How can foundations best support the movement for racial equity?


Jeanné Isler and NCRP


Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Jordan Davis. Oscar Grant. Amadou Diallo. Sean Bell. These are some of the most recognizable names of black people who have been killed by security officers in the United States, but only a small fraction of the total. The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement estimates that one black person is killed every 28 hours in the country by security officers. Over the past few years, a grassroots movement has emerged to end state violence against black people and other marginalized groups.

What is the role of foundations in this movement? The panellists on a recent webinar hosted by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), ‘Fueling the Movement: How Foundations can Support the Fight for Racial Equity’, have offered some answers.

Moderated by NCRP executive director Aaron Dorfman, the webinar featured four panellists playing different roles in the growing movement:

Here are the top five themes that emerged from their conversation.

This intersectional movement is being led primarily by women, LGBTQ people, formerly incarcerated people and youth, and it needs to stay that way. All the presenters warned of the dangers of anchoring movements around charismatic, primarily straight, male leaders. History warns us of that model’s unsustainability, which encourages the tendency to elevate the needs of straight black men over those of others affected by state violence. Foundations can either perpetuate this phenomenon or correct it with how and who they choose to fund. Already the most recognizable victims of state violence are male. But the panellists celebrated leadership from other marginalized groups in this growing movement, and noted the importance of supporting and nurturing those leaders in order to build a successful, sustainable and inclusive movement.

General operating support and multi-year funding are essential for allowing movement leaders to respond quickly to opportunities that arise. Both Alicia and Zach recognized several foundations that have supported their work, especially their grassroots activities. They explained that general operating support and long-term funding is the best way to support the success of organizations that must respond quickly to changing situations. Alicia noted that she sometimes avoids foundation funding to remain flexible, but, as she put it, if foundations invest in ‘transformative rather than transactional’ strategies, they can best support grassroots work.

Foundation staff and leaders can be organizers too! Foundations must work to examine and correct racial inequity from within, and to hold each other accountable. In addition to her role at Brooklyn Community Foundation, Tynesha is one of the organizers of Philanthropic Action for Racial Justice, a group of Black funders and intermediaries in philanthropy addressing how funders are supporting long-term solutions to issues such as state violence. She urged foundation staff and leaders to be courageous and explicit, calling out any institutional bias and racism unapologetically.

This is a long-term problem that requires long-term partnerships between foundations and grassroots leaders and organizations. Starsky spoke specifically about the unique partnership role that foundations can play in social justice movements. Foundations can lend legitimacy to the movement by standing with grassroots leaders. Philanthropic relationships can also generate unique research about the issues and to maximize the investment in grassroots leaders. All the speakers emphasized the importance of foundations following the direction of grassroots leaders. Community listening sessions and community-led grantmaking decisions are a few ways to ensure that power and leadership stays with community leaders.

Funding advocacy, policy reform, grassroots organizing, leadership development and community engagement are critical for impacting issues important to foundations. The panellists were very specific about how these activities need to be funded to sustain the growing racial equity movement. They also asserted that racial equity and ending state violence affect every issue a foundation might care about, and cannot be distilled into a single focus or programme.

Check out the webinar recording here. And let us know in the comments: how is your foundation supporting the racial equity movement?

Jeanné Isler is field director at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP). Follow @NCRP and @j_lachapel

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