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About Us

Who is Breathing Room

Breathing Room is a Black-led creative coalition of volunteers that designs space for Black people to live without limits. We bring the Black community together with allies to respond to America’s historical challenges with unexpected and equitable solutions through art, design, and activism.

Who is behind the coalition?

We are a Black-led group composed of volunteers from different races, ethnicities, and disciplines—from researchers, policy managers and designers, to writers, strategists, community organizers, and engineers, etc. We have worked everywhere from tech companies to nonprofits and local governments. Breathing Room is an independent volunteer coalition without corporate funding.

Why we believe the creative community should play a role in the fight for Black equality.

America invests a lot of creative output, money, time, and resources into consumerism and capitalism. Most local non-profits rarely get a fraction of the marketing campaign budget large companies pump into launching a new sneaker, travel, or skincare campaign.

In our conversations with organizers it became clear how creatively under resourced they are for advocacy and education campaigns that are critical to Black equity.

Creatives are simplifiers, storytellers, and culture makers. Artists have an emotional pulse on the world and provoke us with tough societal questions. Design can be an effective tool for responding to these challenges and setting a new vision in collaboration with subject matter experts.

An extraordinary global legacy of art, design, and activism uniting as vehicles for change precedes us. We want to add more creative fuel to keep the momentum going.

About the Necessary Trouble Toolkit

What is the Necessary Trouble Toolkit?

The Necessary Trouble Toolkit was built to simplify critical information about organizing against police brutality and provide an easier path for advocates to learn how to connect with local officials.

The toolkit educates new advocates about the history of police violence in the U.S. and teaches them how to actively influence local decision makers to create policies that end brutality and achieve accountability. It also includes a directory that connects advocates with organizations, activists, alternative responders, and local officials in the top 15* metropolitan US cities with high police brutality rates and killings*.

Why local? Most police departments are decentralized; this means as individuals we have the most influence to end brutality in our own communities.

*Pulled from Mapping Police Violence. Note: We included the Bay area as a test market since we are primarily based there.

Why is it “necessary”?

America kills more of its citizens than most wealthy developed nations. In fact, in 2020 US police departments killed a reported total of 1,127 people. The Black community is disproportionately affected by this violence: Black Americans are 3.23x more likely than white Amercans to be killed by the police. In cities like Chicago, Black people are killed at 27.4x the rate of white people. 

This is unacceptable. Police brutality is a human rights crisis for the Black community and we cannot accept this as the status quo.

How can this toolkit simplify my advocacy journey?

America’s judicial system is biased and incredibly complex by design. This can make it hard for US residents to understand how to demand accountability and end this cycle of violence. In our research, we found many incredible resources about addressing police violence. A lot of them were decentralized, focused specifically on one aspect of the problem, or felt too complex to grasp which can make learning about the issue challenging for newcomers.

In response, we created one hub that welcomes new advocates to the issue, teaches the impact of civic engagement, and connects people to activists and organizers who have been doing the work for a long time. We collaborated with a learning coach, activists, organizers, and storytellers to condense that information into a clear, digestible journey that people can use as needed along their advocacy journey.

It also links to additional resources for advocates who are ready to drill deeper on the issue.

Where does the data in the toolkit come from? Do you have a list of sources?

The data in our city pages is powered by Campaign Zero, specifically their excellent Mapping Police Violence project. Our policy research team also tapped into credible newspapers, podcasts, historical references, interviews with subject matter experts, and documentaries to ensure everything we share is backed up with a source.

All sources and statistics are linked throughout the toolkit and cited on our comprehensive sources page.

Who did you work with to develop and vet the content?

We kicked off the project by interviewing subject matter experts in the activism, organizing, and policy industries. After building our initial prototype we designated a three-month period for 70+ organizers, activists, educators, and members of the general public to give us feedback, which was incorporated into subsequent versions of the toolkit. We also worked with a learning coach to ensure we were being thoughtful about how we could make the insights more active and digestible.

What’s the story behind the name?

"Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic... Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble."- Rep. and Civil Rights Activist John Lewis.

The toolkit is named in honor of the late Rep. and Civil Rights Activist John Lewis who was brutalized and arrested 40+ times by the police in his fight for civil rights.

Who is the target audience?

Anyone who wants to be a part of the solution and is looking for sustainable ways to be a part of the movement.

When designing the toolkit we focused on conducting qualitative and quantitative research with two groups: 1) Members of the Black community who want tools for self-advocacy and survival and, 2) Allies who want to move past a social post or occasional protest to protect the Black community.

During our research process, we reread MLK's Letter from Birmingham Jail, in it he references the apathy of the moderate middle. In the context of designing this toolkit “the middle” who we call Sleeping Giants represents a mindset, not just a particular race (although there is a large representation of the white community in this group). This group possesses a lot of political power in this fight and awareness spiked within this community after George Floyd was killed. A large goal of this project is engaging the Sleeping Giants to keep the momentum going and advocate more actively for the Black community. Learn more here.

Will you be adding new cities to the directory?

Periodically we’ll update our city pages with new cities as we add more volunteers. Stay tuned for updates on new city launches via our Instagram community.

Can I use the images on this website? If so, how should I credit them?

Images on the site can be used on social media only to share the toolkit and coalition if Breathing Room and the appropriate creative are credited. If you pull images from the National Archives in our history section we encourage you to track permissions directly from the source listed on the site.

Why did you decide to go with this creative direction for such a serious topic?

The identity system is vibrant and energizing by intention. We wanted the visual language to represent the full spectrum of the Black experience, not the images of Black marginalization that media and pop culture default to. We drew a lot of inspiration from 20+ Black photographers like Tyler Mitchell and Arielle Bobb Willis.

We’ll be sharing more about the creative direction in the future.

Is Breathing Room saying all cops are bad people?

Many of us in the coalition have family members and friends in the police force so we’ve thought about this question a lot. While data shows there are definitely a lot of bad cops, our perspective is that the US police system has historically failed Black and Brown communities. When you put a good officer in a corrupt system that routinely punishes them for whistleblowing on dirty cops, perpetuates biases, trains them to see civilians as enemy combatants, and rewards them for staying silent when injustices happen to marginalized communities it’s hard for them to do their jobs effectively even if they want to.

How to Get Involved

Instagram is the homebase for our community. Get the latest updates, explore new lessons, discover ways to donate your skills, and connect with other creatives and changemakers that are committed to doing the work.

How to nominate an organization for our city pages or volunteer to curate a city page

Fill out this form if you’d like to nominate an organization for our city pages. (Please note we are a volunteer group with full-time jobs so it might take us a few days to get back to you depending on the volume of inquiries.)

How to share feedback about the toolkit or submit a correction?

Help us improve the toolkit by taking this survey. Thanks for caring; the collective makes the work stronger.