46 posts categorized "Criminal Justice"

A Conversation With Kavitha Mediratta, Executive Director, Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity

February 09, 2018

Chattel slavery — a practice (and later institution) in which enslaved Africans and African Americans were bought, sold, or traded as property at the whim of their "owners" — was common in British America from the earliest colonial days. Gaining a foothold in the tobacco country of Virginia and Maryland in the seventeenth century and spreading north and south from there, it was well established in the mid-Atlantic and South by the time of independence, reinforced, as historian Ira Berlin writes, by a regime of violence that was "systemic and relentless; the planters’ hegemony required that slaves stand in awe of their owners. Although they preferred obedience to be given rather than taken, planters understood that without a monopoly of firepower and a willingness to employ terror, plantation slavery would not long survive."

The violence employed by the slaveholding class to protect and extend its authority was, as Berlin notes, buttressed by special judicial codes, the courts (including the Supreme Court), and the U.S. Constitution itself. As the institution grew in scale and scope in the nineteenth century, driven in part by the invention of the cotton gin, which greatly boosted the profitability of cotton as a crop, and the outlawing of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the slaveholding class stepped up its efforts to promote ideologies that justified the institution’s existence — as well as the brutality and means, judicial and extra-judicial, used to maintain it.

While these explicitly racist attitudes were, as Eric Eustace Williams has argued, a consequence of slavery rather than its cause, their regrettable persistence has caused incalculable damage to American society, infected countries such as South Africa — which continues to struggle with its own history of racial apartheid — and even today divide Americans against each other. Indeed, whether America ever comes to grips with the pernicious legacy of slavery remains an open question.

Recently, PND spoke with Kavitha Mediratta, founding executive director of Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity, a ten-year, $60 million initiative launched by Atlantic Philanthropies, about that question and what her program is doing to support creative leaders dedicated to dismantling anti-black racism in both the United States and South Africa.

Mediratta previously served as chief strategy advisor for equity initiatives and human capital development at Atlantic and before that led the education program at the New York Community Trust and directed school reform programs at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University and the Institute for Education and Social Policy at New York University. She has, in addition, written extensively on race and educational opportunity in the U.S., with a focus on inequalities in school discipline, and has taught in elementary and middle schools in New Jersey, Chicago, and India.

Headshot_kavitha_medirattaPhilanthropy News Digest: How did you get into philanthropy and racial equity work?

Kavitha Mediratta: Well, actually, racial equity work is what led me into philanthropy. I came to the United States with my parents, who are Indian, when I was three, and we settled in a community on Long Island where we were pretty isolated. This was in the 1970s, and we thought America's days as a segregated society were behind it, but that's not really how it was on Long Island when I was growing up, and from an early age I was exposed to some of the contradictions between the idea of America as a place of opportunity for all people, and the way in which black people in America and others who are seen as different often are treated.

As a result, I became interested in racial equity pretty early on. I worked as a teacher and then as an organizer and policy analyst before ending up doing a lot of work with parents and high school students to improve public schools, which I saw as a key locus of opportunity for young people of color but that too often failed to deliver on those opportunities to help children realize their full potential. And it's really the work I did with young people that brought me to philanthropy, and Atlantic [Philanthropies], which had long supported people of color who were working to reform public education, and public institutions more broadly, in America.

PND: What are we talking about when we talk about racial equity? Do you have a definition that informs your day-to-day work?

KM: For us, racial equity is about creating a society in which opportunities and outcomes for people are not defined on the basis of racial categories. But we go a little bit further than equity, in that we talk about dismantling anti-black racism, aka white supremacy, as an important step toward building a truly just and inclusive society. And what we mean by a just and inclusive society is a world in which everyone has the opportun­ities they need not only to thrive, but to be seen fully for who they are, which is an important thing, since, at the moment, only some people in America are seen fully. The question is, How can we build a world in which all people are seen fully for who and what they are, and who are treated with the dignity, respect, and right to self-determination that all members of our national and global community deserve?

PND: Is racial equity solely about color, or is it also about power and privilege and the way both are distri­buted in society?

KM: It is absolutely about power and privilege in society. Color is just one form of exclusion, one form of what John Powell calls "othering," that we do when defining who belongs and who doesn’t. Gender is another, and so is sexual orientation and religion and disability — there are so many different ways to deny people opportunities and justice and being seen for who they are as full human beings. So, our work uses race as one lens on the larger question of what it truly means to build a just and inclusive society. And it absolutely does involve power and privilege and recognizing that we're not talking about just switching who is on top but asking what we need to do to create a world in which opportunities and resources are distributed more fairly and equitably.

You know, I have conver­sa­tions with white people who express concern that we're moving to a world in which they will be discriminated against. And I tell them that it’s not a zero-sum game. Instead, they need to think of American society as a hundred-meter dash where some people, white people, get to start at the fifty-meter mark. All we're saying is that everyone should start from the same starting line. And that means people have to be aware of the privileges they have and be willing to extend those privileges to others.

The other issue that white people sometimes struggle with is understanding that racism and other forms of discrimination operate structurally. In our society, people often conflate racism with individual forms of bias and they miss the way in which racialized or genderized or heteronormative processes function systematically in our society to shape the opportunities and life trajectories of people, and also how these processes exist in a self-protective way to maintain the power and privilege of dominant groups. We see this shape-shifting phenomenon in almost every arena of public life. Look at schools: the desegregation efforts of the 1970s gave rise to in-school tracking that shunted black students into impoverished classroom settings, which in turn preserved white privilege despite efforts to disrupt it.

PND: If we've learned anything over the last year, it's that a lot of people with power and privilege aren't that interested in sharing it. Should we be surprised by that?

KM: No, I don't think we should be surprised. But I also don't think we should assume that people with power and privilege have no interest in sharing it. I think that's true for some people, certainly, but others are truly unaware of the power and privilege they have. They've moved through the world thinking of themselves as individuals who have succeeded on their own merit and are aghast at the idea that they may be complicit in a system that perpetuates discrimination against other people, and they want to do something about that.

It's important for us to bring some nuance to this conversation and understand that, while there are many people who have power who don’t want to share it, there are others who truly believe in the possibility of a just and equitable world and want to be part of creating such a world. So the question is, How do we tap into those people and enlist them as allies in the struggle and help them think about what they can do from their positions of power and privilege to educate others and to help us create new structures that uphold our values of justice, equity, inclusion, compassion, and the commitment to valuing people for the fullness of who they are? What do those new systems look like, at the base level of governmental and economic structures? Cultural narratives? Policy, practice? And for those who don't want to share their power and privilege, it becomes a question of what can we do to help create the conditions in which they see it in their own best interests to do so and to understand the relationship between the well-being of others and their own well-being.

PND: Let's talk about your program, Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity. What was the genesis of the program, and how did you become involved?

KM: I was chief strategy officer at Atlantic Philanthropies when the program was conceived. I had come to Atlantic from grassroots organizing work to work on school-to-prison pipeline issues, which at their core are about the racial injustice suffered by young people of color across the country. Atlantic is a limited-life foundation, as you know, and leadership was thinking deeply about how to end its work in a way that further advanced the work of people around the globe working for equity and inclusion. And one of the things they came up with was a strategy for supporting groups of leaders working around pressing social issues in countries where, historically, Atlantic had been engaged as a grantmaker. The Fellows for Racial Equity was part of that strategy. From the beginning, the program's focus was on the U.S. and South Africa, two countries where Atlantic has a long history of grantmaking, and it was developed with an understanding that issues of structural racism and inequality are not unique to the U.S. or South Africa but are actually global issues, and that by focusing on these two countries, the program might be able to contribute to a global shift in attitudes with respect to these issues, in addition to driving change in the two countries.

PND: The program just named its first cohort of fellows, and, as you mentioned, they hail from both the U.S. and South Africa. What criteria did you use in selecting the first group of fellows?

KM: First, let me say that this group of fellows is quite diverse. The majority of them are in their thirties, but they range in age from their twenties all the way up to sixty. When selecting them, we were looking for people who embody effective leadership and are working to dismantle anti-black racism and white supremacy. In addition to possessing an awareness of issues of racial exclusion, we also looked for a vision that understood the relationship between racialized forms of oppression and other types of exclu­sion, including those having to do with gender and gender identity, disability, religion, and so on.

In short, we were looking for people who were very thoughtful about what it means — and is required — to build a just and inclusive world. Some of them are artists, some are grassroots activists, some of them are lawyers, a few are academics, but all are on their own profes­sion­al journey and, for the most part, are sort of mid-career in the work they are doing. But at the same time they are looking to grow and develop and learn from other people that are working to make change happen.

One of the things we talk a lot about in AFRE is creating a program that provides an experience that supports fellows learning from other people, in other sectors, working on other issues, in other regions. A program that allows fellows to step back from their day-to-day work and develop a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree view of the problem of racial exclusion and the things that can be done to address structural racism in our society. All our fellows bring a history and self-awareness to their work, but they’re also interested in learning and growing and developing their tools. And they want a space where they can get out of their own work silos, whether they're a lawyer working on criminal justice or an activist working on education, and spend time in a setting where they can learn from others and think about what more can be done to dismantle anti-black racism and white supremacy.

PND: Is AFRE a learning community?

KM: It is a learning community, but at the same time we have some goals for the program and for our fellows. We want them to deepen their understanding of structural racism, particularly in thinking about how it manifests itself in emerging global problems — for example in climate change, or the growing dominance of the tech sector, or the emergence of the surveillance state. How does it manifest itself in the way work is structured in the twenty-first century, both in the U.S. and in South Africa? We want our fellows to expand their understanding of these and other issues and, at the same time, expand the repertoire of strategies and tactics they're able to bring to bear on their own work. At the end of the day, it's really about giving them a broader set of tools they can use in their work.

The other thing our program focuses on is supporting fellows in their individual leadership trajectories. In other words, what does it mean to lead from your individual values and vision? So many times we see leaders running organizations in ways that are not equitable and that run counter to what they actually believe. Some­times they're aware of that, and sometimes they’re not. Part of what we're trying to do is to ask, How can you be the leader you want to be and that the world needs now? And we think that means being really clear about what your values are and developing the skills needed to build organizations and create interventions that reflect those values.

PND: Tell us about a couple of your fellows and the work they’re doing.

KM: Sure. We have a young man from South Africa named Brian Kamanzi who is black and Indian; his family has been there a long time. Brian went to the University of Cape Town to get a degree in engineering and is now working on his master’s, and at school he became involved in the #FeesMustFall movement, which is a student protest movement that spread across the country in 2015 in response to an increase in university fees. It's been twenty years since the end of apartheid in South Africa, and who is it that is able to access higher education there? The reality is that it's still very, very diffi­cult for black South Africans and South Africans of color to afford the costs associated with an advanced degree.

So, Brian became involved in the movement, challenging the history of structural racism in South Africa and the problems the country faces today. He has been thinking about how to bring his en­gineering training to bear on the unequal distribution of economic resources in the country, which led him to renewable energy models and how they might be used in a redistributive way to address inequality in South Africa.

Here in the U.S., Rasheedah Phillips, a lawyer from Philadelphia, has been doing a lot of work with black communities around dis­placement caused by gentrification and also working with members of those communities on issues of sexual assault and violence and looking at many of the structural issues and solutions to those problems.

She's very interested in the way in which policy and regulations frequently disadvantage black communities by impos­ing particular obstacles, for example a certain window of time in which you have to respond to a court order, or the imposition of fines and fees on defendants who cannot afford them, and other practices and policies that serve to disempower poor people who have fewer re­sources to bear in complying with the institutional demands of the court system, or any other system, for that matter. She is both supporting individuals who are trying to advocate on their own behalf but also looking at some of the ways policy could be changed to address both the constraints on and rights of black communities. She's done a lot of thinking and writing about the ways in which institutional cultures replicate particular patterns of disempowerment for black commun­ities and other communities of color.

PND:  What kinds of things are you planning over the next year to bring fellows together to facilitate shared learning and help them disseminate their work to a broader audience?

KM: We have eighteen fellows from the U.S. and eleven from South Africa, and we talk all the time about them belonging to a single cohort that extends across two nations. The first time we bring them together, they'll be introduced to the program and learn about each others' work. Later, all of them will spend some time in Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, where they will learn about the important place of those two cities in the racial history of the United States and think about the ways in which that history has defined economic structures and opportunities, social relations, and political representation in those two communities, as well as in Alabama and the country more generally.

Obviously, the fellows here from the U.S. working on racial equity issues are more familiar with the history of slavery, of Reconstruction and Jim Crow and so on, but at the same time we want to use the convenings in Selma and Montgomery as an opportunity to build greater understanding among our South African fellows of America's racial history and to unpack the ways in which structural racism operates across different systems, regardless of country.

So, they will come together for that, and then they will spend time together in South Africa, looking at the evolution of competing narratives about what South Africa is, and the trajectory of political and economic activity from colonialism to apartheid and how race and structural inequality are playing out in South Africa today.

We think of the fellowship as an interactive, generative experience where fellows spend a fair amount of time together and explore a particular context through the eyes of someone who may not know that history as well, which in turn helps them think about what they might do differently.

PND: Will there be a second and third cohort of fellows?

KM: Right now, AFRE is conceived as a ten-year program, with a new cohort every year. This is the first of ten. Once the fellows go through what is essentially a one-year program of active learning sessions, they'll become senior fellows and will be part of a network that we hope continues to exist long after the end of the program. It will be a network where fellows remain connected and have oppor­tunities to get together and continue to think about what it is that they can be doing in their particular communities and countries to advance change. They'll also have opportunities to secure additional resources in the form of seed funding for their programs and to interact with fellows who are part of the larger global Atlantic Fellows network. And, of course, every year the network will get larger as more and more fellows are added, so that eventually we’re hoping there will be at least three hundred and fifty AFRE fellows, from both the U.S. and South Africa, in the larger Atlantic network.

PND: Do you have any advice for funders who are thinking about getting involved in racial equity work?

KM: First, I think people need to be aware that we're in a moment here in the United States where talking about issues of race and equity increasingly are seen as a form of identity politics. That said, it's im­portant for funders to stay the course and support grantees who are raising these issues, and to create space for grantees willing to take on these issues, even at the risk of being seen by some as acting politically or being divisive.

The second is to note that there's an assumption when we talk about issues of racial inequality and racial justice that we’re talking about an issue of concern only to black people. One of the things that's been really important for us at AFRE is to have a racially and ethnically diverse cohort of fellows. And that’s because we do not think that dismantling anti-black racism is the pro­vince or responsibility of black people only; this is something all of us need to be engaged in, because anti-black racism affects all of us. It affects us personally, in a variety of ways, whether we're a person of color whose opportunities and life trajectory have been shaped by racism, or a white person who has grown up in a society where racism and discrimination were the norm. And we think it's really important that funders, consciously and deliberately, are doing what they can to create spaces for grantees in diverse communities — black communities and white communities and Latino communities and Asian communities — to tackle these issues and help people understand the connections between racial equity and the work they do.

PND: What about ordinary Americans, people who don't live on one of the two coasts or in a city and who may be think­ing, What does all this have to do with me? I wish everyone the best, but it's really not something I need to worry about.

KM: Well, I certainly hope that the work of our fellows, and the support of funders like Atlantic and Kellogg and Ford and the Hazen Foundation and so many others, is raising the visi­bility and lifting up another set of stories about what it means to be American in ways that are contributing to ordinary Americans’ knowledge of the history of this country and why that history has to be acknowledged. For much of my life, the narratives put out by television and the movies about what it meant to be American almost always were driven by a limited range of experiences, mostly white experiences. But today, even with the rise of white nationalist sentiment, we're seeing and hearing more stories about other people, a whole diverse range of people, that speak to the culture as it is, and about our complicated history around issues of race, and about what it means to be American in the twenty-first century.

And I truly hope that by sharing those stories, by advancing a host of reforms to our public institutions, whether the justice system, education systems, or other systems, we get the attention of people who have never thought about these issues before and that they start to ask themselves, How am I connected to this, and what can I do? Earlier you asked me about power and privilege and the fact that a lot of people who have both are reluctant to give them up, which is all too true. But there are people — people with power and privilege, and people with neither — who truly do want to make this world a better place for others. And I hope our work, and the work of others, taps into that sentiment and helps motivate people to support efforts to build a more inclusive and racially equitable society. Maybe our work will inspire them to read and educate themselves a little bit more about the struggles of different communities. Maybe they'll be more willing to open themselves up to stories that are different than theirs and accept, if not embrace, those stories as important and valuable. That's my hope.

— Mitch Nauffts

Newsmaker: Fred Blackwell, CEO, The San Francisco Foundation

January 31, 2018

Fred Blackwell joined The San Francisco Foundation, one of the largest community foundations in the United States, as CEO in 2014. An Oakland native, he previously had served as interim administrator and assistant administrator for the city, led the San Francisco Mayor's Office of Community Development and the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency; and directed the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Making Connections Initiative in Oakland.

In June 2016, TSFF announced a new commitment to racial and economic equity in the Bay Area. PND spoke with Blackwell about the foundation's racial equity lens, movement building in the wake of the 2016 elections and Charlottesville, and what it means for philanthropic organizations to speak out, step up, and actually try to achieve racial equity.

Fred_blackwellPhilanthropy News Digest: How do you define "racial equity"?

Fred Blackwell: I define it as just and fair inclusion in a society where everyone can participate, prosper, and thrive, regardless of their race or where they live or their family's economic status or any other defining characteristic. Obviously, the way we think about equity is colored by our particular focus on the Bay Area — a place where there is tremendous opportunity and prosperity being generated, but also where access to those opportunities is limited for many people. So from an institutional point of view, we need to answer the question: How do we make sure that the region prospers in a way that the rising tide lifts all boats?

PND: When you stepped into the top job at TSFF in 2014, the foundation already had a lengthy history of social justice work. How did the decision to focus the foundation's grantmaking on racial and economic equity come about?

FB: Shortly after I came to the foundation, we conducted a listening tour of the Bay Area. As part of that listening tour, we held what we called our VOICE: Bay Area sessions — a series of large public meetings in seven diverse low-income communities across the region. In addition, we held consultative sessions, half-day meetings with practitioners, policy people, and thought leaders to talk about trends, both positive and negative, they were seeing in the region and how those trends were affecting people. We did a lot of data collection and analysis. And the data all pointed in the same direction: the need for greater levels of inclusion here in the Bay Area. The fact that race and economic status and geography had predictive power over where people were headed and what they could accomplish concerned us, and it was important to try to respond to that.

There are two pieces of the foundation's history that we wanted to build on: one is the social justice orientation of our work, and the other is our regional footprint. We serve Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo counties. So in focusing on the equity issue, we're also thinking about it from a regional point of view. What makes the Bay Area unique is its diversity and prosperity, and yet we are a prime real-time example of the kinds of inequalities and inequities that you see on multiple levels across the country. It's important to us as a unit of analysis because equity and the issues that emanate from it — whether it's economic opportunity or housing or education or criminal justice or civic participation — none of those issues conform neatly to the boundaries of the various jurisdictions in the region. People may live in Oakland or San Francisco or Berkeley or Richmond, but they experience the Bay Area as a region.

What I think I brought to the foundation is a laser-like focus on the dimensions of social justice work with respect to racial and economic inclusion and equity — making sure that that "North Star" is something that is modeled at the top and cascades down through all levels of the organization. I would say that we are more explicit than we've been in the past about making equity the focus — not just in our grantmaking but also in how we work with donors, how we provide civic leadership in the region, and how we bring our voice to the table and those of our partners in order to make a difference. We view that North Star as guiding not only our programmatic work but everything we do here at the foundation.

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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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5 Questions for...Laurie Tisch, Founder/President, Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund

July 26, 2017

Laurie Tisch, whose Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund is gearing up for its tenth anniversary and will have given $100 million to support access and opportunity for New Yorkers by year's end, describes philanthropy as something that's in her DNA. Foundation Center's Jen Bokoff, a former employee of the foundation, spoke with Tisch about her recent donation to a new fund, her investment philosophy, and how philanthropy creates impact.

Headshot_laurie_tischJen Bokoff: Your family is known for funding major institutions, but your foundation was set up in part to help you make new, innovative gifts. What's a gift you're particularly proud of that defines your philanthropy?

Laurie Tisch: The New York City Green Cart Initiative, which was a $1.5 million public-private partnership. Initially, it was a city government initiative that created new permits for street vendors selling fresh fruits and vegetables in food deserts in New York, and we signed on to it soon after I started the foundation. It was a large amount of money for us, which some might call risky, but I prefer to think of it as following one's instincts. The data was clear: there are tremendous disparities in the rates of diabetes and heart disease among neighborhoods, with epidemic levels in certain low-income communities. Street vending was a way to increase access to healthy foods, and the program would also create hundreds of jobs for entrepreneurs. With our mission of increasing access and opportunity, the idea was just too interesting not to try; we pretty much went all in! For us, it was big on so many levels, from the number of organization involved to the number of vendors we hoped would be involved.

There were a lot of unknowns, though. No city had ever tried a program like this. How would we measure success? How would we let people know about it? I had a lot of questions, but the answers weren't always there. If we were too rigid, we might not have made the grant. But we're lucky to be a small foundation with the flexibility to see something like this through, which is a philosophy that has really defined our grantmaking. If an organization or initiative decides to change course, it's okay with us so long as the course correction is in dialogue with us.

JB: I read about your recent gift of $500,000 to a new fund established by Agnes Gund with the proceeds of the sale of a famous painting from her collection. Had you ever sold a painting with a philanthropic cause in mind? And why do so now?

LT: I've donated paintings to the Tang and to the Whitney, but I've never sold one with a cause in mind. I was invited to lunch at Aggie's about a month ago by Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. The purpose was to meet Ava DuVernay, who directed the film 13th about racial inequity in the prison system. Aggie got up to speak about how the film and over-incarceration made a strong impression on her, and then she announced she was going to make criminal justice her major focus.

When she revealed she had sold her Lichtenstein to establish a new fund focused on criminal justice, it was remarkable. She had a real personal connection to that painting, and seeing her commit so deeply to a cause really showed how serious she was. When Darren later called me to talk about the initiative, I remembered that I had sold a painting a month earlier, and I thought to myself, "This fits perfectly." Max Weber, who painted the painting I had sold, was known for his passion for social justice causes, so it just was bashert! I donated most of the proceeds to Aggie’' fund, because when she and Darren are backing something, trust is not an issue. And the more I think about it, the more I realize there are so many collectors and wealthy people who could do this. It will be interesting to see whether people look at Aggie as a model and start to sell some of the art they've acquired for social justice causes; it really could add up to something significant pretty quickly.

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Funders Taking on Mass Deportation and Mass Incarceration

June 28, 2017

Statue_of_liberty_blogMany in philanthropy are willing to stand up to the Trump administration's actions targeting immigrants and refugees. Recently, more than two hundred grantmakers signed a joint letter opposing those actions, and many foundations have ramped up their rapid response and long-term giving for everything from legal services and community organizing to policy advocacy and litigation.

But the crisis facing immigrant communities across the country demands much more from philanthropy — in particular, that we step out of our funding and programmatic silos and consider how immigration is integrally connected to so many other issues we care about as funders. One such issue is criminal justice reform.

It is no secret that the United States maintains the largest immigrant detention system in the world. At last count, we were holding more than four hundred thousand immigrants in jails and prisons — including numerous for-profit facilities. This is the equivalent of putting the entire population of Oakland, California, behind bars. In the overwhelming majority of cases, immigrants in detention are asylum seekers, lawful permanent residents, and others who come here seeking the promise of freedom and a better life for themselves and their families. Instead, they have been tragically caught up in our nation's broken immigration system.

Under the Trump administration's rapidly expanding detention and deportation machine, immigrants are under attack as never before. Arrests of undocumented immigrants have increased by nearly 40 percent since Trump took office, while fewer than 9 percent of those arrested by ICE since January had convictions for violent crimes. In fact, research consistently shows lower levels of crime among immigrants than among native-born Americans. Nevertheless, the Trump administration is demonizing immigrant communities, stepping up its rhetoric and media manipulation to scapegoat immigrants and label them as being inherently criminal.

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Weekend Link Roundup (May 27-28, 2017)

May 28, 2017

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

Frog-in-the-Rain

Climate Change

As the Trump administration prepares to exit the Paris climate agreement, a new Global Challenges Foundation poll finds that a majority of people in eight countries — the U.S., China, India, Britain, Australia, Brazil, South Africa and Germany — say they are ready to change their lifestyles if it would prevent climate catastrophe — a survey result that suggests "a huge gap between what people expect from politicians and what politicians are doing."

Criminal Justice

On the Ford Foundation's Equal Change blog, Kamilah Duggins and William Kelley explain why and how they created a professional development program at the foundation for graduates of the Bard Prison Initiative, which creates the opportunity for incarcerated men and women to earn a Bard College degree while serving their sentence.

Diversity

A new white paper (6 pages, PDF) from executive search firm Battalia Winston sheds light on the lack of diversity within the leadership ranks of the nation's foundations and nonprofit organizations.

Education

Does the DeVos education budget promote "choice" or segregation? That's the question the Poverty & Race Research Council's Kimberly Hall and Michael Hilton ask in a post here on PhilanTopic.

Fundraising

There are mistakes, and there are fundraising mistakes. Here are five of the latter that, according to experts on the Forbes Nonprofit Council, we all should try to avoid.

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A National Day of Racial Healing on January 17 Will Help Americans Overcome Racial Divisions

January 06, 2017

Share1112-crayonsJust five days before the inauguration of Donald Trump as the country's 45th president, millions of Americans on January 16 will celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For many, memories of the civil rights icon revolve around his momentous "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in which Dr. King called for an end to racism and for the expansion of economic opportunities for all Americans.

Dr. King's brilliance — his strategic leadership of the civil rights movement and unparalleled courage and integrity — is often overshadowed by the speech that many scholars hail as the most important public address by an American in the twentieth century. Unfortunately, the dream of equality King articulated in 1963 remains unfulfilled in many communities today — a reality that underscores the persistent structural inequities and racial bias at the root of the widespread disparities in social conditions and opportunities for people of color.

Dr. King said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." That's the America many of us have long been working to create but, despite progress in some areas, are still seeking to realize.

The divisive rhetoric and raw emotions that raged across the country over the past year pulled the scab off a persistent wound in the American psyche, bringing the issue of race front and center and exposing the divides in our society. What can we do about it? How do we move forward on a path toward racial equity that facilitates racial healing, dismantles structural racism, and lifts vulnerable children onto the path to success?

To be sure, America has made progress over the decades. Government and the courts have enacted statutes and rulings, from Brown v. Board of Education to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to the Fair Housing Act of 1968, that outlawed public discrimination while purportedly guaranteeing equal opportunity for all Americans. Yet, in too many cases, these rulings only addressed the effects of racism, not its foundations. The passage of time has made clear that government and courts can enact and uphold laws, but they can't change hearts, minds, and souls.

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5 Questions for...Cecilia Clarke, President and CEO, Brooklyn Community Foundation

December 01, 2016

As grassroots movements like Black Lives Matter have emerged in recent years, the issue of racial equity has come into sharper focus.

In 2014, the Brooklyn Community Foundation launched an effort to engage more than a thousand Brooklyn residents and leaders in envisioning the foundation's role in realizing "a fair and just Brooklyn" — an effort that in 2015 earned BCF the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy's Impact Award for its community-led approach. Earlier this month, the foundation announced that, in alignment with its commitment to advancing racial equity across all aspects of its work, it would divest from industries that disproportionately harm people of color.

PND spoke with Cecilia Clarke, the foundation's president and CEO, about BCF's focus on racial justice, its decision to divest its portfolio of industries that disproportionately harm people of color, and the post-election role of philanthropy in advancing racial equity.

Cecilia_clarke_for_PhilanTopicPhilanthropy News Digest: Before joining BCF, you founded and led the Sadie Nash Leadership Project. Tell us a little about the project and what it sought to accomplish.

Cecilia Clarke: Sadie Nash Leadership Project is a feminist social justice organization for low-income young women in all five boroughs of New York City and Newark, New Jersey. I founded it in 2001 in my dining room here in Brooklyn, and today it's a nonprofit with a $2 million annual budget serving over two thousand young women annually. One of the organization's working assumptions is that young women are ready to be leaders in their communities right now, and Sadie Nash is there to help shape that leadership through what it calls its "sisterhood model" — providing a safe space, active leadership opportunities, education, and hands-on mentorship and role modeling by leaders who look like the young women themselves.

At Sadie Nash, young women serve on staff and on the board as real voting members, and — in addition to the organization's flagship summer institute program — participate in afterschool programs, fellowships, and internships. And in everything they do for and through the organization, they are paid for their leadership, because it underscores the concept that they are leaders today. Sadie Nash is not training these young women for some hoped-for future; it's important that, given their identity and their experience, we all understand that they can be a force for social change in their communities right now.

PND: In announcing its intention to divest from industries that disproportionately harm people of color, BCF specifically mentioned private prisons, gun manufacturers, and predatory lenders. What kind of impact have these industries had on communities of color and low-income communities in Brooklyn and beyond? And how do you see the divestment process playing out?

CC: To back up a bit, when I first came to BCF, it was a foundation that had only recently transitioned from being a private bank foundation to a community foundation, and it hadn't done a lot of community engagement work. Sadie Nash was very committed to engaging its constituency, and I brought that experience with me to the foundation. So, pretty early on we launched a community engagement initiative called Brooklyn Insights through which we spoke with more than a thousand Brooklynites. And what came out of that process was that there were very clear racially biased policies and practices and traditions in the community that the people who spoke with us believed had helped create and reinforce many of the other issues we were discussing, particularly around young people and criminal justice. As a community foundation, we felt we had to be responsive to what we were hearing and to look at the issues that oppress communities of color — which make up 70 percent of Brooklyn's population.

To that end, we created a Racial Justice Lens as an overarching focus for every aspect of the foundation's work and management, not just our programming or grantmaking. And that meant we needed to look at our investments. We decided on the three areas of divestment you mentioned after multiple conversations, but I want to make clear that we are at the beginning of the process, not at the end. We chose those three areas to begin with because they were very closely related to our program areas and our mission, especially our focus on young people and racial justice. Given our commitment to youth justice, the private prison industry was an obvious area of divestment. Gun violence is still an enormous problem in Brooklyn, with a huge number of guns being trafficked into the borough, so we felt very strongly about gun manufacturers. And looking at the significant economic inequity and lack of opportunity in our neighborhoods, we saw that check cashing and other predatory financial services were making a profit off of inequity. All three of these industries profit from racial injustice and racial inequity, and we felt very strongly that we cannot be a foundation that stands for racial justice and allow these industries to remain in our financial portfolio.

The foundation doesn't invest in individual stocks, so it isn't as if we remove private prisons and replace it with X. Our investments are managed by Goldman Sachs, and Goldman chooses different fund managers with various portfolios of stocks and different investments. So what our divestment means is that we've signaled to our fund managers that these three industries cannot be included in our portfolio, and our finance committee is working very closely with the team over there to make sure that happens. The restrictions we've communicated to them work like proactive insurance to ensure that, going forward, our portfolio will be "clean" of these investments. In a way, the stars sort of lined up for us, because Goldman is getting more and more requests for socially responsible investment choices and has created a new department to do just that. So that's an instrument we can take advantage of while further promoting conversations about aligning our investments with our mission.

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Building Police-Community Trust Through Reform

September 20, 2016

Building-TrustThis year, tensions between communities of color and law enforcement have escalated to new heights with a series of tragic incidents across our country. Too many communities have lost trust in police. And this gap in trust makes it even more difficult and dangerous for law enforcement officials to do their jobs.

Like you, we at the Irvine Foundation have been disturbed and deeply saddened by the growing violence and racial tensions. It is enormously painful to see the loss of life — the lives cut short in their interactions with police as well as of law enforcement officials who have become targets despite risking their lives to navigate tremendously difficult situations.

Long term, the goal of our grantmaking at Irvine is to ensure that all Californians — especially those working but struggling with poverty — have job opportunities and a voice on matters that impact their community. But for Californians to seize opportunity, fundamental prerequisites like community safety and trust in law enforcement must be in place. Sadly, strained police-community relations are a result of a festering, connected set of problems that have been ignored for too long.

Eager to find solutions, we reached out to foundation partners to learn what effective approaches could be expanded to build trust between law enforcement and communities of color. Since this is not Irvine's area of focus, we were fortunate to be able to tap the expertise of Tim Silard, president of the Rosenberg Foundation. He and his colleagues at the Rosenberg Foundation have done vital criminal justice reform work for years alongside grantees and other funders.

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Building Trust Through Reform

Building-TrustIf securing and sustaining community trust and inclusion is an integral part of protecting public safety, we are in trouble.

Today, the chasm between law enforcement and communities of color appears wider than ever. Over the last few years, we've seen incident after incident of police brutality, too often against unarmed men of color. No one should ever live in fear of violence at the hands of the very people who are sworn to protect and serve them. At the same time, officers who put their lives on the line for all of us increasingly feel like they are targets themselves.

Real transformation of our justice system will require all hands on deck — all of us working together over the long haul to make bold change possible. That is why we are deeply appreciative of Don Howard, president and CEO of the James Irvine Foundation, and our colleagues in philanthropy for responding to this pressing need by investing more than $1.3 million for the statewide expansion of an innovative model that builds trust — and reform — through police and community collaboration.

With this support, PICO California, a statewide network of five hundred faith-based community organizations, will work in partnership with communities across the state to expand its Building Trust Through Reform initiative. Piloted in Oakland, this effort brings together community members and law enforcement for frank dialogue about history, bias, community voice, and respect. Working together, community members and police officers are able to build trust and also craft real solutions for reform. For example, Oakland ended a twenty-year pattern of, on average, one officer-involved fatal shooting every six weeks (achieving a 23-month period with zero lethal officer-involved shootings), while reducing homicides by nearly 40 percent over two years and also reducing officer injury.

PICO's initiative is one of many important approaches that can help improve public safety by reforming our police and justice systems. At Rosenberg Foundation, we are clear that criminal justice reform is one of the leading racial justice and social justice issues of our time. Our out-of-control justice and policing systems have done real damage to our communities, especially communities of color and low-income communities, and to our local, state and federal coffers. We are optimistic that we can end decades of so-called "tough on crime" approaches to public safety and replace them with policies and investments proven to create real community safety.

Headshot_TimSilard_RosenbergPhilanthropy has a critical role to play in making sure we all live in safe and healthy communities. It is time for us to reimagine what it really takes to build a justice system that works for all of us.

Timothy P. Silard is president of the Rosenberg Foundation. This post originally appeared on the foundation's website.

To Truly Reform Criminal Justice, Policy Makers Must Listen to Crime Survivors

August 31, 2016

The 2016 election campaign season has exposed the deep and bitter divides in our political system. Candidates have put forth vastly different views, and the list of what they agree on seems to be getting shorter by the day. Yet criminal justice reform has become that rare thing — an issue on which many Democrats and Republicans can agree.

Criminal_justice_for_PhilanTopicState and federal policy makers are in the midst of an important conversation about how to reform the criminal justice system. After decades of growth in prison populations and prison spending, it is a conversation that is long overdue. Notably absent from this dialogue, however, are data or research on crime victims' experiences with the criminal justice system or their views on safety and justice policy. Given that politicized perceptions of the best way to protect victims has, in part, driven prison expansion, this absence is glaring. Now is the time to correct the misperceptions that drove the failed policies of the past in order to truly reform the system.

A primary goal of the justice system is to protect and help victims, so any reform effort must incorporate the voices of the victims themselves. That's why the Alliance for Safety and Justice decided to conduct a national survey of crime victims, including those who have suffered extreme violence such as rape or the murder of a family member.

While one might expect victims to overwhelmingly support the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" approach, we found something different. Victims were clear that rehabilitation and crime prevention, not more incarceration, is needed to ensure that fewer people become victims of crime.

Nearly three out of four victims we surveyed told us they believe that time in prison makes people more rather than less likely to commit another crime. Two out of three victims support shorter prison sentences and increased spending on prevention and rehabilitation over long sentences. And by a two-to-one margin, a majority of those surveyed were in favor of policies that emphasize rehabilitation over punishment. Crime survivors also overwhelmingly support investments in new safety priorities that can stop the cycle of crime, such as programs for at-risk youth, mental health treatment, drug treatment, and job training. These views cut across demographic groups, with wide support across race, age, gender, and political party affiliation.

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 30-31, 2016)

July 31, 2016

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

Communications/Marketing

If you're like NWB's Vu Le, you've pretty much lost patience with colleagues and others who routinely make one of these mistakes in their written or verbal communications.

Community Improvement/Development

The League of Creative Interventionists, a global network of people working to build community through creativity, has posted a manifesto and is inviting people like you to join its movement.

Corporate Social Responsiblity

Can CEOs really drive their companies to be more sustainable? As Mary Barra's experience at GM would seem to suggest, it's harder than you think, writes Raz Godelnik, co-director of the MS in Strategic Design & Management program at the Parsons School of Design, on Triple Pundit.

Criminal Justice

Earlier this week, NBA great Michael Jordan announced gifts of $1 million each to two organizations working to build trust between African Americans and law enforcement. The organizations are the Institute for Community-Police Relations, which was launched in May by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. And here is Jordan's statement.

Diversity

As one of the major-party political conventions demonstrated, there are lots of areas of American life where diversity is more vague notion than reality. Another is the tech scene in Silicon Valley, where "[t]alented people are left behind every day, many simply because they don't have the same kind of access as Ivy League brogrammer." In Fast Company, Cale Guthrie Weissman reports on what a few organizations are doing to change that equation.

Education

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio has introduced a bold new plan to disrupt the city's school-to-prison pipeline. The key element? Keeping kids from misbehaving by not suspending them for misbehavior. Amy X. Wang reports.

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 23-24, 2016)

July 24, 2016

Bulldog-on-ice1Our weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Community Improvement/Development

In the New America Weekly, Heron Foundation president Clara Miller explains how the foundation's recent work in Buffalo, the fourth poorest city in the nation, "started as a response to a Heron board member's referral of the local community foundation" and led to the foundation becoming a trusted neutral convener and connector "for a number of contingents in the community."

On the Knight blog, Lilly Weinberg Lilly Weinberg, program director for community foundations at the Knight Foundation, shares three takeaways from a recent convening of twenty civic innovators who've received grants of $5,000 to implement a project in a calenadr year that improve mobility, a public space, or civic engagement in their home cities.

Criminal Justice/Policing

Reflecting on the killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Philando Castile in Minnesota, five police officers in Dallas, and three police officers in Baton Rouge, Open Society Foundations president Chris Stone suggests that the divide between black America and American policing is in part the "legacy of slavery, the legacies of Jim Crow, of lynching, of the repression of the civil rights and black power movements, the legacy of the war on drugs" -- and that efforts to close it must include solutions to racial disparities and the building of mutual trust between African Americans and local police departments.

Environment

Here on PhilanTopic, we featured a pair of great posts this week  -- one by Frank Smyth and the second by Maria Amália Souza -- on the noble, unheralded, and frequently dangerous work done by environmental activists in the global South.

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 16-17, 2016)

July 17, 2016

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

African Americans

What does it mean to look at images of African Americans being murdered? In an age in which footage of fatal shootings appears alongside cat videos and selfies in social media feeds, what claims can be made for the representational power of filming? In the Boston Review, Benjamin Balthaser explores the contentious debate over the meaning and appropriate use of images of violence against black men and women.

Civil Society

In the wake of the recent shootings in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas, Council on Foundations president and CEO Vikki Spruill and Sherry Magill, president of the Jesse Ball DuPont Fund, call on foundations "to advance a civil conversation focused on what we have in common and ensure equal treatment under the law."

Climate Change

The pledges made by countries in Paris in December to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius by 2100 almost guarantee that the wold's average temperature will increase by more than 3 degrees and could warm by as much as 4 degrees — with catastrophic consequences. Fast.Co.Exist writer Adele Peters explains.

Criminal Justice

"In the world of criminal justice, pushes for change can be diverted or stalled by major news events," write Simone Weichselbaum, Maurice Chammah, and Ken Armstrong on Vice. "But the sniper killings of five officers in Dallas seems to have stiffened the opposition to reforms. With legislation to reduce prison terms for some crimes stalled by election-year politics and efforts to repair police-community relations moving slowly, leaders across the political spectrum are watching to see if such efforts can survive this heated moment."

Policing across America has improved over the last forty years. But why hasn't more progress been made? Fast Company's Frederick Lemieux reports.

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 5-6, 2016)

March 06, 2016

Ronald_Reagan_and_Nancy_Reagan_aboard_a_boat_in_California_1964 Our weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

After months of negotiation, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Fossil Free MIT have reached an agreement that will end the group's sit-in in front of the school's administrative offices. The plan agreed on by MIT and the student-led group includes four "action areas": moving toward campus carbon neutrality as soon as possible; establishing a climate action advisory committee to consult on the implementation of the Plan for Action; developing a set of strategies and benchmarks for MIT's engagement with industry, government, and other institutions; and convening a forum on the ethics of the climate issue. In response to a recent essay in the Boston Review titled "Carbon on Campus," Benjamin Franta argues that campus divestment efforts like the one at MIT are not "primarily [designed] to starve big carbon of capital," but rather "to force hard, accountable moral analyses to take place and...put an end to equivocation and dissembling on climate change by demanding action involving real money.  [Moreover doing] so helps to shift institutional and social norms and to democratize the climate debate." 

Criminal Justice

More than two decades after the federal government prohibited taxpayer dollars from being used for college-degree programs in prisons, forty-seven states have applied to participate in a Department of Education that makes Pell grant dollars available to inmates. The AP's Donna Gordon Blakenship reports.

Data

The television commercials are charming. But Forbes contributor Bernard Marr thinks Watson, IBM's natural language analytics platform, just might be the solution to the big data skills gap in America.

Dylanology

Bob Dylan -- or at least an archive of his work dating back to his earliest days -- is going "home," spiritually speaking, to Oklahoma (Woody Guthrie's birthplace), thanks to the Tulsa-based George Kaiser Family Foundation. The New York Times' Ben Sisario untangles the story behind the gift.

Education

The Oakland-based New Schools Venture Fund has announced its first group of Diverse Leaders ventures -- part of an initiative by NSVF to improve public education in America by supporting a community of entrepreneurs who are committed to changing the face of K-12 leadership and being truly inclusive.

"Research findings have made clear the persistence of strong connections between arts learning in earlier years and overall academic success and pro-social outcomes," writes Marinell Rousmaniere in the Boston Globe. "[And for] the past six years, Boston has been ahead of the curve reinvesting in arts education by generating, and sustaining, a collective effort in the city among the public, private, and philanthropic sectors...."

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