17 Jun THE RACIAL EQUITY FUND AT YEAR ONE: POWERING AND UPLIFTING CHANGE
How do we maintain the urgency for racial equity and justice issues to stay visible, to make funding for change led by communities of color more accessible, and build staying power for those tackling the systemic roots?
These questions and the role the Foundation can play have grounded me this first year of our Racial Equity Fund work – and as our community continues to experience the turbulent consequences that rise up in the voids of opportunity, alternatives, and hope. Yet, I’m encouraged that we have witnessed promising new traction building from within communities historically marginalized to sustain the focus and drive solutions based on living the inequities, injustice, and disparities.
I encourage you to visit our Racial Equity Fund page that shares our newest $1 million in funding to 19 organizations through The Racial Equity Fund. You can learn about our work over the last year, see and hear more about groups and individuals dedicated to powering change in our community – and help us grow the Fund to fuel even more.
Visibility – seeing people and hearing their voices – emerged as a key transformative force. We all experienced how a phone in the hands of an unflinching teen captured video of the police murder of George Floyd and ignited a movement.
The Foundation committed itself to raise the visibility of local groups addressing racial equity when we produced our 2021 State of Black Philanthropy as a virtual event. I got to record a video on Zoom with SOUL Sisters Leadership Collective founder Wakumi Douglas – at a time our team was exploring changes to our funding processes to be more equitable and accessible.
From the first moments she spoke, there was something so vividly mesmerizing as her voice and expressiveness brought to life her own story of living racial inequity and the group’s work for me and the thousands who tuned in that evening. There are simply some things that must be heard, seen, and held in your mind in ways that written versions just can’t touch.
The experience redefined the process behind our new round of Racial Equity Fund grants – and is influencing how we approach grantmaking across the Foundation. We had in our hands the ability to ease the burden on organizations, and more powerfully capture and uplift their work as a way to perhaps attract even more dollars.
Our team was already deep into research that generated nearly 100 social justice groups and activists. From there, we prioritized groups that are Black-led (executive, senior staff, community-members leadership), rooted in Black communities, and intentional about racial equity and justice systems change – shifting institutions, resources, laws, policies, practices, or creating more just alternatives.
But instead of written proposals we used video. We asked nearly 30 organization leaders to meet with us via Zoom to record 30-minute individual conversations. We could be present to see and hear. They could convey more easily the breadth and depth of the racial equity work they do, their analysis of the issues, aspirations for impact, and experiences driving them.
Over my 26 years at the Foundation, I have been privileged to learn about groups doing so much amazing work – mainly from reading thousands of proposals. This experience has been the most profound.
Being present made more real the nature of systemic issues: policing, criminalization and incarceration of people of color, access to affordable housing and basic healthy foods, economic inequity, civil and human rights treatment, and more.
You witness the strength within a mother who having held her son as he died from collateral gun violence now devotes her life to creating community support and hope – so youth who behave as if they have nothing to live for have reasons and options to believe otherwise.
Freedom from written word counts gave dimension to what groups do every day to build leaders, educate and mobilize residents, call attention to incidents as systemic – not isolated, engage with those in power, and develop better alternatives.
The patterns in conversations revealed the unique value of nonprofits that fuse serving immediate needs with sustained, serious attention to fixing the systems at the root of the symptoms they are addressing in peoples’ daily lives.
And what resonated most often is embodied in a phrase from the YWCA South Florida, which turns 100 this year: “Dismantling structural racism requires long-term commitment and rigorous focus.”
Our community needs groups doing this work to have staying power. All the grants we’ve made are mission-support vs. project or program-restricted. Most recipients are relatively small, young, and acutely under-resourced compared to the scale and history of the systemic issues they tackle – and local funding has been scarce.
The Foundation is committed to leveraging our role to elevate and amplify their work, and strive to attract more investment – and to generate engagement in the courageous conversations that must be had. We know it will not be comfortable and without controversy. Real change never is. But that is what will be required of us all together to truly achieve a racially equitable and just Greater Miami.
Charisse Grant is the senior vice president and strategy advisor a The Miami Foundation.