Central Ohio Freedom Fund pays tribute to the present, looks to the future
The community bail fund marks Black History Month by centering the marginalized voices currently doing the work in Columbus
In honor of Black History Month, Central Ohio Freedom Fund (COFF) has been making daily posts to social media, each centered on a person or group that has impacted the social justice movement. Rather than focusing on familiar faces from the Civil Rights era, however, COFF has embraced the posts as an opportunity to turn a spotlight on a number of locals helping to shape the present.
“A lot of times with Black history, and especially with Black History Month, we tend to highlight our ancestors and the people who came before us, and we tend to forget about the people who are currently making history,” COFF organizer Stacey Little said by phone. “Let’s highlight some folks who are doing stuff now, who are here, who people can access. … We wanted to uplift some of what was already out there, what was already going on.”
Little said documenting this history as it unfolds serves multiple purposes, including uplifting the marginalized voices currently doing the heavy lifting, as well as creating a public record so these actions aren’t lost or erased, “which is something we’ve seen happen over time.”
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The subjects of early posts have included: attorney Sean Walton, who has represented the families of multiple people killed by law enforcement, including the families of Henry Green and Casey Goodson, Jr.; poet, author and cultural critic Hanif Abdurraqib; the podcast Columbus Can’t Wait, which has engaged the community on issues of politics and police violence, among other topics; Dispatch journalist (and former Alive staffer) Erica Thompson; and artist Richard Duarte Brown, recipient of the 2022 Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson Fellowship.
The posts will continue through the end of the month, Little said, ending with a tribute to the ancestors upon which this current movement is built. In the coming weeks, COFF will also highlight some of the youngsters just now beginning to make waves, effectively linking multiple generations of activism. In that sense, the ongoing campaign mirrors the evolution of COFF, the members of which have spent the last year learning from the past and assessing the present, all with an eye on creating a greater future impact.
“The last year, we weren’t really able to do anything, navigating through COVID and all of that,” Little said. “There was a moment of reset, of reorganizing, and we’re going into this year doing the things we’ve really wanted to do.”
Organizers including Little formed COFF in March 2020, the group rising to greater prominence alongside the resurgent Black lives matter movement that swept through the country in May 2020. Initially, the group formed around a goal of providing funds for people in Franklin County who were in jail not because they were convicted of a crime or incarcerated, but because they couldn’t make bail. In the years since, though, this vision has gradually expanded, with the group championing legislation that could reduce the need for a more generalized community bail fund.
In Ohio, a pair of bipartisan, companion bills — SB 182 and HB 315 — would reform the current bail system in two crucial ways: (1) the legislation would require a pretrial release decision be made within 48 hours of arrest, reducing the number of people in jail waiting for the court to determine their pretrial fate; and (2) it would establish a system that would allow the court to determine if a person posed a threat to public safety.
“Moving forward, we always have to be ready for what’s next, and what’s next after we end cash bail?” said Little, who, along with other COFF members, has engaged in conversations with community bail funds in cities such as Chicago and Philadelphia, learning from others immersed in these types of direct actions as a means of plotting new ways forward. "What is next for our community? And how can we still take care of our community when things change?"
Newly developed initiatives include Commissary Comrades, where a $35 monthly donation can provide toiletries and other essentials for someone imprisoned, as well as expanded training and educational series centered on abolition. In the future, the group's mission could expand, connecting ex-felons with services to help them reacclimate to life outside of prison. And eventually, Little said, COFF would prefer to turn over leadership of the group to those previously bailed out by it.
“That’s really the ultimate goal, isn’t it?” Little said. “We want people who have been directly impacted in positions of leadership, making decisions and freeing other folks. In the meantime, in the system we’re working in, it’s more about getting better at taking care of folks and connecting them to resources and other things of that nature. That’s how we’re always thinking, how we’re always moving forward.”