As founder of CLLCTIVLY, NationSwell member Jamye Wooten mobilizes philanthropy, businesses, and community organizations to build a more equitable and just future for Black communities in Baltimore. NationSwell had the opportunity to talk to Wooten about his work, the importance of place-based social change, and what a grant from NationSwell member organization T. Rowe Price Foundation has been able to unlock for his work.

This is what he had to say.

NationSwell’s Anthony Smith: Can you tell us a little about your professional and personal journey — and how it led you to CLLCTIVLY?

CLLCTIVLY’s Jamye Wooten: I was cultivated  here in Baltimore within the Black church, and every Sunday, I saw our practice of mobilizing resources implemented through offering and giving. Later on, I went on to become the director of the Collective Banking Group, working with over 200 churches in faith-based economic development continuing the work of mobilizing resources, starting with the assets and gifts that we already have in hand.

After the murder of Freddie Grey here in Baltimore, I was one of the co-founders of Baltimore United for Change. And it was during that time that I created the skills bank — and the skills bank was an on-ramp for folks who weren’t necessarily on the ground, but wanted to plug in. Over 260 individuals and organizations joined our skills bank. And the goal with CLLCTIVLY when we launched in 2019 was to create a more forward facing platform, inviting all Black-led organizations serving throughout the city. 

We heard during the protests that a lot of foundations didn’t necessarily know who was on the ground in the community doing work. So we launched the first phase of CLLCTIVLY,  an asset map and directory where you can search over 200 organizations based on area of focus and neighborhood. We know that Black organizations only receive about 2% of the 60 billion in foundation funding. And so we want to mobilize resources, tell these stories, and close the gap.

NationSwell: What is CLLCTIVLY, and how is it different from other organizations?

Wooten: We launched in 2019 to be a resource for those that seek to find, fund, and partner with social change organizations in greater Baltimore. We are a place-based organization mobilizing resources to support these organizations. We offer grants, starting with our Black Futures grant where we’ve invested over $750,000 in no-strings attached grants to the community. First we draw from the traditions of our ancestors and the ways we have always mobilized resources to support the needs in community. We also center participatory and trust-based philanthropy models, where the community is at the table and is the decision maker. So I think that’s where we may be some somewhat different: We start with community; this is a community-led initiative that then partners with philanthropy as well as the business community.

NationSwell: Why is place-based change so important?

Wooten: It’s very important. I could have started CLLCTIVLY as a national platform, but I wanted to really be intentional about the stories and the expertise that exist within this local communities. This work is about trust-building and relationship building. So I always said we were going to spend our first two years deepening relationships. We’ve had hundreds of one-on-one conversations — and as we enter our third year, and we’re being intentional around what programming looks like, it was important to foster great trust and deepen relationships, and to support these organizations here in place-based spaces and to tell their stories. 

Major part of this work is narrative power. Often corporate media leads with the violence in the city and doesn’t tell the stories of the hundreds of organizations that are addressing disparities and serving our community that often go unnoticed and under-resourced.

Prior to COVID, I was trying to explain why Black-led social change was so important as a focus. But then you have COVID hit, and the murder of George Floyd, and now so many more people are starting to see the importance of supporting Black-led organizations operating in communities.

With us already having this asset-based directory, it was an opportunity for funders to see us as the place they could go to see what Black-led organizations are doing. We partnered with foundations to help them reach the people we were reaching. We’ve provided grants to community-based organizations that don’t necessarily have the resources to scale themselves. And so I think that our place-based approach in building relationships and trust helps us keep our feet to the ground and be able to offer funding to organizations that have never received a grant. 

NationSwell: What does the grant from T. Rowe Price Foundation unlock for your work?

Wooten: It’s amazing. Anytime you receive a no strings attached grant that allows you to be creative, to try out new things — like right now, we’re organizing We Give Black Fest. That’s not possible without funders that provide unrestricted dollars and support, and that we also have a network of advisors that we can tap into. [Foundation President] John Brothers is always great at providing additional resources. The relationships, the expanded network, and the financial resources have helped tremendously

NationSwell: Can you tell us a little bit more about We Give Black Festival?

Wooten: August is Black Philanthropy Month. We Give Black Fest is a three-day annual festival dedicated to social change, fundraising, and the amplification of Black-led organizations serving Greater Baltimore, and the celebration of culture as the foundation of community-driven wealth.

Ahead of the weekend of August 19 – 21, we launch a scavenger hunt — where our nonprofits would compete as they go to businesses, to historical landmarks, answer trivia, and receive up to $10,000 in prizes — that leads us into the CLLCTIVGIVE, which is 48 hours of giving of crowdfunding online. We have some local business partners who are coming alongside us as we begin to move into our festival, and there’ll be conversations around philanthropy, funding, and a celebration of local leaders who are serving in Baltimore.. 

NationSwell: Who or what is inspiring you right now?

Wooten: I didn’t think about this a lot when I started CLLCTIVLY, but I think about it now: it’s my dad and my sister. I lost my dad at 56 and my sister at 53. My dad dropped out of school here in Baltimore. He was the oldest, had to go to work. He dropped out of eighth grade, but went on to open five dry cleaners and several nightclubs in the city. My sister went on to George Washington Law School, came back, and opened two pizza delivery stores in the city. And so I think a lot about this culture of health in that even though they were applauded for their resilience and the innovation — bootstrapping and not having enough resources can also take you out. It really encourages me and inspires me to make sure our organizations and businesses have what they need — not just to survive, but to thrive.