Pictured: The Village co-founder Ron Johnson with members Mr. Lorenzo Washington and Ms. Karen Coffee of the Jefferson Street Sound Museum.

It is not a secret that the year 2020 was a pivotal moment for racial justice in the United States, as senseless killings of unarmed African Americans were making headlines globally. Combined with an unprecedented pandemic, tens of thousands of people tapped into their vulnerability and unapologetically began to use their voices and march to demand justice for those we lost that year – victims such as Kwame Jones, Manuel Ellis, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Anthony Jones, and Andre Hill – as well as the far too many lives lost throughout American history.

In Nashville, we saw our courthouse on fire and advocates taking to the media to demand action for systemic change. Grassroots nonprofit leaders stepped in as violence interrupters and provided community safe spaces while working toward solutions for a safer and more equitable future for all Nashville residents.

One of the tangible products to emerge during this critical moment in time was a partnership through the Nashville Mayor’s Office of Community Safety and the Center for Nonprofit Management. The Village, founded by Ron Johnson and Dawn Stone, was built to reinforce organizations making a difference in the communities they served … communities where residents trusted the services that were being provided.

For far too long, Black-led organizations have faced an unfair gap in funding and, therefore, difficulty in establishing a sustainable business model to continue delivering hands-on services to their neighbors. Johnson brought his lived experience and learnings from Africa, and alongside Stone, built a coalition of nonprofits where capacity-building opportunities were made available.

The Village’s incubation space began to equip Black leaders from marginalized communities and identities by connecting them with each other and resources, wisdom, and the power to grow.

As The Village membership grew, so did the funding provided by the Office of Community Safety. In the summer of 2023, Metro Council voted unanimously to move The Village to a new public-private partnership housed at the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee (CFMT).

A strategic session for The Village was held in late 2023 with its leaders, both programmatically and members, at the table to envision the next chapter of its work.

CFMT, for many years, has served as a fiscal sponsor for community-focused initiatives that have yet to establish their own nonprofit status. In the nonprofit sector, a fiscal sponsorship allows a program to leverage the sponsor’s tax-exempt status, facilitating more effective fundraising and operational support for specific projects. It is through these strategic partnerships that programs can benefit from the infrastructure and expertise of the sponsoring organization, fostering mutual growth and success in pursuing shared goals of making a difference within the community. 

With a new partnership in place at CFMT, funding from city, and educational opportunities from Center for Nonprofit Management and financial, marketing, and organizational structure consultants, the next chapter for the work of The Village was set in motion.

Erika Burnett, a leader in advocacy known for her strategic approach and passion for tackling issues across the state of Tennessee, was hired as The Village’s program director to continue building the infrastructure needed for a powerful opportunity to move the needle of success for these under-resourced nonprofit partners.

While The Village remained active facilitating weekly calls, capacity-building workshops, convening important community conversations, and connecting its members with additional funding opportunities, another move occurred when the Office of Community Safety was transferred from the mayor’s office to Metro’s Public Health Department.

This move was backed by a 2018 policy statement from the American Public Health Association deeming violence as a public health crisis, stating, “There is increasing evidence of the profoundly harmful effects of violence on child development, the long-term health of affected populations, and the economic development of entire communities, especially communities of color.”

Both CFMT and The Village continue to firmly believe that the answers to the obstacles and problems that face Nashville lie within the industrious and hardworking community members who understand how to address these issues through their lived experiences and can share the knowledge needed to find solutions to the problems.

With the pre-budget discussions taking place for Metro Nashville’s upcoming fiscal year, Burnett and several other members of The Village made their statements during the public comment session for continued funding support from the city for the next three years.

In her public statement, Burnett said:

“There is a need for a robust, comprehensive and cross-sector community safety plan that understands violence, crime, and belonging-related outcomes through the lens of prevention, intervention and responsive services offered by the most contextually informed amongst us.

Through the diligence and strategy of Village leadership, we have built momentum and secured commitment from both public and private sector investors who believe in the power and necessity of this work; ensuring diverse and sustainable funding streams.

The threat of divestment on the part of our Metro government was enough to motivate a number of YOUR constituents, constituents serving OUR communities, to exercise their political capital to advocate on behalf of a space that has been carved out with the sole purpose of creating an ecosystem where they move beyond survival and truly thrive.

What I know to be true is that we are doing our part. Before today, we may not have done much talking, but we have for sure walked the walk. So now, we are standing here with extended hands. We are asking that Council extend a hand, complete with $1.2 million a year for three years, and meet us exactly where we are: standing in the gaps, serving the most vulnerable, the most marginalized and the most overlooked in our communities.”

Read Full Metro Council Meeting Statement


As we move out of February and into the remaining months of the year, we are reminded of the importance of amplifying Black history as American history year round. In honor of this lens, let us lean into the opportunity of making a financial contribution to support our ongoing commitment to providing Black leaders with the tools necessary to keep doing the vital work needed for thriving communities.

Together, we can make a huge impact on the growth and sustainability of The Village’s nonprofit partners and community-led organizations dedicated to supporting their neighbors at the grassroots level.  

Make an Immediate Impact Today