of current imagination. We make space for the cultural innovation, creativity, and resourcefulness required to build a more beautiful world.

At Pillars, we believe in investing in daring ideas.

Solidarity

We understand that relationships are built on trust. We are committed to the practice of accountability with ourselves and with each other.

At Pillars, we believe that our collective power will grow if it is rooted in community.

Stories of 2020

Pillars Fund is built upon a foundation of people dedicated to creating a better tomorrow. 2020 has presented a set of unique challenges—many of us have been forced to change our plans, but our commitment to the work is as strong as ever. Below are stories from Pillars’ grantees, trustees, and fellows about what this year has meant to them and the communities they serve.

Kameelah
Mu’Min
Rashad

Founder and President, Muslim Wellness Foundation

Ramzi
Kassem

Founding Director,
CUNY CLEAR

Nausheena
Hussain

Founder and Executive Director, Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment

Omar
Offendum

Rapper & Spoken
Word Artist

Khalid
Alexander

Founder and President, Pillars of the Community

Rania
Awaad

Founding Director, Muslim Mental Health Lab

Masu
Haque-Khan

Trustee, Pillars Fund

Imam Mansoor Sabree

Director, Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) Atlanta

Muslim Narrative Change Cohort

Meet Our Fellows

Early this year, we assembled a group of brilliant Muslim artists, academics, and thinkers to form our Muslim Narrative Change Cohort in collaboration with the Pop Culture Collaborative and Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. The cohort are using their unique experiences and expertise to develop a roadmap for telling authentic Muslim stories that lead to positive change. Our January gathering brought together fellows from across the country to meet and develop a foundation for their narrative change work. And while the rest of our planned in-person meetings couldn’t happen, every month this year our cohort met virtually to study, discuss, and ultimately produce a path toward an America where Muslim voices are valued.

Zaheer Ali

Senior Fellow, Pillars (2020)
Oral Historian, Educator, and Soros Equality Fellow

“Without Muslims, America loses a critical voice in its song, a brick in its foundation, a thread in its fabric, a soul in its collective conscience. America cannot continue to become its ideal without Muslims—but we, we gon’ be all right.”

Asad Ali Jafri

Executive Director, South Asia Institute

“When developing strategy, I think people are our best resource and if we can continue to connect the dots and expand the circle, the change we make will be powerful and sustainable.”

Dalia Mogahed

Director of Research, Institute for Policy Understanding (ISPU)

“Stories define our view of the world and how others view us. We need to write our own stories or this task will be left to those who at best don't understand us and at worst aim to harm us.”

Omar Offendum

Rapper and Poet

“The idea that a diverse group of thoughtful storytellers can share ideas and best practices together with the common goal of bringing about a positive narrative change in popular culture is so inspiring. It is the kind of opportunity I could not have imagined as a young Muslim kid growing up in America, but am so grateful to now bear witness to.”

Hussein Rashid

Founder, islamicate

“Our tradition is full of stories. It’s a powerful way to learn and situate ourselves in the world. It’s how we learn from our elders as to who they are, and what they’ve learned. To be a Muslim is breathe the stories of the prophets, the Prophet, the Ahl ul-Bayt, and so many of our role models. If all of creation is full of signs/ayats, and ayats are verses, then we are always living with the poetry of the Divine. That is a story we can never escape.”

Without Muslims, America loses a critical voice in its song, a brick in its foundation, a thread in its fabric, a soul in its collective conscience. America cannot continue to become its ideal without Muslims—but we, we gon’ be all right.

When developing strategy, I think people are our best resource and if we can continue to connect the dots and expand the circle, the change we make will be powerful and sustainable.

Stories define our view of the world and how others view us. We need to write our own stories or this task will be left to those who at best don't understand us and at worst aim to harm us.

The idea that a diverse group of thoughtful storytellers can share ideas and best practices together with the common goal of bringing about a positive narrative change in popular culture is so inspiring. It is the kind of opportunity I could not have imagined as a young Muslim kid growing up in America, but am so grateful to now bear witness to.

Our tradition is full of stories. It’s a powerful way to learn and situate ourselves in the world. It’s how we learn from our elders as to who they are, and what they’ve learned. To be a Muslim is breathe the stories of the prophets, the Prophet, the Ahl ul-Bayt, and so many of our role models. If all of creation is full of signs/ayats, and ayats are verses, then we are always living with the poetry of the Divine. That is a story we can never escape.

The dream is to explore the most compelling, honest, unflinching ways of approaching questions of humanity, inclusive of race, class, gender, and spiritual identity—in the service of unity through diversity, cross-community healing and understanding.

The underlying preconditions of systemic racism are forcing us to gasp for air, in many different ways.... Our only solace is our creativity and ability to always find hope in moments of great loss and despair. (source)

‘Do for self’ is an old Black Muslim proverb that promotes the practice of claiming your agency and telling your own story... who better to represent us to the world than us? (source)

Storytelling is a powerful tool to mobilize communities, for good and for bad. What could it mean to invest in shifting the story, the dominant narrative about us?... We can be vulnerable in our storytelling and own that. What we want to do is produce a whole different cultural landscape for how our stories can emerge.

Year in Review

Convening our cohort in LA

On January 7, Pillars kicked off the new year in Los Angeles with the first gathering of the Muslim Narrative Change Cohort. This event would act as a springboard for our monthly virtual meetings throughout the rest of the year.

Pillars at Sundance

This January—before the country shut down and Pillars suspended work travel—our staff was honored to speak at the Sundance Film Festival for the second year in a row. Sundance is the largest independent film festival in the U.S. and provides a unique opportunity to engage directly with Hollywood gatekeepers about Muslim stories. This year, Pillars Managing Director Arij Mikati spoke on a panel with the Female Quotient called “Righting and Rewriting History: Sharing Historically Misrepresented Stories.” She shared the stage with entertainment executives, creatives, and advocates for equity in film to talk about amplifying previously silenced and misrepresented voices.

“I would say to all creators in this room, what is so important is to bring… [a diversity of] people in early,” Arij said. “We need to be able to get multiple points of view, multiple perspectives on the story ongoing, and not just at the end.”

More...

Championing artists and storytellers

This year, Pillars partnered with United States Artists (USA) to fund a fellowship for Hanif Abdurraqib, a critic, writer, and poet from the east side of Columbus, OH. USA provides unrestricted awards that recognize artists for their contributions to the field and allow them to decide how to best support their lives. Hanif is the author of two books of poems, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much and A Fortune For Your Disaster. He is also the author of Go Ahead In The Rain: Notes To A Tribe Called Quest, and the essay collection They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us. Watch Kashif Shaikh’s Pillars Pop-Up Conversation with Hanif for their discussion on the role of art in social change.

Photo by Marcus Jackson

Building our home base

Pillars Fund is a national organization with grantees from across the country, but our home base is Chicago. In March, we became one of the first tenants of FBRK Impact House, the nation’s first innovation hub dedicated to serving and supporting foundations, grantmakers, and impact investors committed to social change. We moved in just a few days before the pandemic forced us to begin working from home, but we’ve continued to build virtually and co-create with our FBRK partners. We look forward to the day we can continue this work in person and welcome the Pillars community to our new home base.

Photo: Pillars’ Kashif Shaikh and Israel Idonije, founder of FBRK Impact House

Supporting artists and activists in trying times

When most of the country shut down this spring, artists and activists were immediately affected. They lost income from canceled in-person talks, performances, and commissioned work, and many were at risk of losing their housing, in need of life-saving medication, and without funds for groceries. Artists and activists do so much to help us envision the world we want for ourselves, and their labor often goes unrecognized. Pillars has long been committed to supporting artists and activists, so when these individuals reached out to us for support, we knew we had to respond.

In March and April, Pillars accepted applications for the Muslim Artist and Activist Relief Fund to support the personal expenses of artists and activists. In two rounds of funding, we received more than 280 applications over just six days and distributed $41,000 to 82 individuals.

One applicant’s remarks are representative of many similar comments: “I’d just like to thank you all for consideration and even caring enough about creatives, who will struggle to sustain themselves in this time of great crisis. Stay safe and well, all of you!”

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Ramadan, Corona edition

In the midst of a global pandemic, Muslims across the country and world fasted, prayed, and celebrated in relative isolation for the month of Ramadan. For many Pillars grantee partners, this shift had a huge impact on their ability to connect with their communities. In addition to nurturing spiritual growth, Ramadan is typically an opportunity to host in-person gatherings, inform and activate communities, reach fundraising goals, and serve people in need. We were all forced to rethink how we connected and reflected during this important month. Pillars Managing Director Kalia Abiade spoke to WBEZ Chicago in this segment about how COVID-19 was going to affect Ramadan for Muslims across the country.

“It’s a good time to remember that a lot of folks were feeling isolated before lockdown started and to keep them in mind, and be purposeful and intentional about the ways we connect,” Kalia said.

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Bringing conversations online

Because of COVID-19, we had to cancel our plans for in-person gatherings, including our annual Pillars community convening. Virtual events, however, allowed us to highlight the work of Muslims to anyone with an Internet connection. Our Pillars Pop-Up Conversations used Facebook Live to feature a diverse group of storytellers, including authors, political strategists, musicians, poets, visual artists, and Golden Globe winners. We talked about the power of music, protest, and film in the face of injustice and unrecognized grief. We showcased an abundance of Muslim talent while encouraging communities across the country to engage with art by Muslims and for Muslims. And we received more than 43,000 total views on these video conversations!

A summer of uprisings

This summer, the callous killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd by police and the continued persecution of Black people at the hands of law enforcement led to a wave of protests across the country. In this moment, Pillars grantees showed leadership as they sought to fight anti-Black racism, transform the justice system, and build community. They bailed out demonstrators, organized protests, facilitated healing, provided temporary housing for displaced people in the Twin Cities, facilitated conversations for immigrant store owners on doing business in Black communities, offered legal services to people targeted by law enforcement, and so much more.

“It is important that we seek to amply our voices with shared analysis on how white supremacy harms all of us,” says Margari Aziza Hill, executive director at MuslimARC.

More...

Photo: Pillars staff at a protest for Black lives. From left to right: Amirah Fauzi, Kalia Abiade, Arij Mikati

Making sure we all count

The Pillars community worked tirelessly throughout the year to ensure that Muslims in the U.S. were fully counted in the 2020 Census, despite a myriad of unexpected disruptions. While there is no Census category that counts religion, Muslims are represented in several historically hard-to-count segments of the population, including immigrants, young people, people of color, people with limited Internet access, and people who do not speak English as a first language, to name a few.

Several Pillars grantees led outreach efforts in their local communities, ensuring that people knew what to expect when completing the Census and why it matters. And over a three-year process, Pillars joined 20 Illinois grantmaking organizations to create a joint fund to support Census outreach across the state. Together, we designed a call for proposals, reviewed submissions, and distributed $1.75 million to 42 nonprofits, with a heavy focus on hard-to-count communities. Illinois was one of only two states to have a statewide philanthropy-supported pooled fund to complement government funding.

The decennial Census will determine congressional representation, inform the allocation of hundreds of billions in federal funding, and provide data that affects communities for the next decade. This was not the Census that any of us expected, but the tremendous effort to organize our communities and build infrastructure over the last several years positions us well to advocate for our communities in the decade to come.

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Mobilizing strategic philanthropy

At the heart of Pillars is a community of American Muslim philanthropists who inspire us each day to give of our resources. This practice of giving connects us to each other and to a tradition that dates back more than 1400 years. To harness our collective power, we have focused on cultivating space for Pillars trustees to learn together and co-create a shared vision. In 2020, we launched our trustee briefing series, providing exclusive opportunities to hear directly from Pillars grantees. We also launched an advisory panel that tapped into our trustees’ expertise, insights, and experiences to strengthen Pillars’ grantmaking.

Our giving community also extends beyond Pillars. In April, Pillars Director of Development Randa Kuziez hosted a virtual Pop-Up Conversation about how faith and giving can build community and fuel justice. Then this fall, we partnered with the Proteus RISE Together Fund to kick off a three-part briefing series for funders focused on generating strategic support for Black Muslim leaders.

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Muslims at the polls

This year played host to arguably one of the most critical election seasons of our lifetimes. The research shows that Muslim communities have increased their political participation through candidate forums and town halls, volunteering, and financial contributions. And Muslims are showing up to the polls at higher rates than previously recorded.

Many of Pillars grantees worked hard to mobilize voters and hold our elected leaders accountable to us. They made millions of phone calls and texts to encourage Muslim voter participation, provided instructions on how to cast a ballot in person or by mail, created voting plan videos in 10 languages (from Farsi and Urdu to Hausa and Mandinka), and paid incarcerated organizers in San Diego an hourly wage to activate voters in pretrial detention. In addition to get-out-the-vote efforts, they created candidate report cards and hosted online candidate forums, built guides for election wellness, trained immigrant Americans to start political organizing careers, and encouraged Muslims to run for office, poll watch, and serve as electors.

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Grantmaking By The Numbers

0

distributed in grants to Muslim-focused organizations and projects to date

0

distributed in grants to Muslim-focused organizations and projects in 2020

Pillars is committed to providing general operating support to promote the long-term health and growth of Muslim-led organizations. Of our 2019–2020 grants, 81% are for general operating support, and the remaining grants are flexible to support Muslim leadership or Muslim-focused programming as part of an institution’s broader mission.

In March 2020, Pillars established a one-time Relief Fund for Muslim artists and activists. These rapid response grants helped people cover personal expenses. Within the first days of announcing the fund, we received hundreds of applications, with people sharing the devastating economic and spiritual toll the pandemic was already taking.

0

of relief funds to 82 individuals

Thank you for thinking of us! It is really unusual to see people mobilize for Muslim artists. I'm really grateful for this opportunity and I am thrilled to see that we are not forgotten.

Relief Fund Recipient

I’d just like to thank you all for consideration and even caring enough about creatives, who will struggle to sustain themselves in this time of great crisis. Stay safe and well, all of you!

Relief Fund Recipient

I’m so deeply grateful for the opportunity to be supported during this time. As a young Muslim who has built a living off of advocating for the justice of my communities, this feels like a scary time to rely heavily on the systems that aren’t set up to serve artists and activists needing to stay at home to protect those most vulnerable.

Relief Fund Recipient

Grantees

Action Center on Race and the Economy | Crescendo Project Chicago, IL

Founded 2017

American Muslim New York, NY

Founded 2019

American Muslim Advisory Council Nashville, TN

Founded 2012

American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute Los Angeles, CA

Founded 2008

Believers Bail Out Chicago, IL

Founded 2018

CUNY CLEAR Long Island City, NY

Founded 2009

Dream of Detroit Detroit, MI

Founded 2013

Emgage Foundation Washington, DC

Founded 2006

Faith in Action | Muslim Power Building Project Washington, DC

Founded 1972

Georgia Muslim Voter Project Norcross, GA

Founded 2016

Global Deaf Muslim USA Falls Church, VA

Founded 2018

Hurma Project Crestwood, IL

Founded 2018

Illinois Muslim Civic Coalition Oak Brook, IL

Founded 2017

Inner-City Muslim Action Network Chicago, IL

Founded 1997

Institute for Social Policy and Understanding Dearborn, MI & Washington, DC

Founded 2002

International Museum of Muslim Cultures Jackson, MS

Founded 2001

Inverse Surveillance Project Bridgeview, IL

Founded 2002

MPower Change New York, NY

Founded 2015

MUHSEN Naperville, IL

Founded 2014

Muslim Advocates Washington, DC

Founded 2005

Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative Southfield, MI

Founded 2014

Muslim Wellness Foundation Philadelphia, PA

Founded 2011

Muslim Mental Health Lab Stanford, CA

Founded 2014

New American Leaders New York, NY

Founded 2010

Pillars of the Community San Diego, CA

Founded 2012

Project South Atlanta, GA

Founded 1986

Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment Minneapolis, MN

Founded 2016

Sahaba Initiative San Bernadino, CA

Founded 2010

Sapelo Square Ann Arbor, MI

Founded 2015

Thank You to Our Trustees

Pillars Fund would not exist without our trustees, who are dedicated to helping our communities thrive. Our trustees are part of a non-governing group that funds Pillars’ grantmaking. These families and individuals are active, engaged community members committed to using their expertise to improve our grantmaking.

We are immensely grateful for your partnership, commitment, and support, all of which allow Pillars to be a nimble, responsive grantmaker. We could not do what we do without you, and we are honored that you chose to put your trust in us. Thank you!