An experiment titled The Self-Care Project, intended to support Detroit activists and organizers working with Detroit-based nonprofit organizations, awarded 50 applicants $500 with no stipulations.
“I’ve noticed a pattern of exhaustion and burnout among those working on the front lines of change,” Kerry Ann Rockquemore wrote. “Whether it’s individual conversations, from the stage at conferences, or gatherings of leaders, I keep hearing about the need for self-care among activits. But despite the fact that everyone thinks self-care is important, the reality is that most activists aren’t doing it and most philanthropists aren’t funding it.”
Detroit native Kerry Ann Rockquemore is a former professor and the founder of the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity, a nationally recognized organization that provides training and mentorship opportunities to women and educators of color in academia with members including Columbia University, Princeton University and the University of Michigan.
Rockquemore said nonprofit leaders she’s spoken to expressed concern about exhaustion, re-traumatization and burnout among activists.
Burnout, officially recognized by the World Health Organization in May, is a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” according to WHO. Its symptoms include feelings of exhaustion, cynicism and reduced professional efficacy.
Nonprofits’ primary requests for funds were for “healing, sustainability, and integrating healing justice in our work to take care of ourselves and each other so we can be here for the long haul,” according to a post-experiment blog post Oct. 26 from Rockquemore titled “Self-Care Ain’t Free" in which she reflected upon the experiment’s results.
“I didn’t just hear that request, I felt it in my bones," she wrote.
Rockquemore found that while activists recognize the need for self-care, many weren’t doing it because it takes time, money, efforts to coordinate and communicate your needs with others and perceptions of it being “selfish."
From a pool of 347 applicants, 50 were chosen to receive the prize money.
Those chosen worked with Detroit nonprofits including Detroit Area Youth Uniting Michigan, Detroit Equity Action Lab, Force Detroit, BuildON, Black Bear Brotherhood of Detroit, 360 Detroit and Afrofuture Youth, according to the experiment’s findings.
The number of applications alone shows that activists want and need self-care, the experiment found.
“Certainly, one could argue that the prospect of no-strings-attached money would result in applications on any topic,” Rockquemore wrote. “But reading the actual content of the applications spoke to the intensity of the need for self-care.”
Rockquemore said she learned a lot from The Self-Care Project and is grateful for the support that it received and is thinking about potential ways to build upon the concept.
“Like any pop-up project, I learned a lot from the Self-Care Project,” she wrote. “It was messy, disorganized, and there were plenty of things we could improve upon. But the goal wasn’t perfection or to solve the problem. Experiments — by design — allow us to try out possible solutions and spark a broader conversation.”
For a list of the nonprofit organizations that applicants were working for, check out the experiment’s complete findings.