50 posts categorized "Native Americans"

[Review] Justice on Both Sides: Transforming Education Through Restorative Justice

June 07, 2018

These days, one doesn't have to look far to find a story about a confrontation involving a school officer and a student of color or to put her finger on a report detailing educational inequities associated with race, gender, and class. In her new book, Justice on Both Sides: Transforming Education Through Restorative JusticeMaisha T. Winn, a professor of education at the University of California, Davis, makes a compelling case for the use of restorative justice (RJ) practices in schools as both an antidote to these troubling trends and as a way to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline that has destroyed the lives of too many young people of color.

Book_justice_on_both_sidesMost readers are probably familiar with the case of Shakara, the sixteen-year-old student at Spring Valley High School in South Carolina who was put in a chokehold by a school officer, forcibly pulled out of her seat, and dragged across the floor and out of her classroom. Her crime? Refusing to put her cell phone away. Unfortunately, it wasn't an isolated incident, and Winn uses it to frame her questioning of the punitive practices and zero-tolerance policies in place at many public schools in the United States.

Indeed, it was Winn's own questions about Shakara's experience that became the impetus for her book. "What resources, other than arrest, were available to the administrators, teachers, and staff at Spring Valley High to address conflict in the classroom?" she asks. "How could the adults involved have responded differently? Why has it become standard practice to arrest students for such minor incidents?...I argue that we have yet to pause and thoughtfully examine such patterns as stakeholders, particularly from the perspectives of new and seasoned teachers, school staff, and students."

In her bookWinn does just that, reflecting on her experiences as a scholar, former teacher, and teacher researcher — experiences that inform her analysis of RJ practice and how best to apply that analysis to create lasting change. Having noted that under zero-tolerance policies, African-American, Latinx, and Native-American students are disproportionately subjected to harshly punitive practices, including removal from classrooms, suspension, and expulsion, she explains restorative justice as an approach to discipline that aims to address trauma that may be responsible for the student's behavior. The idea, she writes, is to build a sense of respect and mutual understanding while giving students space to take responsibility for their actions.

Perhaps most importantly, restorative justice requires both sides to be "open to the possibility of not always being right but instead making things right." As Winn explains, the three pillars of the approach are harms and needs, obligations, and engagement — in other words, determining the needs of students who cause harm and recognizing that they may have been harmed; creating a culture of accountability for both students and educators; and cultivating a participatory democracy model in the classroom.

A good deal of what Winn has learned about restorative justice is based on her experience as a participant observer at a Midwestern high school that began to adopt RJ practices in 2014 and 2015. Winn shares the perspectives of the students she got to know, students whose voices should be the most important in conversations about their needs but as often as not go unheard. She explores the technique known as "restorative justice circles," in which participants come together in a literal circle and wait for a facilitator to initiate a conversation with a prompt or question. Circle participants listen until it is their turn to speak, which comes when the "talking piece," which is passed around the circle, reaches them. Rather than being stuck with a fixed identity such as "student" or "sophomore," students are trained to be "circle keepers" (i.e., facilitators), so that they are part of the solution instead of just passive bystanders.

In her interviews with students, Winn was able to tease out their views of restorative justice, what it meant to them, and how the circles helped them evolve their understanding of justice more generally. "Before, I kinda thought [justice] was [if] you did something wrong, something wrong should be done to you. If you do something wrong you go to jail," one circle keeper told her. "But then I came here and started getting into restorative justice, and I started thinking there's a lot of things that's behind it. Not all people deserve to go to jail; some people do need counseling, but for certain crimes they always get sent there...and sometimes a little bit of counseling and connecting could probably fix whatever was damaged to make them do the crime."  

One of the recurring themes in her interviews was equality. The RJ circles allowed students to feel empowered and were a first step in the dismantling of the unequal power dynamic that exists between teachers and students. "There was mutual respect," Winn writes, "as opposed to a culture where students are expected to show respect that they do not see reciprocated." 

To get there, Winn argues, educators need to embrace four key pedagogical stances: history matters, race matters, justice matters, and language matters. Indeed, the four concepts, which are interconnected, with history as the outermost of four concentric circles and language at the center, shape the way educators engage with and build relationships with students. Winn's interviews with educators at the Midwestern high school reveal that while they had embraced the idea of "how local history is inextricably linked to both race and local power dynamics" and had become more "mindful about how one uses language to speak to and about children — especially children from historically marginalized communities," they still had work to do in terms of examining and unlearning "the social construction of race, racism, and racist lenses and ideas" and in adopting an expansive definition of justice that "insist[s] we do right by people" and work to create a world where "everyone — irrespective of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, sexuality, or ability — is able to live with dignity and is recognized as belonging."

By presenting the perspectives of both students and educators, Winn is able to highlight the impact restorative justice had on the school community as a whole and how it helped bridge the gap between administrators, staff, teachers, and students. Rather than isolating misbehaving students through suspensions and expulsion, restorative justice tries to get to the root of the problem and create a school culture in which students are able to express themselves and feel that they are being heard. The unfortunate reality, however, is that most schools have neither the will nor the resources to introduce RJ practices without compromising other priorities. "If restorative justice circles are to serve as a tool for creating and sustaining boundary-crossing social networks for students and staff," writes Winn, "then everyone in the school community must be held accountable as a stakeholder."

Based on the view that teaching is a justice-seeking endeavor and learning is a civil and human right, Winn makes the case for what she calls "transformative justice teacher education" as a way to equip teachers with the tools they need to implement restorative justice practices in their classrooms. To that end, she provides a series of subject-specific questions for teachers to consider. For example, math teachers might ask themselves: Who am I calling on and at what frequency? How can I physically set up my classroom so that all students have a chance to participate in classroom discussions? How do I create a classroom culture in which all students view themselves as "math people"? The English language arts teacher might ask: Who gets to be the reader/writer/thinker/speaker in my classroom? Who do we need to hear from? What voices/stories/perspectives are missing from the discussion? And the social studies/history teacher might ask: How can I use the subject matter to create a participatory culture in my classroom? What is the role of social studies/history in cultivating purpose and belonging?

Training teachers and enabling them to incorporate RJ practices into their classrooms is just a first step if we hope to dismantle structural racism in our schools and in society. As Winn writes, restorative justice processes "give us an opportunity and an intergenerational way to learn together to talk about race" and develop the vocabularies needed to do so. By engaging "in processes that allow us to listen to one another…we begin the process and practice of restoring justice." Surely, that is something we owe our children.

Zahra Bokhari is a development specialist at Foundation Center. For more great reviews, visit the Off the Shelf section in PND.

Building Democracy: People and Purpose in San Diego County

May 25, 2018

On a March evening at a community center in San Diego, Francisco "Panchito" Martinez stood at a public forum, a bedrock exercise of democracy, and before three District 8 City Council candidates.

With microphone in hand and more than a hundred people in the audience, several of whom wore headphones to listen in Spanish, Somali and Vietnamese, the college student asked the candidates about cultivating and supporting youth leaders in the eighth most-populous U.S. city.

Martinez's participation was a form of engagement in more ways than one. The youth questioned those seeking the privilege of representing people in government while also addressing the need for multi-generational civic involvement.

For Martinez, who often goes by Panchito, and other residents who questioned the candidates in English and Spanish, the forum marked a continuum of a broader community-leadership initiative in San Diego County — one driven by residents and grassroots organizations seeking greater voice and more meaningful representation in government and community affairs.

Like other parts of the U.S., San Diego County's population has been transformed dramatically over the last several decades. Today, people of color are the majority among the county's 3.3 million residents. Together, Latinos and Asian Pacific Islanders make up four out of every ten residents.

In Barrio Logan, the San Diego neighborhood that Panchito and about five thousand other people call home, there are industrial businesses as well as residences.

In this primarily Latino neighborhood south and east of the city's popular Gaslamp Quarter and within view of the Port of San Diego and U.S. Navy facilities, concerns over health are one reason why residents say local government should better mirror the makeup of this diverse region.

Positive Disruption: Pursuing Equity

Low-income families, people of color, members of the LGBT community, and various supporters are banding together with a network of nonprofit organizations. They're standing up to broaden the culture of leadership — as well as its definition — and boost civic engagement.

They're changing a system they say has overlooked their voices in community and policy decisions. They're saying political power, government representation, and decisions about spending public dollars are a shared endeavor — that the promise of U.S. democracy includes everyone.

 

 The goal is to make civic participation more accessible, and to recognize leadership across income, racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual orientation lines. They're doing that with support from Marguerite Casey Foundation and other philanthropic investments that started years ago.

Each community organization brings a considerable focus and the presence of involved families to this enterprise in San Diego County, home to "America's Finest City."

There's the Environmental Health Coalition; the San Diego LGBT Community CenterAmerican Friends Service Committee's U.S.-Mexico border program operated out of its San Diego-area office; Engage San Diego, which works on nonpartisan voter engagement; and the Center on Policy Initiatives, a research and action institute that supports worker prosperity.

The Idea of a Network

Each organization is a grantee of the Casey Foundation, which is nurturing a national family-led movement for a just and equitable society through unrestricted grants and trust in families.

Under this framework of equity, movement building and engagement, these organizations and families are maximizing community leadership efforts through the San Diego Equal Voice Network, which was formalized in 2016.

SanDiegoDemographyData2010-insert800_MargueriteCasey0518Source: U.S. Census Bureau data via members of the San Diego Leadership Development Program

We support this network and about a dozen others nationwide.

Grantee members lead the networks, convene meetings, determine topics on which to focus and share information. There is greater amplification of people's voices, concerns and solutions, participants say, through the collective.

In 2012, these organizations illuminated a startling fact: of San Diego County's then 3 million residents, people of color accounted for 52 percent of the population but made up only 23 percent of those serving in government.

Questions quickly surfaced: Is everyone's voice being heard? Are families included in decision making? Who's missing? Who needs to be included? How do we ensure that equity drives the solution?

In other words: What can we do together to create positive change that we can't do separately?

Network members started working with other nonprofit organizations that have since become members of the network, as well as with grassroots allies.

They launched an effort to change a system that, as U.S. Census Bureau data showed, lacked equitable outcomes for residents of color. They widened their scope to include low-income families, members of the LGBT community, and any interested resident or worker in the area.

Among their goals:

  • Increase civic participation and nurture new community leaders, including young people.
  • Share leadership development resources and best practices with anyone interested.
  • Collectively track the participation of community members in various training leadership development programs.
  • Highlight what works and inform families of leadership opportunities, no matter which organization sponsored it.

Their intentionality and intersectionality dovetailed with what families were voicing, as well as with demographic shifts and investments from philanthropic organizations.

Alan Kaplan, the new director of Engage San Diego, described a goal that remains front and center for many families and the San Diego Equal Voice Network: "A San Diego where the electorate and leadership are reflective of people who live and work here."

"We're creating opportunities and vehicles to bring voices in," said Delores Jacobs, a longtime community leader who is stepping down as CEO of the San Diego LGBT Community Center.

Among those voices: Panchito and his mother, Maria. The family team, concerned about the quality of life in their neighborhood, has worked with Environmental Health Coalition for years.

Redefining Leadership and Participation

So how is this idea for change being implemented?

One of the first steps was acknowledging and legitimizing how families and individuals already were serving as community leaders. And that involved rethinking the traditional definition of leadership.

That meant recognizing:

  • A mother who joined the PTA at her child's school to address educational inequities and advocate for students who are struggling.
  • Bilingual youth who accompanied their parents to canvass neighborhoods, serve as interpreters and discuss — in Spanish or Vietnamese — voting and pollution and asthma rates, which are a major concern, especially as they impact children in Barrio Logan.
  • A parent who has two minimum-wage jobs but took time to volunteer at a nonpartisan phone bank to remind neighbors to vote.

They also acknowledged that "leader" might be shunned by immigrant residents whose government officials in their former countries are corrupt or violent.

The new definition of multilevel leadership went beyond the titles of board chair, president, and chief executive officer to include parent, youth, auntie, cousin, sister, and neighbor.

"People enter through different doors," said Diane Takvorian, executive director and a founder of Environmental Health Coalition.

Nurturing New Leaders and Regional Cooperation

The organizations had existing leadership programs, but network members found that a collective focus and a willingness to discuss and resolve different ideas invigorated the endeavor.

The Center on Policy Initiatives was already operating three leadership programs: one for new and elected officials, another named the Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute, and an initiative for college students. At the center of all three: social and economic equity, awareness, diversity, and racial justice.

Center on Policy Initiatives staff also sought community leadership information from and exchanged insights with Urban Habitat, a nonprofit organization in Oakland and member of the Bay Area Equal Voice Coalition, which includes groups in San Francisco and San Jose.

In 2009, Urban Habitat pioneered its own Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute, which is being replicated nationwide. Staff members from these two organizations — in different parts of California — held phone conversations and meetings to deepen working relationships and share information.

Community Leaders in Elected Office

While boosting cooperation and broadening the definition of "leader" were part of this endeavor, advocates and families always kept the formal power of elected and appointed office in mind.

Residents and nonprofit leaders point to the path of Georgette Gómez, a community advocate who did grassroots work with the San Diego LGBT Community Center and Environmental Health Coalition.

She ran for two elected offices and now serves as a councilmember on the San Diego City Council and as chair of the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System.

Grassroots leaders say she makes it a point to hire staff of color, who understand the need for equity in public policy. They add that as a woman of color, her election wins inspire many county residents, especially those who don't see themselves represented in government or community affairs.

One policy innovation that Gómez supports, they say and her office confirms (and which has ties to her grassroots community work), is a public benefits agreement of the mind that is surfacing in other U.S. cities (including Los Angeles). Based on an organized labor concept, it ensures that qualified residents are hired for jobs in industries like construction when public dollars or tax incentives are in play. That way, residents can have equitable access to taxpayer-supported jobs.

Network members also are looking to the future by examining the composition and accessibility of these government bodies:

  • Escondido Union School District Board of Education
  • San Diego County Board of Supervisors
  • City of San Diego Planning Commission
  • Metropolitan Transit System Board of Directors
  • Port of San Diego Board of Port Commissioners

Community leaders say they plan to issue a report later in 2018  that will update their earlier survey.

A Youth Steps Up

For Panchito, who attends San Diego State University, participation and leadership run in the family.

Panchito's mother, Maria, has served on the Environmental Health Coalition board of directors. The two still work closely with the group, which has an equity and justice focus. It also helped organize the District 8 City Council candidate forum dedicated to boosting local democracy.

Panchito also works with the Barrio Logan College Institute, which says the average yearly household income for a family of four people in the neighborhood is $25,000.

In 2017, Panchito received a Sargent Shriver Youth Warriors Against Poverty Leadership Award from Marguerite Casey Foundation, which recognizes collaborative accomplishments by young people.

As part of the honor, Panchito traveled to Seattle to talk about grassroots-driven change in Barrio Logan with other "Shriver Warriors," young leaders from across the country. They discussed injustice, advocacy, and progress.

In March, after that San Diego City Council candidate forum, Panchito mentioned an immediate goal: becoming a member of the Barrio Logan Planning Group so as to ensure that voices of families from the neighborhood are represented at the local decision-making table.

Smaller governing bodies, community leaders say, can go unnoticed, though their members make important policy decisions or recommendations that affect low-income families and people of color in neighborhoods.

Elizabeth_posey_brad_wong_for_PhilanTopicOn April 19, the Environmental Health Coalition sent a tweet announcing the news: The 20-year-old will join the planning group — and one of his priorities will be access to healthy foods for college students.

As a member of the planning group, which includes representatives from the Port of San Diego and U.S. Navy, Panchito will study the issues. He'll also ask questions, listen carefully, and, then, cast votes.

Elizabeth Posey is program officer for the West and Brad Wong is content editor at the Marguerite Casey Foundation. This post was originally published on the Casey Foundation website.

Addressing Racial Equity With an Organizational Change Lens

May 21, 2018

Racial equity treeOrganizational change efforts can be daunting, even when the organization and its leaders know that such an effort will lead to a stronger, more sustainable organization in the long term. When it comes to racial equity, such efforts often carry an extra level of pressure. That's because change efforts seeking to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) can trigger both conscious and unconscious anxieties when staff and leadership are required to examine personal and organizational values, norms, behaviors, and perceptions. No matter what you do to create and communicate a compelling story and adjust policies and procedures, it all comes down to employee engagement, especially when it comes to "unfreezing" behavior and modeling change, both of which are key to ensuring employee buy-in and setting the stage for a successful change effort.

When tackling racial equity, the amount of individual energy and effort required to achieve a truly equitable and inclusive workplace can create stress at all levels of the organization — particularly for people of color. As with other change efforts, racial equity work requires staff members to personalize the process in order to find their own entry points into the work, and as each of us reflects on our own identity and what it means in both an individual and organizational context, frictions can arise. If not tactfully managed, issues of intersectionality, power dynamics, personal and work-related boundaries, and unconscious biases can become barriers that stand in the way of progress. But when implemented effectively, racial equity change initiatives can spark an examination of our lived experience, both at work and in our personal lives — as well as individual transformation. Not surprisingly then, if organizations can create a culture in which individuals are able to express and work through their own unconscious biases, uncertainty, and shame, they will experience a greater rate of change.

CRE's nearly four decades serving the nonprofit community has taught us that organizations ready to address and embrace racial equity must first examine how race interacts with all aspects of organizational culture, from board governance, to leadership and management, to staffing and talent management, to day-to-day work flow. While not an exhaustive list, below are four simple strategies for moving the needle on organizational change efforts intended to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion based on what we have learned from our experience promoting racial equity in our own organization and with our client partners.

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It’s Time to Invest in Youth Leaders

May 16, 2018

DCPSWalkout_AFA-1024x681In the months since the tragic mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, the response of youth activists has captured the attention of the nation. What has largely gone unnoticed, however, is that across the country a dynamic youth-organizing field has emerged. Over the past twenty years, groups — many of them led by low-income young people of color — have been organizing to improve education, end the school-to-prison pipeline, protect immigrant rights, and address other critical issues.

New research demonstrates that not only does youth organizing result in concrete policy changes, it also promotes positive academic, social/emotional, and civic engagement outcomes. Yet despite recent investment in youth organizing from funders like the Ford Foundation and the California Endowment, overall funding remains modest. That's unfortunate, because even as a new generation demonstrates its willingness to take on some of our toughest issues, the need for investment in the leadership of young people, especially those most impacted by injustice, has never been more important.

According to the Funders' Collaborative on Youth Organizing's National Youth Organizing Landscape Map, there are more than two hundred youth organizing groups across the country, the majority of them focused on middle and high school students of color. These groups support the development of young leaders and organize campaigns to address inequity in their communities. In Los Angeles, Inner City Struggle and Community Coalition led the campaign to ensure a rigorous college preparatory curriculum for all students. Groups such as Communities United in Chicago, Padres y Jovenes Unidos in Denver, and the Philadelphia Student Union have gotten their school districts to create policies that address racial disparities in school discipline, resulting in changes that have benefited hundreds of thousands of students. 

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A Challenge to Philanthropy: Expand Health and Educational Opportunities for Native American Youth

March 30, 2018

Native_american_youth_standing_rockThese days, everyone is looking for new thinking about the tough challenges we face as a country. But perhaps what we need is not new thinking but the wisdom to revisit older approaches that have stood the test of time.

A value shared by many Native Americans is that all suffering is reciprocal, as is all healing. Each of us can only thrive when everyone does well.

The power of this wisdom is enormous. And it has endured despite a long history of genocide and racism toward Native Americans, helping our communities remain resilient in the face of tragedy, discrimination, and neglect.

For instance, Native American activists recently led one of the most galvanizing environmental justice campaigns in years — and it all began with a group of Native American youth leaders. Images of young people chanting "Mni wiconi — Water is life" showed up in mainstream news for the better part of 2016 in what became popularly known as the Movement at Standing Rock.

The leadership, conviction, and voices of these young people spoke to the hearts of millions of people around the globe. And their message was profound: We are protecting the most precious source of life — water. Not just for Native people, but for all humans and living beings. By having the guts to challenge the power and prerogatives of the oil industry, these youth — alongside an intergenerational community of "water protectors" — stood up for the inherent right of Native peoples to exist and determine their future.

Standing Rock showcased the power and potential Native American youth have as drivers of social change — both in their communities and across the nation.

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A Conversation With Sarah Eagle Heart, CEO, Native Americans in Philanthropy

March 21, 2018

In 2011, a report from Native Americans in Philanthropy and Foundation Center found that foundation funding explicitly benefiting Native Americans had declined from 0.5 percent of overall funding to 0.3 percent over the previous decade. While there has been no follow-up to that report, Sarah Eagle Heart, CEO of Native Americans in Philanthropy, recently told PND that philanthropic support of Native causes hasn't come close to reaching 1 percent of overall funding in any year since then. And while even that level of funding is inadequate, given the need in Native communities, Eagle Heart argues, "it would be equitable."

Last year, Eagle Heart was honored with the American Express NGen Leadership Award, which is presented at Independent Sector's annual conference each fall to a "next-generation" leader whose work and advocacy have had a transformative impact on a critical societal need. Praised for her abilities as a storyteller, Eagle Heart focuses her work at NAP on educating and advocating for the needs of Native communities across the country.

Earlier this year, PND spoke with Eagle Heart about the dearth of research on Native communities in the United States, the need for greater education to raise awareness of Native issues, and the role racial healing can and must play in bringing equity to indigenous cultures.

Headshot_sarah-eagle-heartPhilanthropy News Digest: In announcing you as the winner of the 2017 American Express NGen Leadership Award, Independent Sector praised your talent as a storyteller and your ability to bridge cultures. What's the biggest story today about Native Americans that other Americans aren't hearing or don't understand?

Sarah Eagle Heart: In general, people don't pay attention — and never have paid attention — to Native Americans or our issues. And I believe one of the reasons Independent Sector chose me for the award was to raise the visibility of Native Americans. When philanthropic organizations look at Native Americans, we're just not as noticeable, statistically speaking, as other ethnic groups. As you know, Native Americans in Philanthropy worked with Foundation Center in 2011 to create a report, Foundation Funding for Native American Issues and Peoples, which showed that less than 0.3 percent of philanthropic funding goes to Native communities, even though we’re between 1 percent and 2 percent of the overall population. So, even if philanthropy increased its giving for Native causes, issues, and nonprofits to 1 percent to 2 percent of total funding, it would still be a drop in the bucket. But we're not seeing that level of funding, and we haven't seen that level of funding at any point over the twenty-seven years of Native Americans in Philanthropy's existence.

PND: Why is that?

SEH: There's not enough research to answer that question. When I started at Native Americans in Philanthropy two and a half years ago, I noticed we were not included in a lot of research reports, there was no contextual research for our communities. In philanthropy, a lot of how you get noticed, or heard, or invited to the table has to do with research. In 2015-16, for example, many of the research reports that came out had a little asterisk that said Native American populations were statistically insignificant. The researchers have since tried to walk back some of those disclaimers, but it goes to show how much philanthropy has been paying attention to Native people. I'm aware that our community is hard to gather statistics on, in part because we live in both urban and rural communities. But I don't think that should be an obstacle to better research.

Another complication is that our communities constantly have to educate funders. Our country is slowly beginning to understand, thanks to issues like the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Standing Rock protests, that we've been working for nearly thirty years to get school systems to portray American Indian history more accurately. We're doing our best to combat stereotypes and propaganda that have depicted Natives as being marginal and unimportant, that we don't count and can be ignored.

PND: Is the situation improving?

SEH: Not really. A recent study found that if you Google "Native American," it doesn't return an image of a contemporary Native person. Google another ethnic group, and you might get images of somebody sitting at a table or as part of a contemporary street scene. But for Native Americans, what you get are depictions of historical images from a hundred or two hundred years ago. You can almost understand why some people think we've vanished.

I really believe that one of the reasons it's so important Native people are heard and seen is that we have so much wisdom to share. When you look at some of the environmental and climate change issues we face, Native people saw it all coming a long time ago and have been raising the alarm for years. It's time philanthropy listened. That's where Native Americans in Philanthropy comes in. We're sharing some of that collective wisdom through our Indigenous Lifecourse research report, which is focused on sharing protective factors from an asset frame rather than a deficit frame.

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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?

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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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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.

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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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts in 2016

December 30, 2016

So it ends, not with a bang but a whimper. Depending on whom you speak to, 2016 was a train wreck, a dumpster fire, a sure sign of the apocalypse, and just plain weird. If it was a year in which too many beloved cultural icons left us, it was also an annus horribilis for progressives, who will have to work twice as hard in the new year (and beyond) to preserve important policy gains achieved over the last eight years and limit the harm caused by a Trump administration and a Republican-controlled Congress.

But while our attention often was focused elsewhere, many of you were taking care of business and digging deep into the PhilanTopic archives for tools and ideas you could use — today and in the weeks and months to come. So, without further preamble, here are the ten posts you "voted" as your favorites in 2016. Enjoy. Happy New Year. And don't forget to check back next week, as we return to the office tanned, rested, and ready to fight the good fight.

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

How We Can Uncover Childhood Health Outcomes Over a Lifetime

September 29, 2016

Childrens_healthEven if their approaches differ, philanthropies ultimately have the same core goal: to create a better future. Many philanthropies, including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), have been working diligently for years to identify the root causes of health problems that affect populations across the nation and to develop solutions to those problems that extend across every aspect of our lives.

Nevertheless, life expectancy in the United States continues to lag other high-income nations, and we continue to lag in other key health indicators as well. With many different factors influencing health, the need for a trusted national source of longitudinal data that tracks how children's health is impacted by environmental, social, and economic influences has never been greater. This kind of cross-sectoral database could help researchers and policy makers see how different factors — including education, parenting style, exposure to chemicals, and the digital environment — affect the growth and development of children.

No philanthropic organization or academic institution has had the inclination — or the resources — to fund a study of this nature, even though such a study could have wide-reaching benefits — and despite the fact that most nations already have this kind of data, allowing them to recognize and address areas in which their children are struggling. The United Kingdom, for example, hosted a birth cohort analysis in 1958, 1970, 1989, and 2000 that has produced 3,600 studies and currently provides data free to researchers. At RWJF, understanding how factors related to where we live, work, and play impact our health — and finding novel ways to spread what's working in a given community — is at the center of our vision of a Culture of Health.

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