October 20–22, 2021 — Virtual

Upswell Summit

What can we accomplish with three virtual days together? The answer might surprise you.

From October 20-22, 2021, the Upswell Summit will virtually bring together thousands of changemakers, hundreds of speakers, brilliant thought leaders, inspired innovators, and powerful creators to unleash civil society's fullest potential.

Our shared purpose: building a racially just and healthy society where every person can thrive.

With so much experience, expertise, and energy in one place – and in a moment of historically unprecedented opportunity to reshape our nation for the better – there’s only one question to ask.

What’s possible?

Have questions? See our Attendee FAQ.


If you're interested in becoming an exhibitor or sponsor of Upswell contact Kathy Bradley at kathyb@independentsector.org.

On the Main Stage
Main Stage

Dr. Gail Christopher, john a. powell, Uma Viswanathan, and Dan Cardinali

You can’t thrive if you don’t belong. If you consider the biggest challenges our society faces today – the racial, economic, and ideological divides that are rapidly deepening as they tear us further apart – it’s clear that systems are not set up to ensure all people belong. So, how do we change that and heal deep wounds? The answer might be found through an exploration of the intersectionality of healing and belonging.

Main Stage

LaTosha Brown, Angela Davis, and Angela Glover Blackwell

There’s no argument that this is a moment of historic opportunity. But that doesn’t matter much if we’re just talking. We need to get to action. And to do that, there’s a single question that’s more important to answer than any other: What will it really take to create a racially just and healthy society?

The scale of that question is enormous. So, we’re calling in the expertise of three women who have the power, knowledge, and experience to change entire systems.

Main Stage

Elisha Rhodes, Ekundayo Bandele, Stacy Palmer, and Dan Cardinali

Unexpected findings from Independent Sector’s 2021 Health of the U.S. Nonprofit Sector report show that the pandemic actually created a series of extremely alarming problems for the sector – ones that specifically harm both our legitimacy and ability to fight for racial justice and society health. Can we reverse these trends before they get worse?

Main Stage

Rep. Betty McCollum, Nonoko Sato, Dan Cardinali

When it comes to changing the system, there’s no tool more powerful than legislation. Unfortunately, nonprofits have historically been an afterthought when major legislation gets written, and our communities have suffered as a result.

Join us for a conversation with a congressional champion who understands this reality and is leading the charge to put nonprofits at the table in every policy conversation.

Main Stage

Dr. Han Ren, PhD

What's the difference between shame and guilt, and why do we experience these emotions? With a focus on health, wellness, and inclusion, learn the evolutionary basis of shame and guilt from an interpersonal neurobiology framework, and their essential roles in conscience and character development.

Main Stage

Grace Kelly and J. Dash

During this special Main Stage, presented by the NAMM Foundation, unequivocal musical prodigy, singer-saxophonist-songwriter-composer, and band leader Grace Kelly will kick things off with a rousing performance. Following her performance, Grace will join rapper-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist visionary (and returning Upswell legend) J. Dash for a conversation about how the incredible power of music can help use shape our nation into a racially just and healthy one.

Main Stage

Rev. Branden Polk, Antong Lucky, and Dr. Buster Soaries, Jr.

Often, the debate around racial justice leaves us with a false choice: believe in America's founding promise as the land of the free or fight against the system that supports injustice. Is there a way to break through by appealing to a third way?

See All Speakers
2:10 - 3:10 PM ET

Building Belonging with Walmart.Org: Three Strategies to Bridge Divides

Through initiatives focused on strengthening messaging, shared spaces and skills building, the Walmart Foundation and its grantee partners are working to foster greater community cohesion nationally through belonging and bridge building efforts formed at the local level. In this session, Lisa V. Gale, Ph.D., Chief Program Officer, StoryCorps; Andrew Hanauer, President and CEO of the One America Movement; and Ashley Quarcoo, Carnegie Fellow and Senior Director, Democracy Pillars and Programs at the Partnership for American Democracy (PFAD) will join Melissa Rhodes Carter, Senior Manager, Inclusive Communities at the Walmart Foundation, for a conversation exploring innovative programs supporting these three pillars and discussing what’s next for bridging.  

Strategic Community Partners

Centering Health and Wellness as the Foundation for Black Leadership Development

From systematic oppression to generational trauma, being a Black leader is a unique experience with its own myriad of highs and lows. Strategic Community Partners will lead this session that will consider how to center health and wellness in Black leadership development. Featuring a live panel, you’ll explore best practices and techniques based on Strategic Community Impact’s work with the Community Impact Incubator, a year-long program that supported Black, nonprofit leaders in Detroit.

You’ll engage during a dynamic presentation featuring a mix of a panel of leaders from the Community Impact Incubator; tangible techniques to center wellness in day-to-day life; and a riveting call to action to encourage you to continue this work beyond the session. You’ll walk away with a deeper understanding of how to further growth in Black leaders through wellness; how to support Black leaders in their networks, and how wellness is not only at the center of leadership development, but the foundation of anti-racism. While this session will resonate best with leaders of color, all allies are welcomed to join to learn techniques to further support their Black colleagues.

Fetzer Institute

Creating Conditions for a Spiritually Grounded Beloved Community

Many organizations are answering the call to implement diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, but the content, focus, and ultimate impact of these initiatives varies. Do they focus on and create transformative and sustained change in individuals and organizations? What  underlying assumptions, mindsets, and frameworks guide their work? What methods and approaches do they use to engage this deeper change?

This session by Fetzer Institute uses adult learning principles to explore these questions through a live case-example of an organization seeking to engage DEI work using a spiritually-grounded, holistic, and developmental approach to catalyze deep change and create a spiritually grounded, beloved community. It also will consider the “inner” or spiritual dimensions of diversity, equity, and inclusion work.

You’ll consider the content through the lens of your own experience, learn from each other, and generate new thinking through lecture-style presentation, individual reflection, and small and large group discussion and activities. And you’ll leave with new ways of conceptualizing how to engage diversity, equity, and inclusion work.

Fetzer Institute

Deepening Understanding of Love and Charity in Philanthropic Giving

The root meaning of philanthropy, “love of humanity,” reminds us that charity requires the proper motivation. It is easy to be tempted by improper motivations, like arrogance, for example, or feelings of superiority. And if love has a cognitive or justice dimension, love can also shape and inform charity.

Kelly James Clark,  professor at Grand Valley State University, will lead a panel of philanthropy professionals in exploring love as understood within the Abrahamic traditions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. They’ll consider how to draw upon these three rich faith traditions to enrich and enliven our contemporary understanding of love. Then Mohammed Mohammed, Senior Program Leader at Fetzer Institute, will guide leaders from The Arthur Vining Davis Foundation  and Henry Luce Foundation in considering the question: How can we deepen our understanding of love, cultivate the proper motivations, and allow love to guide and shape philanthropic giving?

You’ll gain a deeper understanding of how to locate love and charity, particularly in the field of philanthropy, and leave with a better understanding of the impact philanthropic giving can make when we let love for our fellow human beings guide our giving as individuals and as organizations.

Community Wealth Partners

Getting Through COVID-19 Through Powerful Collaborations

The pandemic brought food and nutrition insecurity into sharp focus, and while the context was unique, the need wasn’t: communities, especially BIPOC and rural communities, have faced systemic barriers to accessing and consuming healthy foods for generations, with the pandemic only widening these disparities. In response, organizations and communities joined in creative ways to create stronger foods systems.

For example, Detroit chefs joined to launch lobbying efforts, created networks of mutual food aid, worked on farms and in urban gardens to champion food sovereignty, and converted their kitchens into community kitchens to help feed those in need. Members of the Santa Clara Pueblo tribe joined with the National Council on Aging to help community elders source and access their own locally grown, culturally relevant foods to serve in congregate meal settings and distribute to homes, helping improve their health and financial wellness.

Food is also connected to our mental, spiritual, social, and emotional wellbeing. Hosted by Community Wealth Partners, the session will use art to recognize how food is integral to these other elements of health in our communities, and engage participants through storytelling, polls, chat, and breakouts to  cultivate connections with one another. You’ll leave feeling inspired that change is possible, even within seemingly intractable systems, and take away examples you can use of how change can be made.

The Libra Foundation

How Racial Justice Philanthropy Can Fund Frontlines to Win

Our nation’s precarious democracy has been exposed and laid bare. While basic democratic notions of community safety and civic participation promised fairness and equality for all, in reality, the democracy we live in – where we witnessed the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many other Black lives –proves fairness and equality exists only for some. As our nation undergoes a racial justice reckoning, led by Black movement leaders, philanthropy plays a key role in listening, funding, and organizing.

To support Black-led organizing, The Libra Foundation created the Democracy Frontlines Fund, a 3-year, $36 million aligned-giving strategy bringing together 12 funders to fund 10 frontline organizations fighting for free and fair elections and working to defund the police and prisons. A year into our collective work, we are providing multi-year and general operating support – and getting out of the way.

Join our session, featuring a panel of Black movement leaders and trust-based philanthropists, to hear how a racial justice grantmaking model that centers Black organizing, power building, and self-determination. Learn how funding organizing and service provision differ, and about frontline organizing amidst a global pandemic against continued police violence and voter suppression. Leave with concrete calls to action that will help you organize to build power, create new systems, and direct more resources to movements for Black liberation and joy.

Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation

Looking to Achieve Health Equity? Begin by Honoring Our Histories

Contrary to the model minority myth, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities are not universally wealthy and well-educated. While the increasing incidents of hate and violence directed toward AAPI communities have garnered increased attention during COVID-19, systemic racism contributes to the continued invisibility of AAPI data, histories, and stories.

Medical and public health data collection, analysis, and reporting don’t adequately capture the diversity of AAPI communities, comprised of over 50 different ethnic groups and 100 different languages and dialects. This invisibility leads to misperceptions about AAPI communities, lack of attention by policymakers, and significant underfunding of AAPI-focused efforts, with recent reporting that AAPI communities only receive 20 cents for every $100 awarded by U.S. foundations.

This Spark Talk, led by Edward Tepporn, former EVP of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum and Executive Director of the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation (AIISF), will illustrate the importance of widely sharing communities’ histories and experiences to effect meaningful change. As a Culture of Health Leader (CoHL), funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Tepporn will connect early experiences of Asian American and Pacific Islanders who arrived at Angel Island—a U.S. immigration port off the bay shores of San Francisco. Learn how modern, effective storytelling can highlight salient histories, experiences, and solutions to break the chain of persistent inequities, particularly those related to health.

AchieveMission and Angela N Romans Consulting

Making the Hard Decision to Sunset a Nonprofit Organization

This session will explore a rarely-discussed aspect of the organizational lifecycle: sunsetting a nonprofit. In 2020 in the midst of an unexpected Executive Director transition, a worldwide pandemic, and growing demands for racial justice, AchieveMission, led by two Black women, faced a crossroads, deciding dissolution was best for the people, the work, and the field.

Led by AchieveMission and Angela N Romans Consulting, you’ll hear AchieveMission’s dissolution story, including why the decision was made, reflections on racial and gender dynamics experienced, and lessons learned.

Attendees will participate in connecting exercises, like polls and Q&A, and be invited to consider critical questions about the life cycle of nonprofits and implications for improving sector health moving forward. You’ll leave with how-tos in preparing for a scenario that may be increasingly common in the sector, along with:  

• Questions to help your board evaluate difficult organizational decisions, such as sunset, merger, or strategy shift

• The nuts and bolts of a dissolution process; capacity necessary to execute the process in a healthy way; how funders can support this

• How organizations can maintain strong relationships with key stakeholders during a sunset

• Actions that boards, funders, and nonprofits can take to better equip organizations in this process; and

• Practices organizations can put in place now to increase their health and sustainability

3:05-3:55 pm

Recharge Your Resilience: How to Burn Bright, not Burn Out

Across the globe, individuals, organizations and communities are experiencing increasingly stressful and unpredictable environments. These conditions are draining individuals at an accelerating rate.

But, burnout doesn’t have to be inevitable. This workshop will give you the skills to recharge. Building resilience will help you and your teams rethink, recharge, and recalibrate in the face of unrelenting challenges.

Elite performers in every field and discipline – from athletes to C-Suite leaders – understand that individual and team peak performance and productivity do not come from blindly pushing harder and harder and working longer and longer. Sustained excellence is built on a foundation of resilience and energy – consistent, intentional practices that position individuals and teams to bring their “best selves” to work.

The workshop has a practical, scientific, and application-based approach to show you how to engage in a series of small but intentional reinforcing behaviors that will allow you to avoid burning out, and instead, burn bright.

Center for Trust and Transformation

Rewriting the Narrative to Advance Trust and Liberation

Through music, art, joy, and connection, this session by the Center for Trust and Transformation will explore the intersections of trust, racial justice, and storytelling to de-center white-dominant ways of understanding trust, cultivating a collective vision for healing and trusting that will support you in moving beyond white-dominant and intellectualized concepts of trust toward an experience of trust grounded in truth and possibilities.

Using the Center’s Trust Compass, attendees will explore critical questions such as: What truths or harms need to be said/acknowledged and by whom? What becomes possible when we engage in radical trust building and repair? What narratives about trust are holding us back from justice and liberation? What ancestral wisdom on trust can we invite into our current dialogue?

Using the Heart, Head, Hand facilitation approach, you’ll engage, connect, and rewrite trust narratives that support a bold vision for racial justice. You’ll unpack identities, contexts, values, and positionalities in search of transformative possibilities for healing, repair, and connection in ourselves and our communities.

You’ll leave this dynamic, interactive, multi-modal session with prompts, resources, and a deeper understanding of the role of trust in racial justice work, feel increased trust within yourself and others, have a definition of trust that is culturally and contextually rooted, and possess an expanded toolkit for (re)building trust to advance racial justice.

Fetzer Institute

Spiritual Resilience: How Your Spiritual Journey Fosters Self and Societal Transformation

We’ve endured remarkable times with the COVID-19 pandemic. Quarantining at home and missing personal connections, we’ve had to develop a resilience that helped us survive. As we emerge and reconnect, we’re realizing how this has affected us, and learning from the experience to become even more resilient.

During this workshop by Fetzer Institute, you’ll have the opportunity for personal reflection and integration of the Upswell Summit themes with our own lives. You’ll learn about a model for spiritual development as you reflect on your spiritual journey and life experiences. You’ll also be led in several experiential exercises, including reflection and journaling, contemplative artwork, and small group dialogue.

You’ll take from the workshop a deeper understanding of your individual life journey; how it connects with your resilience and the healing of the whole; and how to use this to better integrate your inner work with the outer work of changemaking in the key areas of health and racial justice.


The Power of Rejecting Recovery and Resilience

From Venture Capital to Philanthropy, small business loans to home mortgages, the systems and mechanisms that move dollars around our economy preference the rich, white, and well-connected. As the pandemic and murder of George Floyd and others exposed, more than caused, the pain of 2020, we should reject the idea of “recovering.” Instead, we should support solutions borne from the pandemic and racial reckoning, and that should finally replace old systems.

Data shows that the diversion of capital away from BIPOC people and communities applies to all types of money, including philanthropy, family wealth, venture capital; opportunity; and working capital. Virtual “shark tanks” for Black Founders, grant requests submitted via voicemail in Spanish, $400 cash cards for push-cart vendors, alternative credit-scoring models, this session led by ImpactFull lifts up ideas from the BIPOC social sector CEOs who are building a new economy.

We’ll spotlight social sector innovators who launched during 2020 and are paving the way with disruptive new models of moving money for impact. These changemakers know that recovery means going backward and resilience means withstanding assault – neither of which is  acceptable. Hear from those who are disrupting, dismantling, or completely ignoring tradition, “best” practices, and dominant culture playbooks to create real change. If you’re a donor, partner, or practitioner, come with an open mind and empty toolbox, ready to fill both up.

Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

Transforming Democracy and Investing in Multiracial Voter Mobilization in the Deep South

In 2020, the Southern Poverty Law Center partnered with the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta to launch Vote Your Voice, a $30 million investment in voter registration and mobilization in five  Deep South states intended to engage voters of color to exercise their right to vote, with a focus on  communities less likely to participate or facing historic and legal barriers to participation. Registration targeted citizens of color who moved in-state and needed to update registration; high school and college students; returning citizens (with a prior felony convictions); and infrequent voters.

This session by Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, including Q&A, will feature inspiring changemakers on the impact made by Vote Your Voice locally and nationally, focused on three questions:

  1. Why focus on people of color in the Deep South?
  2. What does it take for a funder to support multiracial democracy work?
  3. What have we learned/gained from this work so far?

Speakers will include Margaret Huang, CEO, Southern Poverty Law Center; Frank Fernandez, President, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, and a nonprofit leader.

You’ll leave with understanding, tangible examples, tools, and examples to support voter mobilization in your community by investing in multiracial democracy work, and gain greater appreciation for the challenges and opportunities faced by communities of color in the Deep South seeking to participate in democracy.

2:05-3:00 pm

Two Languages / One Community

Two Languages / One Community workshop engages African Americans and Chinese Americans in a rare cultural exchange rooted in dialogue and a message of solidarity. Poets Michael Warr and Chun Yu appear as a duet featuring their poetry in English and Chinese accompanied with storytelling and digital images. Two Languages / One Community (TLOC) uses the sharing of stories and language to build understanding, connection, and cooperation. In their efforts to counter hatred and violence against the Asian and Black communities Yu and Warr have appeared at and collaborated with an array of cultural and educational institutions including the Asian Art Museum, Cambridge Public Library, Chinese Cultural Center, Museum of the African Diaspora, and the Oakland Asian Cultural Center.

This workshop uses writing and translation as a way to exchange culture and connection where such exchange is rare. Through shared stories and the power of translation, you will walk away with a deepened understanding of vulnerabilities intertwined within communities and the importance of connecting to inspire transformative change. Dive deeper with us as participants find commonality within each other to share their own vulnerabilities and transformations.

Springboard Collaborative

Unleashing Untapped Teaching Potential Within Black and Brown Families

One of the pandemic’s biggest lessons? When it comes to educating kids, there’s no going around parents. School systems are awakening to this, but it’s always been true. Research shows parent involvement in children’s learning is a more powerful predictor of academic success than any other variable, including social class and level of parental education.

America systematically oppresses Black and Brown families, presenting a herculean challenge to parents facing poverty. Often, school systems either blame marginalized parents for disengaging, or view a child’s “home life” as a risk to be mitigated, not a resource to be cultivated.

During this session, you’ll hear about Springboard Collaborative’s open sourced, breakthrough discovery – Family-Educator Learning Accelerators, or FELAs. More than about academic progress, FELAs are about racial justice, helping educators see parents as co-teachers and teammates, and families as assets, not liabilities. Educators and parents collaborate to help children work with teachers, families, and on their own – measuring progress and celebrating together.

You’ll challenge your mindset about Black and Brown parents, and see how opening up to authentic partnerships with families can make schools more equitable places. You’ll also leave with:

• A  clear understanding of Family-Educator Learning Accelerators (FELAs) and their six basic steps

• A concrete and actionable methodology through which educators and families can work in tandem—rather than in isolation—to support student learning

NGen 2020 Alumni

Unpacking Toxicity and Emotional Abuse in the Workplace

Emotional abuse is subtle, often goes unnoticed, and can be easily hidden or dismissed. It transcends boundaries and physical locations, and can occur anywhere, including remote work environments. You may not even realize you’re experiencing this, doubt yourself, or think you’re losing touch with reality. This abuse has a tremendous negative effect on the mental, emotional, psychological, and physical health of a person, and BIPOC and others with marginalized identities can be impacted.

Hosted by Independent Sector’s NGen 2020 Fellows Alumni, this session will examine what emotional abuse is, specifically workplace gaslighting; why it occurs, and the connection how systemic oppression, emotional abuse, and power are connected; the impact on the workplace and people; and what leaders can do about this in their organizations.

Designed for a general audience, especially BIPOC and other marginalized populations in a range of work environments, including remote, you’ll actively engage through short video clips, handouts, video or audio stories of lived experience,; polling, Q&As, and an emotional abuse checklist. You’ll become more effective changemakers by learning:

• what and how common this abuse is, the signs, and how to respond to it;

• how to identify whether you or someone else is experiencing/perpetrating this;

• how to protect yourself and steps to take if you’re are living it; and

• how leaders can hold themselves and others accountable to contributing to equitable, affirming organizations.

Center for Media & Social Impact

Using Comedy as a Racial Justice Weapon

Comedy can be a superpower for social change, but is usually left out of the social justice story. What happens when we call on comedians to interrogate the taboos, make the uncomfortable truths funny, and invite people to laugh and think at the same time? Well, we invited comedy pros to co-create hilarious comedy in collaboration with the country's leading social justice organizations, from Color of Change to IllumiNative, to find out.

Our pathbreaking research reveals that comedy can be uniquely persuasive, memorable, enlightening, and attention-getting when it comes to serious issues like racism -– and it works in tandem with serious messaging and journalism to engage publics in social challenges. And far too often, it is a tool we ignore in racial justice work.

Led by Center for Media & Social Impact, this session will explain how and why that’s true, and invite changemakers to learn and imagine how to use in their own work. You’ll find out the most effective social justice leaders in the country are brought together to co-create new comedy to inspire us to think and see differently; and how to find comedy professionals to help bring comedy into racial justice work. You’ll also experience a little improv to showcase the impact comedy can have.

Fetzer Institute

What Are We Bridging Over?

The work of healing, bridging divides, and addressing polarization forces us to consider difficult questions about what is causing divisions and how to repair our social fabric. This particularly comes under scrutiny within the context of racial justice -- often seen as either an attempt to “paper over” the grievances of marginalized communities, and/or to promote unaccountable “civility” to maintain status quo.

During this session by Fetzer Institute, a panel of diverse field builders will counter this misperception by demonstrating why the work of mending divides is central to addressing segregation in America, and to building solidarity, a necessary precondition for any successful social justice effort. Panelists will discuss:

  • How they are building bridges to mend our divides.
  • What are we building bridges over?
  • How to hold ourselves accountable for injustices and the systematic effects of racism.
  • How to acknowledge and heal the wounds of the past as a prerequisite for creating enabling conditions for healing and reconciliation.
  • How to highlight the centrality of equity in upholding human dignity.

Find out how panelists are working to address racial justice and belonging in creative ways, and how you can apply this in your work.