190 posts categorized "African Americans"

5 Questions for...Lateefah Simon, President, Akonadi Foundation

January 04, 2018

At 40, Lateefah Simon has spent more than half her life as a civil rights advocate and racial justice leader. She was a 17-year-old mother when she went to work for the Center for Young Women's Development and was just 19 when she became the organization's executive director. In the years that followed, she helped position the center as a national leader in the movement to empower young women of color — an achievement for which she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2003. She later led the creation of San Francisco's first reentry services division, headed the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, and served as a program director at the Rosenberg Foundation, where she helped launch the Leading Edge Fund in support of the next generation of progressive movement leaders in California.

In 2016, Simon became the second president of Akonadi Foundation, whose mission is "to eliminate structural racism that leads to inequity in the United States." PND spoke with her about the work required to build a movement focused on racial equity — and philanthropy's role in that effort.

Philanthropy News Digest: The Akonadi Foundation, which is headquartered in Oakland, is focused on "building a localized racial justice movement." Why is it important for the racial justice movement to act locally?

Headshot_lateefash_simon_2017Lateefah Simon: What those of us in philanthropy and those working on the ground doing movement-building work know is that many of the racialized policies that have divided communities, from juvenile justice to local policing to school policies, have taken place on the municipal level. We also know that our efforts have to be extremely strategic to undo these policies — for example, the disproportionate overuse of school suspensions and expulsions against black and brown students that has been standard policy for many, many years.

To create racial justice in our communities, we have to go deep — to the source, where the policies come from, and also to the culture. Our work is not just about going after and disrupting racist policy but also about ensuring that all communities of color are working together, understanding that one group's organizing, movement-building, and advocacy work will benefit other groups. If we're fighting for anti-gentrification policies in Chinatown, African-American and Latino communities are going to be able to use those efforts to inform their own organizing, and so on.

PND: The foundation takes an "ecosystem" approach to its grantmaking. What do you mean by ecosystem grantmaking, and why do you believe it's the right approach for your movement at this time?

LS: Five years ago, the Akonadi Foundation set out to envision what Oakland could look like in ten years. Oakland has been a cradle of social movements — and is best known, of course, as the birthplace of the Black Panther Party. There's a historical narrative here around race and the interconnectedness of people of color coming together to defeat horrific racist policies; it's our legacy. In our ambition to create a ten-year period of change, our thought was, even as a small foundation, we need to make grants that address the ecosystem in which "justice" is created and delivered. We know that here in Oakland, for example, we have a responsibility to fund base-building groups that are enlisting people willing to fight back, to fund groups that are going to craft policy prescriptions, and groups that will — when those campaigns have succeeded — ensure implementation of those prescriptions as well as follow-up advocacy and legal oversight of the policies.

And just as importantly, we know that if we are pushing communities to organize and fight campaigns, culture has to be at the center of this work; much of our cultural work as people of color is about staking claim to a city we helped build. So thinking about how change happens, about how the people of Oakland move toward justice — it's broad, and must be led by an "ecosystem" of grant partners who are in movement together.

In 2018, we're going to be engaging our grantees and having them give us a better idea of where we are. The world has completely changed in the last year. And because the world has changed, and the conditions of our city have changed, it's important for us to go back and look at our theory of change and redefine and reexamine how ecosystem grantmaking needs to work.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts 2017

January 02, 2018

It's no surprise, perhaps, that the most popular item on the blog in 2017 was a post, by Michael Edwards, from 2012. Back then, the country was clawing its way back from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and the future, if not exactly bright, was looking better. Two thousand-seventeen, in contrast, was...well, let's just say it was a year many would like to forget. Edwards, a former program officer at the Ford Foundation and the editor of the Transformation blog on the openDemocracy site, had agreed to write a four-part series (check out parts one, two, and four) on the Bellagio Initiative, an effort funded by the Rockefeller Foundation to produce a new framework for philanthropic and international development, and his third post had much to say about how and when, in development work, we measure, how we use and interpret the results, and who decides these things — concerns as relevant today as they were in the final year of Barack Obama's first term in office.

Of course, smart thinking and useful advice never go out of fashion — as the posts gathered below amply demonstrate. Indeed, with an administration and majorities in both chambers of Congress seemingly determined to roll back many of the progressive gains achieved over the last half-century, nonprofits and social entrepreneurs working to protect the rights of marginalized and vulnerable populations, undo the vast harm caused by a systemically biased criminal justice system, combat the corrosive effects of money on our politics, and address the existential threat posed by climate change will need all the smart thinking and useful advice they can lay their hands on. So, sit back, buckle your seat belt, and get ready for 2018. It's going to be an...interesting year.

What have you read/watched/heard lately that got your attention, made you think, or charged you up? Feel free to share in the comments section below.

Interested in writing for PND or PhilanTopic? We'd love to hear from you. Send a few lines about your idea/article/post to mfn@foundationcenter.org.

The False Slogan of 'Right to Work': An Attack on Worker Freedom

December 18, 2017

NoRTW_buttonToday's economy is rigged against working families and in favor of the wealthy and the powerful. That's not by accident. CEOs and the politicians who do their bidding have written the rules that way, advancing their own interests at the expense of everyone else.

Now, they're trying to get the rigged system affirmed by the United States Supreme Court. In a few months, the justices will hear a case called Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, which would make so-called "right-to-work" the law of the land in the public sector, threatening the freedom of working people to join together in strong unions.

The powerful backers in this case have made no secret about their true agenda. They have publicly said that they want to "defund and defang" unions like the one I lead. They know that unions level the economic playing field. They know that unions give working people the power in numbers to improve their lives and communities and negotiate a fair return on their work while keeping the greed of corporate special interests in check.

Union membership is especially important for people of color, historically providing them with a ladder to the middle class and helping them earn their fair share of the wealth and the value they generate. More than half of African-Americans make less than $15 per hour. But belonging to a union is likely to lead to a substantial pay raise and superior benefits. African-American union members earn 14.7 percent more than their non-union peers. The union advantage for Latinos is even greater: 21.8 percent.

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5 Questions for…Vanessa Daniel, Founder and Executive Director, Groundswell Fund

December 07, 2017


Groundswell Fund
 is the largest funder of the reproductive justice movement in the United States. In addition to its CatalystRapid Response, and Birth Justice funds, the organization created the Liberation Fund in the wake of the 2016 elections to support effective grassroots organizing efforts led by women and transgender people of color across the social justice sector. A joint project of the Groundswell Fund and the newly created 501(c)(4) Groundswell Action Fund, the Liberation Fund will announce inaugural grants next week to grassroots organizations selected with the help of women leaders of color, including Alicia Garza, Ai-Jen Poo, Mary Hooks, and Linda Sarsour. 

PND spoke with Vanessa Daniel, founder and executive director of the fund, about intersectionality in the context of reproductive justice and racial equity and her hopes for the Liberation Fund. Before founding the fund in 2010, Daniel worked in grassroots organizing, advocacy, and grantmaking at the Tides FoundationSEIU, the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, and what is now Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation.

Philanthropy News Digest: You founded Groundswell Fund after working to advance LGBTQ rights as well as economic and environmental justice at various organizations. Why did you decide to focus on reproductive justice for women of color, low-income women, and transgender people?

Heashot_vanessa_danielVanessa Daniel: When I first learned about the reproductive justice (RJ) movement in 2005, I had been working in various social justice movements for ten years. The RJ movement had been founded a decade earlier by a group of black women and was on its way to becoming the largest force in the country in terms of engaging a multiracial base of women of color, low-income women, and LGBT people on reproductive issues and as grassroots organizers and activists. I was a young, twenty-something, queer, biracial woman of color from a working-class immigrant family on one side and raised by a second-wave white feminist single mother on the other.

I had, like many women of color, experienced what I lovingly refer to as a lot of bad "movement dates." Have you ever been on a date with someone who orders for you without asking what you want? Or people who talk about themselves the whole time without asking how your day was? Well, you can have the equivalent of that date with a social justice movement. It's not true for every organization, but for example, you have a lot of labor unions that invite women to the table but don't want to talk about reproductive issues, even though these issues are important to women. You have many immigrant rights groups that don't want to talk about LGBT rights, even though there are lots of LGBT people in the immigrant communities they are organizing. You have way too many white feminist organizations inviting women of color to the table and then not talking about race, even though racism is literally killing us. The reproductive justice movement was, quite simply, the best movement date I ever had, because it was the first time I had encountered a movement that didn't require me to leave any piece of myself or anyone I loved at the door in order to enter. I could be whole.

And here's why. There are three hallmarks of RJ: First, it's multi-issue. That means it says to people, yes, we are standing with you on the right to access abortion and contraception, but we are also standing with you to stop environmental pollution that is harming reproductive health; to stop mass incarceration and immigration detention and deportation that continues an ugly legacy of breaking up families of color that dates back to slavery and mission schools and immigration exclusion acts; to expand comprehensive sex ed in the public schools along with non-stigmatizing supports for young parents that don't shame and shut them out of their education; to expand access to birthing options like midwifery that are finally shifting racial disparities that have left black women four times more likely to die as a result of childbirth than white women in this country; to fight for LGBT rights. It's a holistic movement.

Second, it centers grassroots organizing as a strategy. It doesn't believe major social change trickles down from large organizations sitting "inside the beltway"; it believes it surges up from cities and states, from ordinary people holding their elected officials accountable in their home districts.

Third, it is a multiracial movement with significant leadership from women of color working alongside white women who are able to consider things through a racial justice lens. It is tactically impossible to move the needle on most social justice issues today without the leadership and engagement of communities of color, which, polls show us, vote in a more progressive direction down ballot on nearly every issue progressives care about.

The RJ movement exemplifies what it means to build a movement with the backbone to leave no one behind. And that, I believe, is the kind of movement that all social justice activists should be looking to build. RJ is shining a light on the path the larger progressive movement needs to walk in order to be successful.

PND: It's estimated that African-American women in the United States are three to four times more likely to die of childbirth-related complications than their white counterparts, while the infant mortality rate for babies of African-American mothers is more than twice that of babies of white mothers. What's behind these racial disparities?

VD: The data has perplexed many scientists, in part because when they control for education levels, economic status, diet and behavior, and other factors, the disparities still show up in the data. This means that middle-class, college-educated black women who take excellent care of their health are still dying at higher rates than low-income white women without a high school diploma. How does one explain that? There is a growing number of scientists, including epidemiologists who believe that racism itself is a major factor in these disparities. First, the racism and implicit bias of many medical practitioners often leads them to provide substandard care to women of color. Many studies back this up; one recent study, for example, shows that people of color, including children of color, are given significantly less pain medication than are white people.

Second, and very importantly, scientists are pointing to the impact that racism, experienced on a daily basis by people of color, has on the body. The midwifery and doula models of care we support are often run by women of color or by a multiracial staff that provides high-quality, culturally competent care. Our grantee Sacred Heart Birthplace in Espanola, New Mexico, has a 2 percent cesarean section rate, compared with a state average of 24 percent, and a 92 percent breastfeeding rate at six months post-delivery, compared with a state average of 26 percent. In Florida, our grantee Common Sense Childbirth has achieved a 0 percent preterm birth rate among black women, compared with the state average of 14.2 percent.

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5 Questions for...Laura Speer, Associate Director, Policy Reform and Advocacy, Annie E. Casey Foundation

October 30, 2017

Children are the future. In a country whose population is aging faster than expected, the implications of that truism should be of special concern. The Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private philanthropy based in Baltimore that works to improve the lives of America's children and their families, certainly believes so. And it backs that work up with data — lots of it, including its signature KIDS COUNT data book and center.

Earlier this month, the foundation published the second report (28 pages, PDF) in its Race for Results series, a KIDS COUNT spinoff that explores "the intersection of kids, race and opportunity" and describes many of the barriers to success facing children of color in America. The report also includes a section devoted to immigrant families and children, as well as policy recommendations designed to ensure that all children in America have the opportunity to realize their full potential.

PND spoke with Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and advocacy at the Casey Foundation, about the new report's findings, the potential consequences of Trump administration policies for immigrant children, and the economic argument for boosting spending on programs designed to improve health, education, and economic outcomes for kids of all races and color.

Headshot_laura_speerPhilanthropy News Digest: Your new report, the second in the Race for Results series, is based on data from 2013 to 2015 and shows general improvement across the board in most of the twelve indicators the foundation uses to measure how children from different racial backgrounds are faring on the path to opportunity. Were you surprised by any findings in the report?

Laura Speer: Well, we were happy to see improvement across the board in many of the measures we track. Of course, both reports covered periods when the country was recovering from the Great Recession, so it wasn't a huge surprise to see improvement in many of the measures — things like the percentage of young people who are graduating from high school or teen pregnancy rates. Those are areas where we're seeing improvement for all kids. What is disheartening, however, is that there really wasn't much of a change in the gaps that existed previously for African American, Native American, and Latino kids, all of whom, in the aggregate, are still lagging behind other groups of kids in terms of meeting these milestones.

PND: The report argues that we can't afford to ignore those disparities any longer. Moral arguments aside, why do we need to pay more attention to the barriers that prevent kids of color from reaching their full potential?

LS: We made the case in the first report, and we reiterate it again here, that in the United States today, slightly less than 50 percent of the child population are kids of color. However, demographic pro­jections show that that is going to change pretty quickly, and that kids of color will be the majority of the child population in just a few years. And, because kids grow up to be adults, people of color will comprise the majority of the workforce within the next couple of decades and the population of the country itself will be majority people of color by 2040 or so. In other words, today's kids of color are our future work force, the future parents of the next generation of American kids, the future leaders of our country. And that is why it is more important than ever that we not accept or get comfortable with these disparities, and why we've got to identify the factors that are contributing to the barriers to success that exist for kids of color and figure out how, as a country, we can design policies and programs that help more young people achieve their full potential. We need these kids and all the talents they possess if we want to be able to compete on a global scale and be successful as a country in the long run.

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Embrace Racial Healing to Change Hearts and Minds

August 22, 2017

Hands_photo_from_iStockPrior to the displays of hatred and the tragic loss of Heather Heyer,
a young woman who seemingly embraced the virtues of healing, a transformation was taking place in Charlottesville, Virginia. This college town, where roughly 80 percent of the residents are white, culminated a lawful process in February when its city council voted to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee from a city park.

Passionate acts came from opposing sides, as opponents filed suit
to stop the removal and the city changed the name of Lee Park to Emancipation Park. But there was honest dialogue and truth-telling, the ingredients for healing. Neighbors learned more about one another, their culture, and motivations. But the progress was derailed.

The protesters who converged in Charlottesville were largely white men often perceived as privileged in our society, and among their slogans was "We will not be replaced" by immigrants, blacks, Jews, or homosexuals. Instead of feeling empowered, they were threatened and seemed in pain. Their hearts and minds needed healing.

But racial healing doesn't begin until you intentionally, respectfully, and patiently uncover shared truths, as Charlottesville residents had begun to do before the violence and turmoil. Shared truths are not simply the removal of physical symbols, like monuments. While that may begin to change narratives, it doesn't reach the level of healing that jettisons racism from the land or creates equitable communities. Racism has persevered because remedies ranging from public accommodation laws to Supreme Court rulings are limited in scope and reach: They fail to change hearts and minds.

A new approach is needed that penetrates the full consciousness of our society, draws in all communities, and focuses on racial healing and truth-telling.

Racial healing can facilitate trust and authentic relationships that bridge vast divides created by race, religion, ethnicity, and economic status. Only after truths are shared, racism is acknowledged, and hearts begin to mend will communities begin to heal the wounds of the past and together move forward to address the bias in employment, education, housing, and health that causes widespread disparities and denies opportunities to our children.

To be sure, racial healing is predicated not just on emotional encounters such as saying, "I'm sorry"; rather, it's predicated on truth-telling. But who's truth? We all have our own truths, and we need collective conversations to help us in reaching a common truth and vision for the future based on what we decide.

And while sharing our individual truths requires that we share stories, reaching a common truth is more than a blending of stories. It's about co-creating morals, principles, wisdom, and guidance that is written on our hearts and captured in our faith and how we treat each other as human beings. It is developed by all of us in the courtyard, in town halls, and in living rooms with family and neighbors. That's where we develop "the" truth.

At the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, we promote racial healing because it moves people to act from their hearts. Real change happens when people work together and build relationships. Rarely does it occur when it is forced upon communities by laws and rulings. Last January, WKKF coordinated an annual National Day of Racial Healing that inspired civic, religious, community, and philanthropic organizations to collaborate on activities designed to facilitate racial healing. But we can't wait until next January to embrace racial healing.

Today, with the threat of unrest billowing through communities, our country needs to heal. All sides must air their fears and anxieties, and articulate their visions for a future where all children can thrive.

After centuries of racial hierarchy, all sides have been wounded. Whenever a policy or decision gives privileges to some and not others or perpetuates injustices, the collective community suffers, and part of our common humanity is lost. It leaves some wounded and unable to work toward our collective interest.

What is inspiring is the healing that is happening around the country. Earlier this year, two hundred people gathered at the Chicago Theological Seminary for an extraordinary day of racial healing. People of all races, genders, religions, and ethnicities gathered in healing circles to share their "truths" on the racism they endured or (consciously or unconsciously) unleashed on others. The healing circles were sanctuaries for truth-telling and helped people see one another, acknowledge differences, and begin to build authentic relationships.

WKKF, through our Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) framework, is supporting racial healing in fourteen places where the framework is being implemented. Since 2010, when our America Healing initiative launched, WKKF has actively promoted racial healing and supported racial healing practitioners who are available to help communities, concluding that:

  • Racial healing accelerates human capacity for resilience, for embracing one another, and for reconnecting people who previously had their identities denied back to their roots, culture, language, and rituals.
  • The focus of racial healing is our "collective humanity" and lifting up that which unites us rather than that which divides us, while discovering, respecting, and indeed honoring our unique experiences.
  • Racial healing will facilitate narrative change, which will help everyone in communities articulate the truth about their collective histories and be exposed to full, complete, and accurate representations of themselves and their communities.

Headshot_montgomery_tabronCommunities must heal so they can grow. Let's heal and build sustainable progress neighbor by neighbor, community by community, to transform America so all children can have a brighter future.

La June Montgomery Tabron is president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

NMAAHC and the Museum of the Future

August 07, 2017

In my previous post, I shared details of a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, during which I had the opportunity to meet with Rhea L. Combs and Jon S. Goff of the museum’s film and photography program. With the help of Combs and Goff, I also was able to connect with a number of staff in related areas and quickly came to appreciate that another important dimension of NMAAHC — really, the key to its identity — is technology and the way, today, it has been integrated into exhibition design, audience engagement, and the extension of a museum's programs beyond its walls.

Nmaahc_separate-but-not-equalThis includes things like interactive exhibits, touch screens, livestreaming of events, and much more. As I visited  various galleries, for example, I encountered an impressive number of items, many of them digitized; the museum is committed to sharing the majority of its collection with the public rather than keeping it in storage. I was also struck by how all the exhibits I saw were beautifully enhanced by digital technology, including one wall of objects that delighted a group of teens as they took turns touching images and uncovering additional information on everything from baseball memorabilia to pop culture couture.

In Best of Both Worlds: Museums, Libraries, and Archives in a Digital Age (78 pages, PDF), former secretary of the Smithsonian G. Wayne Clough notes that the institution has committed to digitizing millions of objects in its collection and anticipates that the initiative will make the collection more accessible in ways we can hardly imagine.

As Clough explained in a 2013 interview on Smithsonian.com: "In the past, the creative activities were entirely behind the walls of museums and collection centers. The public only got access through labels in exhibitions, which told them what we thought. Now, in this new world…, people are going to be engaged with us in a conversation, not a monologue."

Museums established prior to the digital age have had to rethink their collections and reconfigure space to accommodate these developments, but NMAAH's long lead time has been an advantage in this regard. Although Congress voted to establish the museum in 2003, African- American veterans of the Civil War first proposed the idea for a museum devoted to the African-American experience in 1915. Founding director Lonnie G. Bunch III, whose career as a historian and curator includes several previous Smithsonian positions, arrived in 2005 with a staff of two. (The museum employs nearly two hundred people today.) The museum itself didn't open until 2016, but Bunch and his small staff launched its first program in 2007, embracing technology and partnering with other Smithsonian museums, including the National Museum of American History (which hosted the photography show I wrote about in my previous post), in 2009.  

In a Smithsonian magazine article marking the museum's opening last fall, Bunch elaborated: "Rather than simply plan for a building that would be a decade away, we felt that it was crucial to curate exhibitions, publish books, craft the virtual museum online — in essence, to demonstrate the quality and creativity of our work to potential donors, collectors, members of Congress, and the Smithsonian."

 "Black Culture and History Matter," an article by folklorist Kirsten Mullen in The American Prospect, emphasizes this point: "The NMAAHC is the first major museum to 'open' on the web before its physical structure is even built."

A PND On the Web profile of the museum earlier this year praises its "standout" website; director Bunch credits early support from IBM for the site. (IBM has contributed more than $1 million to the museum.) The PND profile notes that the site allows visitors to access collections and exhibits, and highlights a section for educators, a mobile app, and the Many Lenses initiative, which features staff at several Smithsonian museums discussing personally selected objects in their respective collections.

With thousands of objects, programs, and exhibitions to manage, the museum has done a marvelous job — and should be credited — for the amount of material  already on display and the many points of access to those materials provided to the public. Even so, as I consulted the website for information on the museum's many areas, projects, resources, and exhibitions, I sometimes found it difficult to navigate the volume of information. (To help readers of this article, I've included links throughout.)   

Even before it opened, NMAAHC could take advantage of the Transcription Center, the Smithsonian-wide project mentioned in my previous post. In his 2013 interview, Clough anticipated a future in which a museum would "crowdsource its research," an experiment the Smithsonian had just launched with the center. Fully operational now, the center has mobilized a corps of nearly nine thousand digital volunteers from all over the world who have transcribed more than two thousand projects using their own computers and broadband connections. The volunteer transcriptions are reviewed by center staff and then posted on the Web, where they can be accessed by researchers and the general public.

Laura Coyle, collection manager and head of cataloging and digitization, tells me that since the museum joined the transcription initiative in 2015, thirty-four collections or items in the NMAAHC project have been transcribed. As an example, the James Baldwin collection, with a hundred and twenty-four pages of material, was completed thanks to the efforts of forty-three volunteers.

Another project is focused on indexing and transcribing the archives of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, which was created by the U.S. government after the Civil War to address the problems of the four million formerly enslaved people and hundreds of thousands of impoverished white people living in the South; there are nearly two million letters, reports, contracts, and other documents related to administration of the bureau. Preserved by the National Archives, the materials are now being made accessible to the public. NMAAHC’s "Freedmen’s Bureau Project" includes a partnership with FamilySearch International, which has indexed the material to capture names and dates, allowing people to search for ancestors. With the assistance of the Transcription Center, the museum also is in the process of transcribing bureau documents.

 "So far, we've made available all thirty thousand records of the Assistant Commissioner for North Carolina," Coyle tells me. "And we're continuing to process and prepare the remaining records for transcription and will eventually make available the entire Freedmen's Bureau collection online and through the Robert Frederick Smith Explore Your Family History Center at the museum."

In addition to the transcription work, NMAAHC has created at least a minimal digital record of all thirty-seven thousand items in its collection — photographs, documents, and artifacts. To date, more than eight thousand images are available online via the Collection Search page. And later this year, the museum will expand access to its film and video collection (which at the moment is only available via YouTube), making it viewable directly through the museum's website.

"Because so much is possible through digitization," says Coyle, "it makes all the other things we do possible: our website, our prints and publications, our exhibits, our mobile access. And we were able to do everything right from the start."

I ask Coyle, who has a degree in art history and worked at the National Gallery of Art and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington prior to joining NMAAHC in 2010, if her education and experience prepared her for the opportunities, and challenges, of the digital age.

"This job did not exist when I was in school," she says. "Museums started using digital tools to manage collections when personal computers became widely available in the nineteen-eighties. With the advent of the Web in the nineties, museums realized they could share their collections and stories digitally, but no one was quite sure how to do this. We just couldn't imagine all the ways digitization would be a part of our lives.  Now, of course, actual and virtual visitors expect museums to offer a variety of digital experiences. But we still don't know what the digital museum will be in the future. NMAAHC was committed to digitization from the start and remains committed to the digital museum concept, wherever that takes us."

Coyle tells me that when she came on board, "It was just me working in this area. Everyone was focused on building the collection and building the building."

Today, her staff of nineteen includes specialists in cataloging, record creation, rights and reproductions, digital assets management, and photography. Rounding out the "Digi Team" are the five media digitization and preservation staff working in the Digitization Media Center. All together, the team produces catalog records and images for internal and public platforms; reformats audio-visual materials; manages digital materials and intellectual property rights related to collections; responds to requests for collection information; and oversees publication projects.

"My team is a service organization within the museum," Coyle says. "We work with the curatorial team and participate in the creation of digital content for various platforms. That's essential for online and traditional exhibitions, collection research, and publications." For instance, of the nearly twenty-five thousand photographs in the museum's collection, a digital archive of more than sixty-three hundred photographs is now accessible through the website.

But keeping up is a challenge. "Digitization is time consuming and costly," says Coyle. "At this point, only 25 percent of the museum's collection is well cataloged, imaged, and online to the public — our definition of fully digitized. And we're continuing to collect, so digitization will always be a little behind. Cataloging is also an ongoing process and we can always add more information. People expect a lot in this area, so we want to meet the demand as much as we can."

Meanwhile, demand is growing. In the first three months of this year, for instance, 319,000 people visited the museum's Collection Search page. "We know that people are searching our collection online" says Coyle. "And we'll be collecting more analytics to learn more about what visitors do once they get there."

The Digi Team also manages the Collection Stories feature on the website, where NMAAHC staff are invited to share their response to an item in the permanent exhibits. Coyle chose the dress worn by Carlotta Walls ("Dress for the Occasion") on the historic day in 1957 when Walls helped integrate an Arkansas high school as one of the "Little Rock Nine." An image of the dress, digitized along with related photographs and documents, appears there and is also available through Collection Search.

"That dress made a mighty impression on me," Coyle tells me, "and I was really honored to meet Carlotta Walls LaNier, who donated the dress to the museum."

Collecting the Collection

One of the defining qualities of NMAAHC is its process for acquiring material. Collecting began a decade ago, and director Bunch has described the task of starting a collection before a museum even opens in various interviews. In a 2016 Washington Business Journal article, he shared some of the details of his own family history, what led him to become a historian, and some of the experiences that helped shape his vision for the museum.

"I thought the best thing we could do," Bunch said in that interview, "was to use African-American culture as a lens to understand what it was to be American. This was not a museum for black people by black people. It was a museum for resilience, for optimism."

He then related a story about the first item received by the museum, the result of a serendipitous meeting with an Ecuadoran man, Juan Garcia, who subsequently donated a canoe seat carved a century ago by his great-grandmother, who lived in a community of escaped slaves — an encounter that impressed upon Bunch the presence and history of Africans throughout the Americas.

"That artifact helped me frame the museum as a global museum, not just an American museum," he told the Business Journal. "That was transformative for me."

But not all items came to the museum that serendipitously. In the 2016 Smithsonian.com article mentioned above, Bunch shared the concerns he felt in those early days.

"Maybe it was the curator in me, but what worried me the most was whether we could find the stuff of history, the artifacts that would tell the story of this community," he said. "Some of the early plans for the museum de-emphasized artifacts, partly out of a belief that there were few to be collected and technology could fill any void. But I already knew that even if you have the very best technology, a tech-driven institution would fail. People come to the Smithsonian museums to revel in the authentic."

Bunch reflected on his experiences, over his career, with "community-driven collecting," including reaching out to African-American families and securing gifts "over a cup of tea." And he spoke eloquently of the urgency he feels to find and preserve these artifacts.

"I believed that all of the twentieth century, most of the nineteenth, maybe even a bit of the eighteenth might still be in trunks, basements, and attics around the country. I also knew that as America changed, family homesteads would be broken up and heirlooms would be at risk. We had to start collecting now, because the community's material culture might [not] exist in ten years."

With support from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the museum created "Save Our African American Treasures," a program designed to appeal directly to communities and surface those forgotten items stashed away in attics and trunks while at the same time educating people on how to preserve family photos, documents, and artifacts. That approach continues, although as the museum's staff has grown to include professional curators, the approach to curation and the collection has shifted.

At the same time, the stories of Naomi Long Madgett, the poet who donated the films of Rev. Jones to CAAMA (see my earlier post), and Carlotta Walls LaNier, who donated her dress, are echoed over and over in the larger collection. While many items in the NMAAHC collection have been purchased, many more have been donated by people whose fervent desire is to see the preservation of their family history.

According to Michèle Gates Moresi, supervisory curator of collections at NMAAHC, the vast majority of the items in the collection have been donated. "I don't have a current count of the total number of people who have donated artifacts to the museum," she said in an email exchange, "but last summer, when we organized a special event for object donors, we had a list of more than sixteen hundred." An estimate of the value of all the artifacts donated does not exist, but the donated material is quite possibly the museum's most valuable asset. In addition, many individuals have stepped up with monetary donations; as of the end of the first quarter, the museum had a hundred and sixty thousand charter members, some who had given substantial amounts, and many more who had donated what they could.

(The generosity of donors is a consistent theme in studies of African-American philanthropy. A recent PND article points out that "African-American households tend to give more of their discretionary income — as much as 25 percent more — to charitable causes than white Americans; that figure increases as African Americans move into the ranks of the wealthy.")

A Great Convener

In Lonnie Bunch's interview with the late Gwen Ifill shortly before the museum opened, the PBS NewsHour co-anchor, in reference to a series of racial incidents around the country, stated, "We are at a crossroads in our country." Bunch agreed with her characterization and expressed his conviction that NMAAHC could play a positive role in moving forward as a society. 

"Our job is to create a space that, through dialogue and exhibitions, can make America better," he added. "We expect this to be one of the most diversely visited places in the U.S. In surveys, 75 percent of white Americans said this is a story they want to know as well. I hope this museum will continue to evolve, continue to change, because it really has to be a place that is the great convener."

Since I attended my first NMAAHC exhibition (the 2009 photography show I mentioned in my earlier post), I've been looking forward to seeing the finished museum. Even at a time when interest and scholarship about the African-American experience has flourished, it has not always been easy to learn about that history and culture. NMAAHC redresses that gap; its film and media programs in particular are reaching audiences on a deep emotional level, and the integration of technology in almost every aspect of its operations has greatly enhanced its impact. The museum's collection and the way it is presented affirm an African-American identity, as was always the intention. But the museum also succeeds brilliantly in advancing the mission crafted by its founders and articulated by Bunch: "To tell the story of America through an African American lens."

Kathryn Pyle is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. Check out her other posts for PhilanTopic here.

Weekend Link Roundup (August 5-6, 2017)

August 06, 2017

Sam-shepard-in-winterOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

African Americans

We begin with this week's startling statistic. According to the Pew Research Center, one out of four black Americans have faced online harassment because of their race or ethnicity.

Arts and Culture

On the James Irvine Foundation blog, Leslie Payne, a senior program at the foundation, asks: What does it mean to participate in the arts today?

Education

On the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Jen Wilka, executive director of YouthTruth, reports  on key findings of a survey of more than 55,000 high school students that asked them how prepared they feel for life after high school.

Here on PhilanTopic, Alexis Morin, co-founder and executive director of Students for Education Reform, reports that a survey of first-generation college students conducted by her organization found that the majority of them feel unprepared for college.

And in a post for the Hechinger Report, Nicole Dobo shares key findings from Time to Act 2017: Put Data in the Hands of People, which argues that while the use of data in formulating education policy has evolved for the better, parents and teachers still find it difficult to get access to that data.

Immigration

The last time the federal government tried to slow the legal immigration to the United States by adopting a merit-based system was fifty years ago — and Lyndon Johnson was president. Alana Semuels reports The Atlantic.

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Toward More Inclusive Diversity in the Philanthropic Sector: LGBTQ People and People With Disabilities

July 28, 2017

DiversityThe philanthropic sector has taken steps to address the lack of inclusion of women and people of color in its talent pool. But newly released research from the Council on Foundations reveals that several demographics often are missing from philanthropic talent conversations and decisions.

The reason for this may well be a lack of data. For almost thirty years, the council has collected data on grantmaker staff composition and compensation in the United States. Our annual Grantmaker Salary and Benefits Survey represents a set of data points from more than a thousand grantmakers, including data on nearly ten thousand full-time paid professional and administrative staff members.

Using this rich dataset, we analyzed the demographics of the philanthropic sector looking back five and ten years, with a focus on the representation of women and people of color. Our recently released report, State of Change: An Analysis of Women and People of Color in the Philanthropic Sector, highlights findings based on that analysis.

Even our large dataset, however, lacked sufficient data for us to be able to conduct any meaningful analysis with regard to sexual orientation, gender identity, and physical/intellectual disability.

That raises a number of important questions. Are the LGBTQ population and people with disabilities simply underrepresented within the talent pool available to the sector? Are survey respondents reluctant to report on these particular demographics? There are no simple answers. Much has been said about the underrepresentation of women and people of color in top jobs at the nation's foundations, and several organizations have developed fellowship and pipeline programs designed to bolster the diversity of the next generation of philanthropic leaders. Role models such as the California Endowment's Robert K. Ross and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's La June Montgomery Tabron also serve as champions for the importance of diverse and inclusive institutions that embrace equitable grantmaking practices.

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National Museum of African American History and Culture: ‘The Story of America Through an African-American Lens’

July 25, 2017

NMAAHC_gettyOn a very cold, very sunny March day, I make my way down the National Mall in Washington, D.C., walking from Union Station to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the newest addition to the Smithsonian Institution complex. I am going to talk with Rhea L. Combs, NMAAHC’s curator of photography and film, about its media arts program. In 2009, I attended and wrote about an early exhibition organized by the museum, "The Scurlock Studio and Black Washington: Picturing the Promise." The photography show was held at the museum's then-temporary base in the National Museum of American History. NMAAHC moved into its own building on the Mall in September 2016.

As I approach the museum from the south, I am treated to a dazzling view of the museum's facade. I've seen photographs of the building with its three tiers of filigreed metal wrapping all four sides of the glass-walled structure, forming what its architect calls an "outer corona," and the bright sunshine reflecting off the building's surface this morning truly suggests something fiery.

Inside, school groups and other visitors pack the lobby and are lined up on the subterranean floor waiting for their tours to begin. NMAAHC welcomed its millionth visitor in February and is expecting six million by the end of year.

The museum has been the subject of many articles, from its award-winning design (see Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times) to its often challenging and emotionally moving exhibits (Vann R. Newkirk II in The Atlantic). The museum's mission was summed up by founding director Lonnie G. Bunch III in an interview on the PBS Newshour with Gwen Ifill a few days before it opened to the public: "This is the story of America through an African American lens." Appropriate, then, that in this post and the one that follows, I will focus on the museum's photography and film program and the donors who made it possible.

Center for African American Media Arts (CAAMA)

Before catching up with Combs, I have time to walk through the second-floor gallery of the Earl W. and Amanda Stafford Center for African American Media Arts (CAAMA), which she directs.

As stated on the museum's website, CAAMA was created to "explore the formation of African American history and culture through media arts, including photography, film, video, and audio recordings." The center's holdings and offerings encompass photographs, film, and video; in-house publications; public programs; a resource center; and a digital archive. Some of these components are already in place, while others are in development or being refined.

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Weekend Link Roundup (June 3-4, 2017)

June 04, 2017

Pittsburgh office media carousel skyline triangle  700x476Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

African Americans

In an op-ed for the New York Times, Melissa Harris-Perry, a professor in the department of politics and international affairs at Wake Forest University, television personality, and founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center, has some advice for the NAACP, which recently announced the departure of its president, Cornell William Brooks, and its intention to pursue an "organization-wide refresh."

Climate Change

Hours after Donald Trump claimed "to represent the voters of Pittsburgh in his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement," Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto announced his support for a goal of powering the city entirely with clean and renewable energy by 2035. Shane Levy reports for the Sierra Club. (And you can read Peduto's executive order to that effect here.)

Although there's no doubt that "President Trump’s decision to abandon the Paris Agreement on global warming is a short-sighted mistake," writes Nature Conservancy president Mark Tercek, the jury is still out as to whether "the decision [will] unravel the entire agreement."

Fundraising

We missed this post by Vu Le outlining the principles of community-centric fundraising when it was first published in the lead up to the Memorial Day weekend. But it is definitely worth your time.

Hey, Mr./Ms. Nonprofit Fundraiser, job got you down and almost out? Beth Kanter shares four warning signs of burnout — and easy ways to make yourself feel better.

On the GuideStar blog, BidPal's Joshua Meyer looks at five unexpected benefits of text-to-give software.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (April 2017)

May 03, 2017

For those in the Northeast, April was rainy, cool, and dreary. Here on the blog, though, things were hopping, with lots of new readers and contributors. The sun is back out, but before you head outside, check out the posts PhilanTopic readers especially liked over the last thirty days.

What have you read/watched/heard lately that got your attention, made you think, or charged you up? Feel free to share with our readers in the comments section below. Or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Weekend Link Roundup (April 29-30, 2017)

April 30, 2017

World_peace_in_our_handsOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Children and Youth

In a post on the Colorado Trust site, Kristin Jones, the trust's assistant director of communications, details three of the structural factors that, according to the latest data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation's KIDS COUNT initiative,  are holding back children in the state, with real consequences for their health.

Communications/Marketing

As if there isn't already enough in the world to disagree about, design shop Elevation has created a gallery showcasing its favorite 75 nonprofit logos. Let the games begin!

Environment

Barry Gold, director of the Environment program at the Walton Family Foundation, explains why fishing reforms recently enacted in Indonesia and the U.S. Gulf Coast region point the way to a more sustainable fishing industry in the twenty-first century.

Foundation Center has launched a new Web portal, FundingTheOcean.org, designed to help funders and activists track, inform, and inspire ocean conservation. 

The UN Foundation's Justine Sullivan shares seven reasons why the U.S. would be foolish to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Food Insecurity

On the Civil Eats site, Mark Winne talks to Andy Fisher, author of the new book, Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance Between Corporate America and Anti-Hunger Groups, about poverty, the "business" of hunger, and Fisher's vision for a new anti-hunger movement.

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5 Questions for...Alma Powell, Chair, America’s Promise Alliance

April 24, 2017

America's Promise Alliance, the nation's largest network dedicated to improving the lives of children and youth, is marking its twentieth anniversary on April 18 with a Recommit to Kids Summit and Promise Night Gala in New York City. PND spoke via email with Alma Powell, the network's chairwoman, about its work, the progress it has made toward its goals over the last twenty years, and what every American can do to help.

Headshot_alma_powellPhilanthropy News Digest: A lot has changed since America's Promise was founded twenty years ago. Are the Five Promises to America's children and youth announced at the Presidents' Summit for America's Future in Philadelphia in April 1997 — caring adults, safe places to learn and play, a healthy start, an effective education, and an opportunity to serve — as relevant today as they were twenty years ago? And what, if anything, would you add to those five promises?

Alma Powell: The Five Promises are just as relevant and necessary today as they were twenty years ago. I can't imagine that ever changing. They are rooted in both sound social science and common sense and represent the minimal conditions that every child, in every neighborhood, has a right to expect. If these objectives aren't met, it is not the fault of children; it is a collective failure of adults in this country.

I wouldn't add another promise to the five. When it comes to young people, we don't need to reinvent the wheel. We need to summon the will.

PND: Of the five commitments that form the core of the organization's mission, which has been kept most successfully, and where has progress been unexpectedly difficult?

AP: Thanks to the work of researchers and youth development experts, we know a lot more about what young people need to thrive. Better data helps us pinpoint educational problems by school district, school, and student, enabling us to focus help exactly where it is most needed. At the same time, more nonprofits and other organizations are involved in this work than ever before; advances in neuroscience have opened new windows into how children learn and have underscored the importance of the early childhood years; and scientific breakthroughs on the impact of adversity, high levels of stress, and trauma have taught us a lot about why some students struggle and how they might be helped.

All that has led to progress. Today, infant and child mortality rates are lower, rates of smoking and alcohol use among teens are lower, and high school graduation rates are up. More young people are living in homes with parents who graduated high school, and more students are attending college.

But there's more work to do. The child poverty rate is about the same as it was twenty years ago, snd social and economic mobility has stagnated. If we're to help more young people get on a more sustainable path to the middle class, we need to address the issues behind generational poverty and its long-term effects on young people. 

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Support Girls of Color by Listening First

April 19, 2017

NOVO Pre Young black girls Conf Gathering 4172016_DSC7603CLast year, the NoVo Foundation announced a seven-year, $90 million commitment to support and deepen the movement for girls of color in the United States. After more than a decade of partnership with incredible organizations working with and advocating on behalf of adolescent girls across the country, we saw that the need for additional funding to support girls of color specifically could not be more urgent or clear.

Girls of color face structural barriers in nearly every aspect of their lives. Over 60 percent of girls of color are born to families living on low incomes or below the poverty line. Sexual violence is pervasive in the lives of all girls and often goes neglected, especially for girls of color. What's more, girls of color who face harm are often unfairly penalized. Black girls, for example, are six times more likely to be suspended in school than their white peers — and are disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system. At least eight trans women have already been murdered this year, most of them women and girls of color. All these disparities combine and deepen into new disparities in adulthood: the median wealth for single black women, for example, is just $100, compared to $44,000 for single white men.

Despite this profound structural inequity, a movement for and with girls of color thrives. And we knew that the best way to deepen our own relationship with this movement was to be guided directly by the women and girls of color who'd been leading it for decades — rather than by our own assumptions. Otherwise, we'd simply be reinforcing the very structural barriers and power structures we sought to dismantle.

So, before developing a new strategy to guide our work, we spent a year traveling across the country, from the Northeast to the rural South, from the Midwest to the Southwest, to hear from girls of color as well as activists, movement leaders, and organizers of all ages. We prioritized communities that are often underresourced, less visible, and living with their own unique challenges — as well as possessing unique strengths.

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    — James Baldwin (1924-1987)

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