By JR Valrey
While an unprecedented statewide climate freeze has hit Texas last week, the state government’s decision to disconnect the state’s power grid from the national network has left millions without electricity, heat, or water. Secondarily, electric companies have variable utility plans for their customers, which means when demand for power peaks in the winter months, there is no regulation on what utility companies can charge. So there are some people in the state freezing to death in cars, while others are being forced to pay exorbitant rates so that their families can survive the cold, in their houses. This is an example of disaster capitalism during climate change; the people are being burdened with a catastrophe that corporate pollution has unrelentingly created, and while the people suffer the consequences through unstability and death, the corporations continue to siphon off money from individuals who are trying to quell the miserable conditions, that they are forced to contend with, and live under.
People in the Bay Area, better take notice, because the San Andreas fault is due for a massive earthquake. New Orleans and parts of Mississippi was hit with Katrina, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico just withstood devastating hurricanes, and California has been struck by enormous forest fires, for over the last 3 years, with no end in sight. As we saw with those disasters, the government can not be depended on to help us, as Black Texans have recently learned, we have no one to depend on, but ourselves and our network.
DAWA means medicine in Swahili. Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone is the man behind the DAWA Fund, which has been giving away money to needy Black movers and shakers in the Austin area for years. But since the statewide disaster, he has focused on getting the money to Black families that have been pushed to the limits of desperation. Black New World Media is doing this interview so that we could continue to aid the Black folks in Texas, through the DAWA Fund, that are going through this hardship and government neglect. Tune into Johnathan “Chaka” Mahone as he gives us a bird’s eye view of what the Black community of Austin, Texas has been dealing with. Check out these words from Johnathan “Chaka” Mahone who has his boots on the ground.
JR Valrey: What is the DAWA Fund and what inspired its creation?
Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone: I started the DAWA Fund in September 2019 on my birthday because I wanted to find a way to give money to folks in the community that were struggling financially. More specifically, people of color that are social workers, teachers, artists, musicians, healthcare providers, doulas, herbalists, etc; the givers. These people are my friends, my tribe, my village, who more often than not, struggle to make ends meet month to month because their primary focus is service. As artists coming up, working to develop our careers as Riders Against the Storm, we went through several crises (financial, mental health, etc). There were times we had to go on government assistance, have friends buy us groceries, provide us shelter, and more because we couldn’t ‘make ends meet’ as they say. These situations often break many of us, and force us to make decisions we wouldn’t have otherwise made if we had an actual support system. Luckily, we have always had community. Someone was always there to pick us up no matter how challenging things became. But, we have also lost friends to suicide, prison, and drug overdoses through the years as well. My own personal experiences with all of this led me to create DAWA. I threw a party on my birthday, and we raised $3,000. My plan was to take that money and just give it a handful of people, throw another party, and give some more money out. But, I managed to surround myself with a team of people that saw my larger vision, and they began to assist in formalizing the fund. A year and a half later, we have disbursed nearly $100k to what I call the ‘community frontliners’ in Austin, TX. This is just the beginning. I have some amazing friends that believe in what DAWA can ultimately become for the community.
JR Valrey: Before this recent case of mass government neglect and the freeze, what type of work was DAWA engaged in?
Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone: Before this, we had opened two rounds of funding, distributing $200 Visa Gift cards to our target community. Nearly $100k has gone out in those two rounds. We have also been building a team, and formalizing ourselves, moving towards the establishment of a 501c3. Currently, we are state of Texas non-profit, but we intend to register federally to put ourselves in position for larger grant opportunities. A recent United Way grant allowed us to hire a part-time Outreach/Program Coordinator. I have not taken a single dollar of funds raised yet. The goal was not to create a position for myself, or an organization. The goal was to get money to people in an organized, and fast way, with little to no obstacles. Now that we have an organizational framework and identity established, we are looking for funding to hire a small staff. Hopefully, we will make that a reality in 2021.
JR Valrey: How did the focus of DAWA change, after the recent catastrophe? And how did DAWA kick into gear?
Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone: The emergency fund stuff just happened. It was organic. I made a post on Facebook to my network that just said if anyone needed some quick financial support, to hit me up. I had about $3,000 in our Venmo account at the time from a build-up of donations over the last few months. Within the hour, my phone started blowing up. Someone gave out my number, and people were reaching out to me via text about assistance with food, shelter, and more. I responded as quickly as I could. But it got overwhelming fast, so then I started to ask people to donate so I could help the people that were texting me. Donations started coming in, and I hit my Venmo limit of $5,000 within a few hours. The next day, I hit the CashApp limit of $7,500. Meanwhile donations are coming, and the word is spreading faster than Usain Bolt on cocaine. It was crazy. Before it was all said and done, I sent out over $30k in direct emergency cash assistance within less than a week. We currently have a list of over 1,500 people that have reached out for assistance, but I have to move on because we are not staffed to handle the demand. We don’t have the funds either.
JR Valrey: What are the underlying reasons for this devastation, and who is responsible?
Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone: The state of Texas is definitely responsible for the grid failure. There’s so much to say on that. Just gonna leave that there because it’s your typical story of American greed and oversight to keep cash in the pockets of the criminal and negligent entities that are in positions of leadership. The story ain’t new. Just the latest version. As a community, we have to learn the lessons, and build coalitions that will allow us to become more resilient. Global warming is no game. The cavalry ain’t coming for us. We gotta come for us. Also not a new story, but I am proud to say that many Black organizations did rise to the occasion, and I hope that we can keep this same energy of self-determination moving forward.
JR Valrey: Can you talk about some of the horror stories that you have heard directly, just from the Austin area?
Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone: On Sunday, I woke up to a text from a woman that lost her newly-born son to exposure on Valentine’s day. That was extremely heartbreaking. America is the horror story though. This place is on some Alfred Hitchcock, Twilight Zone, Twin Peaks, Jordan Peele, level BS. And every time we go through something on this scale the horror is amplified. But, again, I saw Black and Brown people rising to the occasion, and I just hope we can keep that same energy of moving in one accord, squashing the ego, and need for credit or validation.
JR Valrey: What are the conditions like in Austin right now? Can you speak on the fires, flooding of houses, and scams going on?
Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone: I can say that there are many organizations and people on the ground working to distribute food, water, and more. One center is feeding around 2,500 people per day. It’s pretty surreal after the intensity of last week because it’s like 70 degrees now. People are just trying to pick up the pieces, and figure out how to help each other as best they can.
JR Valrey: What kind of supplies are needed most?
Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone: Water has been a need for sure. Diapers. Feminine hygiene products. Cleaning supplies. Baby formula.
JR Valrey: How can people, from outside of your locale, help?
Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone: People can definitely help by supporting organizations like DAWA (dawaheals.org). There are some great grass-root organizations like the Black Austin Coalition, We Can Now, and 10K Fearless Responders that led some excellent direct-service campaigns. The Black Leaders Collective has been organizing, and helping with food distribution/resource allocation.
JR Valrey: How can people keep up with up to date credible info?
Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone: We need a Black New World Media in Austin! We don’t necessarily have a strong media outlet here if folks want to know what Black organizations are doing. But, they can reach out directly to me via firstname.lastname@example.org.
JR Valrey: How can people keep up with you and Dawa?