Interview with Eddy Zheng, President and Founder
What are the priorities of New Breath Foundation?
New Breath Foundation (NBF) mobilizes resources to support Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) harmed by the unjust immigration and criminal justice systems to heal, keep families together, and build movements that shift narratives and policies. We are organizers and directly impacted leaders who are building a community of funders and donors committed to providing hope and healing to AAPIs facing violence, incarceration, and deportation.
What is the history of the foundation?
NBF was founded in 2017 by Eddy Zheng, the first formerly incarcerated “juvenile lifer” to serve as the Founder and President of a philanthropic foundation. Eddy spent over 20 years in California state prison and immigration jails. During his incarceration, he earned his college degree, mentored youth, and reformed in-prison programming to be more transformative and culturally relevant. Eddy has spent decades creating coalitions to address mass incarceration, deportation, and anti-Black and anti-Asian violence and is uniquely suited to innovate and lead this movement for equitable and representative philanthropy.
During his tenure as a key leader in multiple non-profit and city agencies, Eddy grew to understand the key challenges facing many non-profits and AAPI communities and envisioned starting a philanthropic foundation in response to these inequities. He wanted to create access to philanthropy and other resources for grassroots organizations that didn’t have ways to connect to them.
His dream became a reality when one individual met Eddy, learned about this vision, and decided to invest in his idea.
New Breath Foundation Founder and President, Eddy Zheng, speaking at the Love Our People & Heal Our Communities rally in San Francisco, CA in 2021. Photo Credit: Eddy Zheng.
What is the strategy of New Breath Foundation in response to the inequitable funding for the AAPI community?
Through grantmaking, education, advocacy, and strategic partnerships, NBF creates more seats at the philanthropic ‘table’ for marginalized AAPI communities. At the same time, the organization broadens the philanthropic resources pool by cultivating a largely untapped donor base: Asian and Asian American high net-worth donors. NBF is a member of the Solidaire Network, a community of donor organizers who mobilize quickly to get critical, unprecedented resources to the frontlines of social justice movements. Eddy Zheng plays an essential role in bridging communities: particularly Black, Asian American, formerly incarcerated, immigrant, and refugee groups.
What values and/or principles guide your work?
Each new breath is an opportunity for a new beginning. We harness the power of second chances to transform entire communities.
Every person deserves the opportunity to live an abundant life, heal from the trauma they may have experienced, and repair any hurt they may have caused to others.
AAPI healing and transformation are linked to the healing and transformation of all communities harmed by the unjust immigration and criminal justice systems.
We see an urgent need for philanthropy to be shaped by leaders directly impacted by unjust systems and ensure critical resources reach organizations that are mobilizing for freedom for our communities.
We believe in building relationships with other communities hurt by the unjust immigration and criminal justice systems, including Black and Latinx leaders and organizations, by sharing lessons, supporting each other, and working together for our collective vision of healing, movement building, and real justice.
Cambodia Listening Tour group and some people deported to Cambodia at the Legal Clinic in 2019 sponsored by New Breath Foundation. Photo Credit: Eddy Zheng
Can you tell us about a few of your grantees?
All of NBF’s grantees do incredible work, so it was hard to choose which ones to highlight. However, we wanted to share the work of the following:
Survived & Punished is a national coalition that includes survivors, organizers, victim advocates, legal advocates and attorneys, policy experts, scholars, and currently and formerly incarcerated people. S&P organizes to de-criminalize efforts to survive domestic and sexual violence, support and free criminalized survivors, and abolish gender violence, policing, prisons, and deportations.
Center for Empowering Refugees and Immigrants (CERI) aims to improve the social, emotional, psychological, economic, and physical health of refugees and immigrants from Southeast Asia affected by war, torture, genocide, or other forms of extreme trauma. They provide culturally relevant mental health and other social services. They are dedicated to transforming the lives of refugees and immigrants and their families, many of whom suffer from weakening intergenerational relationships, layers of complex needs, and exposure to violence and trauma both in their current environments and in their native countries.
Asian Prisoner Support Committee (APSC) is one of the only organizations working to end mass incarceration and deportation led by currently and formerly incarcerated AAPIs. Their work has included: successful anti-deportation organizing with Cambodian families in northern California; reentry healing activities for over 50 formerly incarcerated community members; and building intersectional alliances with partner organizations.
What new work or strategies are emerging in response to current community needs?
In response to the recent wave of anti-Asian violence, NBF, in partnership with the East Bay Community Foundation and other philanthropic partners, seeks to raise more than $10 million for its New Breath Foundation Community Fund to make grants aimed at increasing long-term sustainability of organizations working toward racial inclusion and equity, supporting community organizing, violence prevention, power-building among AAPI organizations, and cross-racial solidarity building. The organizations that will receive these funds are those who, most often, aren’t on traditional philanthropy’s radar. Stay tuned for more news about this soon.
Tell us about your vision for creating a pipeline for formerly incarcerated people within philanthropy?
Grassroots and movement-building organizations directly working to challenge AAPI violence, incarceration, and deportation are under-resourced and often invisible. National foundations give 0.3% towards AAPI communities. NBF wants to transform philanthropy by making philanthropy accessible to these organizations, increasing funds to marginalized BIPOC communities and creating a world where philanthropy doesn’t need to exist.
We also plan to create a leadership pipeline (survivors of violence and formerly incarcerated) to help build confidence and skills that they belong in this space. These new leaders will inform and dictate the decisions that affect their communities and are given the power to distribute resources.