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128 posts categorized "Social Justice"

Archiving Simply: How FACT Prioritized Sharing

October 20, 2014

Headshot_diane_feeneyOver its eighteen years of existence, the French American Charitable Trust focused its grantmaking on strengthening community organizations in the United States and France. (We are a bi-national family.) So when we made the decision to spend down the foundation in 2012, we soon realized we had boxes and boxes of files to sort through – not a task on my to-do list I was looking forward to!

Fortunately, a colleague suggested I get in touch with Brown University, which has a program on community organizing and was looking for additional resources. The librarian at Brown asked me to send her a complete accounting of our files, which included documents ranging from board meeting notes to program assessments to grantee reports. She was interested in all of it, and her staff was able to sort through the files, catalog and archive them, and make them available to students and faculty. What a relief!

But we had more to do. Some of our documents were more relevant to the philanthropic community, and we didn't want those to only be available in Providence, Rhode Island.

Spending down wasn't a tough decision, but because there are only a few foundations that invest in community organizing, exiting the field was. Still, we felt we had some interesting learnings related to programs, technical assistance, and evaluation we wanted to share. In addition, we wrote comprehensive reports on the foundation's activities at five and ten years and as we were preparing to close our doors. Because they contain reflections about working as a family foundation, the steps we took to help build the community organizing field, and lessons learned about strengthening our grantees to promote their sustainability, those reports were the most relevant documents to our peers, and we wanted to make them available to people in a way that was easy and convenient.

To that end, we posted our final report on the homepage of our website so that if you searched for FACT, you'd be sent right to the report. Our thinking was that, in an age of information overload, the easier it was to find our most helpful lessons, the better. That final report also includes additional resources that people looking for more in-depth information can explore at their leisure.

We could have shared a variety of other information, such as our financial documents, the key lessons learned by board and staff, our experiences working with consultants, and so on. However, what we decided to leave behind for the philanthropic community was information about FACT's core mission – to strengthen the capacity of community organizations that elevate the voices of people with regard to the societal and political issues that concern them – along with the lessons we learned in pursuit of that mission, our failures and successes, and what we achieved over the course of our foundation's lifespan. Learning from our lessons is what will serve the philanthropic community best.

We have colleagues involved in spend- down situations who decided to leave behind different types and amounts of information, and it's clear that what foundations in spend-down mode decide to share with the broader philanthropic community inevitably varies from foundation to foundation.

I don't personally believe that many people will slog through hundreds of pages of documents, and so my advice to those who find themselves in a spend-down situation is: Prioritize the documents and information you want to share, and make sure the material that's of most interest to other funders is on point, presented concisely, and easy to find and access. For the rest, there's always a library somewhere that will be delighted to preserve and archive the material for future generations and the community. Find that library and let them slog!

Diane Feeney is a director of the French American Charitable Trust (FACT) and president of FACT Services Co., Inc. - the trust's San Francisco-based administrative and service company. As FACT Services' first staff person, she was instrumental in designing the trust’s grantmaking program and strategy and, beginning in 1995, in hiring its U.S. and French staff. Over its lifetime, the French American Charitable Trust awarded $59 million to community-led and social justice advocacy organizations in the U.S. and France. In June 2012, after eighteen years of grantmaking, the directors of FACT chose to voluntarily sunset its grantmaking program. Feeney currently chairs the development committee for the Center for Community Change, a national advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., and directs a small grantmaking program that supports NGOs working to prevent sex trafficking in Central America.

This post originally appeared on the GrantCraft blog as part of GrantCraft's "Making Change by Spending Down" series, which is produced in partnership with the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies.

Weekend Link Roundup (October 4-5, 2014)

October 05, 2014

Harvest2008Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Current Affairs

The New York Times has an excellent Q&A, complete with timelines, maps, and links to other resources, on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa -- and the chances of the virus gaining a toehold and spreading in the U.S. 

And the Washington Post has a disturbing, deeply reported story about the failure of the world's health organizations to respond to the outbreak in a timely and effective fashion.

Environment

According to an item in Al Jazeera America, a new report finds that global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles fell 52 percent between 1970 and 2010, far faster than previously thought. Based on the World Wildlife Fund's bi-annual "Living Planet" survey, the report also found that earth has crossed three (out of nine) "planetary boundaries" — biodiversity, carbon dioxide levels, and nitrogen pollution from fertilizers — beyond which lie "potentially catastrophic changes to life as we know it."

Innovation

Nell Edgington has a nice roundup of social innovation reads from September, including posts by the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund's Ira Hirschfield, the Hewlett Foundation's Daniel Stid, and Carly Pippin of Measuring Success.

Nonprofits

In a post on the GuideStar blog, Jacob Harold, the organization's president/CEO, revisits the Lake Washington Declaration, a set of principles that informs an emerging movement aimed at building "a data-driven information infrastructure that provides all actors in the social sector with the insight they need to inform their decisions."

On his Nonprofit Management blog, Eugene Fram shares some excellent tips for boards looking to onboard a new chief executive.

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Weekend Link Roundup (August 16-17, 2014)

August 17, 2014

Conflict_ImageOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Education

Why hasn't the once-booming tech ed sector solved education's problems? Writing in The Atlantic, Robinson Meyer, an associate editor for the publication, shares some thoughts on that question from Paul Franz, a former doctoral candidate at Stanford who now teaches language arts in California. Those thoughts, writes Meyer, "mirror my own sentiment that education is a uniquely difficult challenge, both technically and socially, and that its difficulty confounds attempts to 'disrupt' it...."

Fundraising

The "ice bucket challenge," a grassroots campaign aimed at raising funds for the ALS Association, a a charity dedicated to finding a cure for amyotropic lateral sclerosis (aka Lou Gehrig's disease), went viral this week. Around the country, celebrities and members of the public were filmed being doused with a bucket of ice water and then posted the footage to their Facebook pages or Twitter feeds. "Multiply this activity 70,000 times," writes William MacAskill, a research fellow in moral philosophy at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, "and the result is that the ALS Association has received $3 million in additional donations....[A] win-win, right?" Not according to MacAskill, whose own nonprofit, Giving What We Can, champions the principles of the effective altruism movement. The problem, writes MacAskill,

is funding cannibalism. That $3 million in donations doesn't appear out of a vacuum. Because people on average are limited in how much they're willing to donate to good causes, if someone donates $100 to the ALS Association, he or she will likely donate less to other charities....

***

This isn't to object to the ALS Association in particular. Almost every charity does the same thing — engaging in a race to the bottom where the benefits to the donor have to be as large as possible, and the costs as small as possible. (Things are even worse in the UK, where the reward of publicizing yourself all over social media comes at a suggested price of just £3 donated to MacMillan Cancer Support.) We should be very worried about this, because competitive fundraising ultimately destroys value for the social sector as a whole. We should not reward people for minor acts of altruism, when they could have done so much more, because doing so creates a culture where the correct response to the existence of preventable death and suffering is to give some pocket change....

Before you get too upset, read the entire piece. (MacAskill is a thoughtful young critic who, like many other people in the sector, has grown impatient with the status quo.) Then come back here and tell us why he's wrong — or right.

For an entirely different take on this question, take a look at this recent post by Philanthropy Daily contributor Scott Walter, executive vice president of the Capital Research Center in Washington, D.C., which is unsparing in its criticism of effective altruism (and Peter Singer, who inspired the movement).

In a short post on the BoardSource site, Convergent Nonprofit Solutions' Tom Ralser looks at the important distinction between a donor and an investor.

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Philanthropy in Brazil: An Insider’s View

July 02, 2014

Headshot_paula_fabianiThe Brazilian philanthropic landscape presents great challenges but also interesting opportunities that could result in Brazil becoming a leading force among the BRIC countries in terms of social investment.

Fueled in part by French economist Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, wealth creation accompanied by gaping inequality has dominated the global conversation in recent months. And Brazil, which has improved on inequality measures over the last few years (one of the few countries in the world able to make that claim!), continues to be one of the most economically unequal countries in the world. That reality requires not only government but other sectors in Brazil to come up with creative solutions and structural changes that will reduce inequality. Indeed, it is why I see great opportunities for philanthropy in Brazil, both in terms of taking risks and in contributing to a more sustainable development path for the country.

In 2013, Forbes magazine identified 124 Brazilian billionaires. Most of those fortunes were concentrated among families that owned or controlled the largest companies in the country. Nevertheless, Brazil is ranked  91st (out of 135 countries) in the World Giving Index published by the Charities Aid Foundation – evidence that philanthropy has not kept pace with wealth creation over the last few years.

At the same time, the world's view of Brazil has changed, and international giving to the country has fallen fairly dramatically. According to a 2006 McKinsey report, the total amount of dollars sent from U.S. donors to Brazilian civil society organizations fell some 70 percent between 2002 and 2006. That, in turn, has led to a changed landscape for many Brazilian CSOs. According to the Associação Brasileira de Organizações Não Governamentais (ABONG) – the Brazilian association of NGOs – international funding for human rights NGOs has been replaced by funding from government and/or state-owned companies, which could pose a threat to the long-term independence of those NGOs. Moreover, as noted by Joan Spero in her report Charity and Philanthropy in Russia, China, India and Brazil, the weakness of civil society in Brazil may inhibit giving domestically and is one of the important challenges Brazilians must address over the next decade.

Spero also notes in her report that religion and family values have played a central role in the development of charitable giving in the country. But the emergence of new trends such as individual giving (as distinct from family giving) and a growing interest in impact investing on the part of young and high-net-worth (HNW) individuals is helping to create a new dynamic that seems likely to result in new opportunities for civil society organizations and philanthropists alike.

I see myself as part of these new trends. I worked for years in the financial markets and spent many hours in conversation with brilliant people who use spreadsheets and complex formulas to create money from money. I also got married and started a family. By the time I was pregnant with my third child, I realized I wanted to focus on creating a better world for my kids – and other kids. So, with the full support of my husband, I decided to switch from the corporate world to the nonprofit world and apply the expertise in dealing with capital I had developed to employing capital to address the social and economic disparities in my country.

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Weekend Link Roundup (June 21-22, 2014)

June 22, 2014

WorldCup_ballOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Climate Change

In an op-ed in the New York Times, former Goldman Sachs CEO and Treasury secretary (2006-09)  Henry Paulson argues that in order to meet "the challenge of our time" (i.e., climate change), the U.S. needs to "plac[e] a tax on carbon dioxide emissions," phase out all subsidies for fossil fuels and renewable energy ("Renewable energy can outcompete dirty fuels once pollution costs are accounted for"), and work hand-in-hand with China to transition to a global economy powered by clean energy.

Giving

The 2014 edition of the Giving USA report was released on Tuesday, and as usual, writes the AP's David Crary, "Wealthy donors are lavishing money on their favored charities, including universities, hospitals and arts institutions, while giving is flat to social service and church groups more dependent on financially squeezed middle-class donors."

Higher Education

Affirmative action as we know it is doomed, writes David Leonhardt on the New York Times' Upshot blog. "Five of the Supreme Court's nine justices have never voted in favor of a race-based affirmative action program," he notes, while "eight states have already banned race-based affirmative action, and four additional ones, including Ohio and Missouri, may consider bans soon." But maybe a system based on income and/or high school class rank rather than income is a better solution at this moment in history. "Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote on the Supreme Court, has signaled some openness to letting institutions consider race," Leonhardt writes,

so long as race doesn't dominate their decisions. And in today's version of affirmative action, race dominates. The standard way that colleges judge any potential alternative is to ask whether it results in precisely the same amount of racial diversity, rather than acknowledging that other forms of diversity also matter.

"An affirmative action based mostly on class, and using race in narrowly tailored ways, is one much more likely to win approval from Justice Kennedy when the issue inevitably returns to the court.

"The next move belongs to those who believe in affirmative action. They can continue to hope against hope that the status quo will somehow hold. Or they can begin to experiment — and maybe end up with a fairer system than the current one."

 

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Weekend Link Roundup (May 3-4, 2014)

May 04, 2014

Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Run_for_the_rosesCommunications/Marketing

On the Hewlett Foundation's Work in progress blog, Heath Wickline, a communications officer at the foundation, poses a good question: What is a foundation Web site for? Whatever the eventual answer, Wickline admits that he and his colleagues have "the nagging feeling that we can and should be doing more. The [foundation], like many of our peers," he adds,

is sitting on a huge amount of data that comes out of our grantmaking. We believe it could be valuable to a wider audience: policymakers, funders contemplating grantmaking in fields where we fund, nonprofits who wouldn't be eligible for a grant, but whose work is adjacent to what we fund. We regularly conduct evaluations of our strategies to determine what's worked and what hasn't. And the end result of much of our grantmaking is research that could have important implications for policy. Our commitment to transparency means we can, and should, do everything in our power to ensure that all of that information is not only available, but easy to find and to use....

The Ford Foundation also is building a new Web site and, through an Un-Survey, is asking all of us to tell it what kinds of questions the site should answer. A clever and creative idea.

On the Markets for Good blog, Peter Grundy, the "father of the infographic," credits his invention to two ephiphanies, one in 1990 ("good information design is not about visualizing information but about visualizing our opinions of information" and the second ("making things simple is complicated") in 2000.

Education

On her blog, Diane Ravitch responds to Alexander Nazaryan, the author of a Newsweek piece rebuking Louis C.K. for slamming Common Core standards.

Impact/Effectiveness

In an important post on the McKnight Foundation blog, Kate Wolford, the foundation's president, offers a few thoughts on the foundation's decision to invest $200 million, roughly 10 percent of its current assets, in four impact investment categories: mission-related investments via public markets, mission-related investments via private markets, mission-driven investments, and program-related investments.

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Documentary Film and Gentrification

April 07, 2014

(Kathryn Pyle is a documentary filmmaker and a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In her previous post, she wrote about the promise and failure of humanitarian aid in Haiti.)

Urban_gentrificationThe phenomenon of gentrification – how it gets started, who benefits, and who loses – is a longstanding concern in cities across the country.

But the term describes only the most visible and disturbing face of urban change: the crowding out of lower-income residents from a suddenly "hot" neighborhood by more affluent newcomers. At a time of growing income inequality in the U.S., it's an image that has captured the attention of the media and, increasingly, is sparking public indignation.

Writing in the New York Times ("Cities Helping Residents Resist the New Gentry"), Timothy Williams observes that "the arrival of newcomers to formerly working-class areas…is distinct from previous influxes over the past thirty years" because new arrivals tend to want to live in newer housing, and the condos and loft spaces built to satisfy that demand not only are too expensive for long-time residents but also add to the density of a neighborhood while reducing the ratio of older residents to new arrivals. Williams' article goes on to discuss measures that have been adopted by cities to mitigate the impact of gentrification on longtime homeowners, while a Times article ("Gentrifying Into the Shelters") by Ginia Bellafante notes that creating and maintaining affordable housing for low-income renters in gentrifying neighborhoods requires an altogether different set of measures.

The topic hasn't escaped the notice of documentary filmmakers. Told in different styles and about different places, films such as Gut Renovation (2012), Third Ward TX (2007), and We Will Not Be Moved (1980) identify common elements in the gentrification process -- foremost among them real estate speculation and private housing development, in many cases encouraged by tax breaks and rezoning policies.  

Su Friedrich's Gut Renovation is a very personal account of that process as it unfolded in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, and how that process is displacing the local artist community – of which she is a member. It begins, in 2005, when Friedrich notices the first high-rise condo going up down the street and ends, five years later, with her own building's demolition to make way for the umpteenth luxe condo project in the neighborhood. Needless to say, the redevelopment of Williamsburg continues unabated, affecting the neighborhood’s long-term population of Poles, Italians, Puerto Ricans, and Dominicans and irrevocably changing the very thing that attracted artists to the neighborhood in the first place.

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 1-2, 2014)

March 02, 2014

Ukraine_protestorOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Big Data

In the Washington Post, Brian Fung reports that more than a dozen civil rights organizations, including the NAACP and the National Council of La Raza, "are backing a set of principles targeting the widespread use of data in law enforcement, hiring and commerce."

With the advent of big data, are "we to assume that government and business will be 'upended', 'revolutionized', 'disrupted' or some other exciting verb but [that] nonprofits and civil society will remain unchanged?" asks Lucy Bernholz on her Philanthropy 2173 blog. Not likely, says Bernholz. "On the contrary, the implications of networked digital data for both addressing our shared social problems and changing how we voluntarily act, how we associate with each other as independent citizens, how we organize for change or protest, are profound. Isn't it time for a real discussion of privacy, association, and autonomy -- about civil society -- in a networked data age?"

Education

Guest blogging on Education Week's Living in Dialogue blog, Paul Horton, who teaches history at the University of Chicago Lab School, argues that "the lack of process is precisely why Common Core needs to be abandoned, especially by public service and teacher unions."

Health

In a post on the Forbes site, Geoffrey Kabat, an epidemiologist with an interest in lifestyle and environmental exposures as factors in chronic disease, suggests that reports that we may "finally be seeing the beginnings of a reversal in the upward trend in obesity" -- a conclusion based on one statistic from a study conducted by researchers at National Center for Health Statistics (part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) -- belies a more sobering reality: there was no change in obesity either in children and adolescents or in adults over the ten-year study period.

Innovation

Innovation in social change works is great, writes Dr. Robert Ross in a special supplement to the Stanford Social Innovation Review, but it's not everything. "In fact," adds Ross, "when it comes to addressing today’s urgent social problems, from education and public health to civil and human rights, innovation is overrated."

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South Africa Sets Example for World but Still Has Work to Do

February 10, 2014

(Achmat Dangor is the Ford Foundation’s representative for Southern Africa in Johannesburg. Darren Walker is president of the Ford Foundation. This  op-ed originally appeared in Business Day, a national daily newspaper based in Johannesburg, South Africa, and is reprinted here with permission of the Ford Foundation. )

FordFdn_logoIn 2004, a decade into South Africa's extraordinary experiment with democratic government, Archbishop Desmond Tutu reminded us that we could "kiss reconciliation and forgiveness goodbye unless the gap between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots, is narrowed."

Today, ten years on, Tutu's words ring truer than ever.

For all of South Africa's astounding progress, inequality is still the single greatest impediment on the long walk to freedom — for inequality stands between the promise of democracy and the achievement of justice. That inequality is undemocratic is a basic truth that applies not just here, but in democratic nations around the world.

As supporters and champions of South Africa, we at the Ford Foundation have marvelled at its social and economic advances.

Since apartheid's abolition, the percentage of people living on less than $2 a day has been halved. Clean water and electricity, harbingers of economic development, are spreading. Illiteracy is on the decline.

And yet, while the lives of South Africa's poorest have improved a great deal, they haven't improved relative to the wealthiest.

The International Monetary Fund tells us that half of the country's total income goes to the top 10 percent of earners, while the bottom 20 percent of earners take in only 2.7 percent of national income.

Simply put, South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world — in spite of the fact that its constitution is the world's most democratic.

How do we address this paradox?

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For the Success of Boys and Men of Color, A Call to Action

January 29, 2014

(Kenneth H. Zimmerman is director of U.S. programs for the Open Society Foundations. This post was first published on Open Society's Voices blog.)

Headshot_Ken_ZimmermanIn this year's State of the Union address, President Obama opened the door to an opportunity that may be a game changer for millions of boys and men of color in America.

In his speech, President Obama said he believes in the fundamental importance of transforming the lives of young men and boys of color and is committed to bolstering and reinforcing government and private partnerships to work on the issue.

We welcome and are heartened by the president's commitment and recognition that a key part of the effort to increase opportunity for all Americans, regardless of race and gender, is to focus explicitly on helping boys and men of color succeed.

Young men of color face systemic economic, social, and political barriers in their everyday lives. As a result, too many of them are denied educational opportunity, become unemployed, or, worse, face incarceration.

In spite of these barriers, we see men and boys of color overcome the odds on a regular basis —graduating at the top of their classes, achieving leadership positions in corporations, becoming business owners, and being wonderful fathers to their families and valuable members of their communities. They are vital assets to our country, and investing in pathways to build opportunity for them will deliver significant economic and civic benefits to the nation as a whole.

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To Create Change in America, Think Local

January 17, 2014

(Kenneth H. Zimmerman is director of U.S. programs for the Open Society Foundations. This post was first published on Open Society's Voices blog.)

Headshot_Ken_ZimmermanWe live in an age defined by profound change: New technology has revolutionized how we communicate and get our work done. The Great Recession has left many of us searching for jobs or struggling to gain skills that make us employable in the "new" economy. Shifting demographics offer promise and challenges as our neighborhoods transition. Federal and state funding cuts have left services previously taken for granted on shaky ground.

These changes have particularly affected the U.S. nonprofit sector, especially that portion focused on promoting equitable development, effective and transparent government, and smart and fair criminal justice policies. As anyone who works with these groups knows, nonprofits have been devastated by reductions in public and philanthropic funding.

At a time of rapid change in both the public and private sectors -- some of it driven by federal budget realities and some by how organizations are evolving to meet the demands of new technology and public expectations -- the cuts have limited nonprofits' ability to shape policy, provide services, and engage in collaborative partnerships.

The Open Places Initiative grows out of the realization that the ability of communities to respond to these challenges requires increased civic capacity, especially for efforts that attempt to further the inclusion and participation of those with low incomes, people of color, and other marginalized communities in civic, economic, and political life. By investing in nonprofit collaborations -- and supporting nonprofit groups in their partnerships with government, business, and local communities -- Open Society aims to expand nonprofits' potential to pursue effective responses to the demographic, economic, and technological changes that are re-shaping the country.

As part of this new initiative, we have awarded nonprofit collaborations in Buffalo, San Diego, and Puerto Rico $1.9 million each over two years.

Our commitment to these collaborations is long-term. Indeed, we plan to continue funding each site for at least three years -- and potentially for as many as ten. What's more, each Open Places site is taking the lead in determining the issues it will address and the form of collaboration it will pursue.

Here are a few examples:

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Newsmakers: Darren Walker, President, Ford Foundation

December 18, 2013

Headshot_darren_walkerIn September, Darren Walker became the tenth president of the Ford Foundation. Before coming to Ford, where he was vice president of the foundation's Education, Creativity, and Freedom of Expression program, Walker served as vice president for foundation initiatives at the Rockefeller Foundation and as chief operating officer of the Abyssinian Development Corporation, where he guided the organization's efforts to develop housing for low and moderate-income families in Harlem.

Recently, Michael Seltzer, a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic, spoke with Walker about the current social change environment, the influence of the foundation's activities on his life, and his hopes for the foundation going forward. Seltzer is a distinguished lecturer at the Baruch College School of Public Affairs and an affiliated faculty member of its Center for Nonprofit Strategy & Management.

Philanthropy News Digest: What is it like to be president of the Ford Foundation?

Darren Walker: Although I've been at the foundation for more than three years, in many ways I still have a lot to learn. I certainly didn't arrive here with any idea I would end up as president. When I walked through the doors of this institution for the first time, it was a transformational experience, because the Ford Foundation represents the ways in which my own life has been changed by philanthropy.

I'm a graduate of public schools. I attended public school in a small town in Texas, and I am also a graduate of the first Head Start cohort, a program that was developed out of Ford Foundation-supported research on early child development at Yale University. After high school, I attended a large land grant university -- thanks to Pell grants, another Ford Foundation-supported intervention -- so I know all about Ford's commitment to public education in this country.

After college, I worked on Wall Street and one day found myself at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, which was hosting a representative of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a creation of -- you guessed it -- the Ford Foundation. LISC had awarded a grant to the Abyssinian Development Corporation for capacity-building initiatives that would allow it to realize the aspirations of the organization's founders, who had a dream in the mid-'80s that Harlem could be a community that could regenerate itself from within. And the Ford Foundation, through LISC, believed in that dream and invested in it. And that capacity-building grant made it possible for ADC to hire me. So my journey, like the journeys of so many others, has been deeply influenced by the Ford Foundation.

I was thrilled to receive a call from the foundation's board chair, Irene Hirano-Inouye, and have her tell me that the board had voted to appoint me president. Actually, I wasn't sure how to respond, beyond saying, "Yes!" because I know that with this job comes huge responsibility, and that I stand on the shoulders of some extraordinary people.

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Nelson Mandela, July 18, 1918 - December 5, 2013

December 06, 2013

PND joins with millions of people around the globe in paying tribute to Nelson Mandela, a towering figure of the twentieth century. Thanks in part to his heroic example, our is a more peaceful and just world. May he always live in our collective memory.

Mandela_tribute

The Nelson Mandela foundation is collecting messages of condolence from the global community. To send a message, visit www.nelsonmandela.org/.

Creating Paths to College and the Urgency of Now

October 29, 2013

(Rhonda Tsoi-A-Fatt Bryant is the interim director of the Youth Policy team at the Center for Law and Social Policy, a D.C.-based nonprofit advocacy organization that works to improve the lives of low-income people. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

Headshot_RhondaTI was a STEM whiz as a child — a seemingly unlikely thing for a girl, and an African-American girl at that, to be. In middle school, I attended a magnet program and learned computer programming while taking advanced math and science classes. In high school, I took calculus and physics and learned a computer programming language. My primary interest was engineering, so my school district helped me attend summer programs at area universities. That experience landed me a job at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at the age of 17.

Although I chose public policy instead of engineering as my life's work, those were the opportunities that put me on a path to college. My middle school and high school offered classes that nurtured my interests in mathematics and science. I had great teachers who used hands-on learning to take basic lessons to the next level. I remember our physics teacher explaining the science behind breaking boards martial arts-style and wading in the Chesapeake River in hip-high boots to learn about plant life. I also had guidance counselors who knew me personally, connected me to summer opportunities that allowed me to cultivate my academic interests, and walked me through the college application process. My family couldn't afford to pay for college. Without these opportunities, it would have been far more difficult to continue my education.

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Lincoln Died for Our Sins

August 26, 2013

On August 28, 1963, America witnessed what was arguably the greatest demonstration for racial justice in the history of the country. Half a century after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the looming question of racial equality in America remains.

In the lead-up to the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, PhilanTopic is publishing a ten-part series, sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, in which some of America's most important writers explore our race issues, past and present.

In the ninth installment of that series (click here for the eighth, "The New White Negro," by Isabell Sawhill), Jelani Cobb, director of the Institute for African American Studies at the University of Connecticut and author of The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress, examines the themes that, over the last century and a half, have made our sixteenth president "a Rorschach test of sorts" and how those themes are bound to and illuminate questions of racial reconciliation and progress in America. The essay below first appeared in the Washington Monthly and is reprinted here with the permission of that publication.

Lincoln_MemorialThe opening scene of Steven Spielberg's cinemythic portrait of the sixteenth president features President Abraham Lincoln seated on a stage, half cloaked in darkness, and observing the Union forces he is sending into battle. It's an apt metaphor for the man himself -- both visible and obscure, inside the tempest yet somehow above the fray. Lincoln was released in early November 2012, just in time to shape our discussions of January 1, 2013, the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet with its themes of redemption and sacrifice, Spielberg's film could seem less suited for an anniversary celebration than an annual one. Here is a vision of a lone man, tested by betrayal, besieged by enemies whom he regards without malice, a man who is killed for his convictions only to be resurrected as a moral exemplar. Spielberg's Lincoln is perhaps less fitted to January 1 than it is to the holiday that precedes it by a week.

In fairness, this narrative of Lincoln's Civil War, equal parts cavalry and Calvary, did not originate with Spielberg. The legend of the Great Emancipator began even as Lincoln lay dying in a boarding house across from Ford's Theater that night in April 1865. (In the same way that JFK's mythic standing as a civil rights stalwart was born at Dealey Plaza in November 1963.) In the wake of his assassination, Lincoln the controversial and beleaguered president was remade into Lincoln the Savior, an American Christ-figure who carried the nation's sins. Pulling off this transformation, this historical alchemy, has required that we as a nation redact the messier parts of Lincoln's story in favor of an untainted, morally unconflicted commander-in-chief who was untouched by the biases of the day and unyielding in his opposition to slavery. We have little use for tainted Christs. Through Lincoln, the Union was "saved" in more than one sense of the word.

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