Letter to Split This Rock Family from Co-Founder & Executive Director Sarah Browning
This is a hard letter to write, so let's get right to it: I'll be stepping down as Executive Director of Split This Rock in June of 2018. That'll be 10 years. Ten years! I'm incredibly proud of what we've built and I'm ready for a shift in my own life. I am not entirely sure about my next steps, but I have a second collection of poems, Killing Summer, coming out from Sibling Rivalry this fall and I am thinking of studying poetry formally, for once. MFA, perhaps?
This "job" has been the great work of my life. In late 2006, when we began to kick around the idea of a national gathering of activist poets, I never could have imagined the impact Split This Rock would have - the dramatic changes in the literary culture we've helped to bring about - nor all the amazing poets, activists, dreamers who would come into my life. I am fortunate and enriched beyond measure.
Will you join with me to ensure that Split This Rock's next 10 years are just as powerful, meaningful, and righteous as the first 10?
When I survey the last nine years, I am in awe, I am very proud of all we've built together. At every Split This Rock event and in every publishing venture, I look around the room (or virtual room) and witness that we are building Dr. King's Beloved Community: poem by poem, poet by poet, lover by lover - people of all ages, of many races and ethnicities, all kinds of genders and sexualities, with disabilities and without, folks new to poetry and those who've known its sweet power their whole lives - all grooving on the word, all awake to what poetry makes visible: complexity, clarity, hope, fierce beauty, truth.
And at each of the first five festivals: Hundreds of poet-activists from all over the country (and from other countries, as well!) emboldened by being together, by reading and listening to each other's work - poems by elders in this struggle for dignity for all, poems by teenagers just finding the words to tell their truths, poems by neighbors and new friends from the other side of the world.
As we were planning the first Split This Rock Poetry Festival which marked the organization's founding in March 2008, the brave poet-wonder Melissa Tuckey called my personal hero Adrienne Rich on the telephone. And reached her! Adrienne's health wouldn't allow her to attend, but she sent us a check for $1,000 and a note of encouragement: May this gathering inspire and affirm the spirit of many, especially younger poets and teachers, who have felt betrayed by corporate government and media, by broken promises and opportunism. Thank you for your hard work and belief in the freeing power of language and action.
Someone approached me at that first festival and said, as we clung to one another in exhilaration and exhaustion, "I've waited my whole life for this."
For all these reasons and dozens more, it's vitally important to me that I leave the organization in great shape. So I am dedicating the next year to building Split This Rock's funding base.
Split This Rock grew quickly and we now manage a pretty remarkable array of programs both national and local to our Washington, DC, home: the biennial festival, readings, open mics, workshops, two national poetry contests, the Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism, The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database, a Poem of the Week series, youth slam festivals, after-school poetry clubs in 10 area high schools and poetry and social justice curriculum for teachers, a youth writers' guild, campaigns to integrate poetry into movements for social change and to make the literary world more representative and more just, and the award-winning DC Youth Slam Team. Whew!
To continue doing all this and to do it well, Split This Rock's budget must grow.
As often happens when the time is right for a new organization, Split This Rock's programs grew much more quickly than the resources to support them. Staff, board members, and volunteers are incredibly overextended, our computers are out of date, and, even as we're grateful to have a home within the Institute for Policy Studies headquarters, we're crammed into two tiny offices.
There's no polite way to say it - we need more money. This year's entire budget for all the programs I outlined above, and in DC, one of the country's most expensive cities, is about $340,000 - two tiny offices, three full-time staff, two part-timers, a handful of teaching artists. Only 8% of our funding comes from individual donors, about 230 people total. (The national average for organizations our size is 30%!)
I'm asking you to change that calculus. If you've never donated and you read the Poem of the Week, please consider giving online today. If you've given $25 in the past and the festival has been meaningful to you - as so many of you tell me it has been - please give $50 today. Or make a monthly gift - it's charged to your credit card directly!
Maybe you have greater means and would like to make a challenge gift, encouraging others to give. We love those! Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 202-787-5210 to talk it over. These don't have to be huge - a $500 challenge can bring in new donors and inspire others to give more.
Will you help me ensure Split This Rock's legacy will not just continue but grow until we overcome hate and build that Beloved Community everywhere?
The year ahead will be challenging, though exciting, too. We're planning the 2018 festival, the first under the new, unconscionable regime. We want it to be the most powerful, the most significant so far! We'll be celebrating Split This Rock's 10th anniversary. Send us ideas for marking this incredible anniversary and your favorite memories to incorporate into a history of Split This Rock's first decade!
We'll also be recruiting, hiring, and training a new Executive Director. I know Split This Rock will be galvanized by new leadership. Look for the job opening to be posted in the fall and steer great candidates our way. Maybe that's you!
I am asking you, my comrades, my colleagues, my partners, my co-conspirators, my loves, to join me - Sarah Me, not just Executive Director Me - in stoking this flame into a roaring bonfire of righteous poetic hope and justice and joy.
Please donate on the website today or send a check made out to "Split This Rock" to:
Split This Rock
1301 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036
We know we are mighty (even the New York Times has caught wind of how fired up the poets are!). Let's show the world!
Love, solidarity, poetry!