Good as they may be, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats' soulful songs aren't exactly political. Still, the band has used its rising popularity to raise money for social- and economic-justice groups.
In late 2017, Rateliff founded The Marigold Project, which gives grants to organizations working to end homelessness, create urban farms and fight for immigrants' rights, among other progressive goals. In its first year, the Marigold Project donated more than $100,000, and it plans to give away even more this year.
“My dad and I planted marigolds as ground cover,” Rateliff wrote in a letter to his fans, explaining the project's name. “Marigolds do their fair share in feeding nectar to beneficial insects. They keep pests away, they taste good and they bloom like crazy. I think it’s a great metaphor for the work that I want to support.”
This year's grant recipients include 25 nonprofits and community organizations, some from Colorado. They include labor organization El Centro Humanitario; the gun-violence prevention group Colorado Ceasefire; the Colorado Village Collaborative, which builds tiny homes for people experiencing homelessness; the Harm Reduction Action Center, which runs a syringe exchange program and advocates for the health and safety of Denver’s injection drug users; refugee organization Project Worthmore; and the indigenous and environmental advocates at the Black Mesa Water Coalition.
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The Marigold Project will continue providing assistance to past recipients such as Farm Aid; urban farming group Grow Pittsburgh; and the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, which lends a hand to struggling independent farmers in the Show Me State, among others.
Marigold executive director Kari Nott spent years working with Farm Aid, Willie Nelson’s organization for agricultural activism, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She met Rateliff when his band played a benefit concert for the group.
Nott says she was a fan long before she ever imagined collaborating with him. So when Rateliff invited her to move to Denver and run his foundation, she was thrilled...but overwhelmed. Her previous organization had a specific mission: “Farm Aid works year-round to build a system of agriculture that values family farmers, good food, soil and water, and strong communities" — and Rateliff’s ambitions were more sprawling.
“I knew it would be a challenge, and I knew I would learn a lot,” Nott says. “I got to Denver, and he said, ‘I want to work on gun violence and homelessness.’”
With minimal experience addressing either, Nott began soliciting advice from people who had worked at the grassroots level on those issues. Nott and the band organized a successful benefit concert for gun-violence prevention at Levitt Pavilion in October 2018, as well as similar shows for Project Worthmore, the Harm Reduction Action Center and Volunteers of America.
“It’s powerful to admit you don’t know something,” Rateliff says. “That’s one of the things I love about traveling and meeting new people all the time. We all seem to have pieces of a larger puzzle, and we can connect those pieces to lift each other up.”
Rateliff and his fellow musicians support local causes in the cities they play while touring. Earlier this year they met Jahmal Cole of My Block, My Hood, My City, a group that aims to alleviate poverty among youth in Chicago. Inspired by Cole's work, the singer called Nott and asked her to organize a fundraiser the following day. Just 24 hours before the Night Sweats' Chicago concert, she set up a meet-and-greet with fans, who paid a premium price for the chance to hang out with the band. They raised $3,500 for Cole's organization.
Nott says it’s not enough to shine a light on issues; it's our systems that need to change: “Everybody has a voice. And if there was real justice, you wouldn’t need charity.”
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That philosophy is behind the Marigold Project's decision to fund those who are fighting for systemic change. While some of those groups serve marginalized communities, they’re also working to address root causes of injustice and inspire others to do the same.
“Anyone can do this work,” says Nott. “We can all do a little bit to make the world a better place.”
Below is the full list of Marigold Project's 2018 recipients:
Black Mesa Water Coalition
Colorado Village Collaborative
Color of Change
Emergency Family Assistance Association
Harm Reduction Action Center
Interfaith Alliance of Colorado
The Delores Project
The Empowerment Plan
Missouri Rural Crisis Center
My Block, My Hood, My City
New Era Colorado
Rural Advancement Foundation International
Veterans Community Project
Volunteers of America
Women’s Bean Project