Chattanooga Organized for Action receives $40,000 grant from Benwood Foundation

Authored By James Harrison

A 2-year-old Chattanooga social justice and community-organizing nonprofit is hoping to expand the scope of its work after receiving a $40,000 grant from one of Chattanooga’s most prominent foundations. 

Chattanooga Organized for Action announced last week it had become the newest local recipient of a Community Grant from the Benwood Foundation. Community Grants, given to groups planning to “address issues of critical concern to the future of Hamilton County,” are awarded to more than a dozen different area groups annually.

Leaders for COA, which played a role in supporting recent grassroots efforts to block a proposed redevelopment project on the Westside, along with the movement to recall Mayor Ron Littlefield, said the new funds would be put toward creating a “Justice School,” with the goal of replicating similar member-driven interventions in other Chattanooga communities. The group hopes to train individuals on organizing their own responses to their own specific issues.

Perrin Lance, one of COA’s founders, said the group decided to apply for a Benwood grant when its members began looking for alternative ways to fund their organization three months ago.

“We believed in our work and its strengths and believed we were doing things that had not been done in this city for a long time,” Lance said. “We realized what we wanted-to have the opportunity to do something that this city has never seen before-and we’re very grateful to the Benwood Foundation for helping us make it happen.”

Dominique Pennington, a board member for COA, said the grant would allow for a series of “community workshops” to be offered as part of the Justice School.

“The idea is to get a diverse group of people in there for a set of community workshops,” he said. “Part of the grant is really talking about replicating that. If we can’t replicate it, it’s not really sustainable.”

Despite COA’s history of political protest, Benwood Community Program Director Lori Quillen said the foundation decided to support the organization because it provided “promising” potential at addressing community issues.

“With COA, we felt like they were bringing a different approach in terms of with working with communities to find their own solutions to their own identified issues,” Quillen said. “We were impressed with their work at the grassroots level. Specifically, their proposal was for a Social Justice School, and we really believe in the values of social justice-ensuring that all communities have equal access to social opportunities.”

Quillen said the foundation wasn’t making a political statement by funding COA and didn’t expect the group to make any sort of political statement in the future.

Organizers with COA hope to begin implementing programs related to the Justice School in the coming weeks.