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‘Under Construction’: Healing With a Groove

October 29, 2014

Under_construction_logoUnder Construction is a multimedia online exhibit showcasing some of the best and brightest organizations working with males of color. The UC team of filmmakers, photographers, writers, and nonprofit experts worked directly with each of these organizations for several weeks. The collaborations yielded comprehensive portraits of the services men of color receive. Each profile features a short video, a photography exhibit, a visual program model, and a narrative essay detailing the efforts of these organizations.

Under Construction is a project of Frontline Solutions and was made possible through the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. For more profiles, click here.

Where there is joy, there is music. Frustration, music. Hope, music. Love found, love lost, music and more music. It expresses emotion when words alone are inadequate and provides a soundtrack for our lives.

In the Mississippi Delta, the cradle of the blues, the black experience has been chronicled by enduring and endearing songs that lament racism, relationship problems, social inequity, and the aggravation of being broke. The blues are a gift to the world, one that the Delta is best known for. The music spills out of unassuming juke joints that come alive after dark and that have produced more GRAMMY Award winners per capita than any other region of the country.

The blues is not necessarily the preferred language of the young men coming up now, though. They speak hip-hop and make personal heroes out of Southern-born rappers like Lil' Boosie and Yo Gotti, artists celebrated for their lyrical realness and rags-to-riches success. The issues that both genres address are the same, but the stories born out of them are set to a different beat.

It’s fertile ground for Healing With a Groove.

Launched in 2013 at Delta State University and funded with a $150,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the program introduces 12- to 19-year-olds to both the cathartic art and technical science of creating their own music. It gives young black men a constructive platform for self-expression — no previous musical ability required — and a chance to hear, see, and feel the entire song-making process.

Tricia Walker_Director_Delta Music Institute"Healing with a Groove grew out of a discussion program that I was a part of when I was a professional singer and songwriter in Nashville," says Tricia Walker, director of the Delta Music Institute (DMI) and entertainment industry studies program at Delta State.

"The Country Music Hall of Fame developed a curriculum on lyric writing for elementary school students. Volunteer songwriters would then put music to the lyrics and the singers, songwriters, and children would come to the museum on a field trip to hear their songs recorded. That was one part of it," she explains. "The other part was a dialogue group that would facilitate a discussion about issues of race and diversity. They created a safe environment to talk about the questions that sometimes make people uncomfortable."

Walker used the model to mold Healing with a Groove as a response to some of the specific concerns in Bolivar and Sunflower counties, two of the eighteen counties that comprise the Mississippi Delta, where the population is more than 65 percent black and 34 percent of residents live in poverty. The program gives boys instruction in songwriting, audio engineering, and music technology, which is the fun part, and outfits them with the additional support of college student mentors who look like them, which is an essential part.

Breaking Down the Black Boy Bravado

In the center of a relatively empty auditorium inside the Delta Music Institute, a cluster of teenage boys sit in a circle of hardback chairs. They're quiet, slouched in the way that teenage boys slouch to demonstrate their resolute kind of cool. It's the first day of Healing with a Groove and they are, for the time being, a band of same-age strangers sizing each other up.

Travis Calvin_Project Coordinator_Healing with a GrooveThe atmosphere is subdued but without tension until Travis Calvin, the project coordinator and a Delta State alumnus with a fresh degree in music industry studies, cuts into the silent posturing with an ice breaker. He asks each of the young men to introduce themselves — name, school, what they like to do in their spare time — and then to strike a pose at the end of their spiel. The next person up has to repeat the information of the boy beside him, he explains, with the onus on the last man standing to rattle off all the names and the distinguishing details of those who went before him.

The first boy stands. "My name is Shawn. I like to play ball and pull girls." He whips out his cell phone and places a pretend call as his pose. The ring of new compadres nods in agreement and everybody laughs, including Calvin and his staff. They know this guy because they essentially are this guy, and the room comes alive with easy familiarity. They're warmed up now as another boy stands. He says his name and adds offhandedly, "I like to trap."

"We gonna change that," someone shoots back. "Trap" is slang for hustling, more often than not drugs, and it's claimed the lives of far, far too many black boys seduced by instant financial return. Still, no one in the group judges, no one lectures, no one delivers fire-and-brimstone damnation upon him. The certainty that he will be positively influenced and perhaps reach a whole new level of decision-making is enough for now.

Everyone having been given a chance to learn a little bit about the others, the boys sit quietly for a moment. Then someone starts to beatbox, and instinctively every head in the circle starts bobbing. The music — even more organic than the harmonicas and cigar box guitars that produced the music of their blues-singing grandfathers — is one of the shared loves that knit black men together. This group is no different. The brotherhood is the beat, the camaraderie is the bass line.

Although the program is designed around racial reconciliation, the initial self-discovery has to begin here in this ring of brown boys, before integration is even introduced into the conversation, Calvin explains. "Right now, to deal with race relations, we talk with the guys based on perception and identity because I believe that in order for us to come to the table and communicate, we have to address issues with ourselves first. We have to build confidence in ourselves and learn who we are."

In its first year, the program served seventy-five young men. This year, it has enrolled twenty students in its first month. Each participant has been referred by an educator, not necessarily because of their stellar academic performance or model behavior in school. "Every teacher says their child needs it," says Calvin. "So far, the struggle has been to get them to recommend students who are not as well-groomed, not your 'A' students." Those aren't the kids the program is primarily trying to reach. Instead, they boys are chosen because the folks who refer them see their promise and believe they'll benefit from the unique mix of candor and hands-on learning that is the hallmark of Healing With a Groove.

For the next three weeks, this particular group will meet to discuss what it's like to be them, to be young and black and male in Mississippi, in the South, in post-Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown America, and the challenges they experience — within themselves, their households, and their communities. Based on those conversations, they'll write lyrics and create music. In the closing phase of the program, they'll lay down tracks in a DMI Mobile Music Lab, a recording studio and production room housed in the high-tech splendor of a customized bus that travels from partner site to partner site

The Healing Place Is the Place That Needs to Be Healed

There are no actual signs barring anyone from being or going anywhere they please in Cleveland or its neighboring Delta communities. Those relics of the Jim Crow era have long since been removed. But their social imprint lingers, and the area remains largely segregated, mostly out of antiquated convention. It's not difficult to imagine that black boys coming of age on the margins of their own community would feel unheard.

"There were areas that certain people were restricted to and over time, even though those boundaries were no longer there physically, they remain mentally. We want to eliminate that. If a person feels like certain parts of the county are not available to them, that's a problem," says Will Hooker, the administrator for Bolivar County. He is a homeboy by definition, born and raised in the area, and knows firsthand the conditions that exist because, before he was an elected official with a title and an office in City Hall, he experienced them like most other young, black men in the Delta. His involvement with Healing With a Groove dates to its inception; he now serves on its board of advisors.

"When this program came about, we found that we still have some mental barriers that we need to identify. There are those who sometimes feel like they don't have a voice. We want their feedback. If you take time to hear what they're saying, there are still areas that we have to tackle because young men growing up in this community will never reach their potential if they place limitations on themselves. We want to free them up," Hooker says. "This program is that bridge, that common ground where we can communicate, hear each other, and then move forward."

As it stands, the area is partitioned, like many working-class towns, by a set of railroad tracks, dividing the black side from the white. Two high schools — East Side High, with its nearly all-black student population, and Cleveland High, integrated but seemingly more privileged than East Side — exist just barely a mile from each other, still symbols of the bad old days of segregation.

The district has been under pressure to be more intentional about blending the two populations. Its proposed solution is to turn East into a magnet school to attract whites. Until then, two high schools means two different homecoming parades, two different athletic programs, two different everything. That duality is symbolic of the area itself, one side silently tolerant of the other but real community eluding it because talking race, really talking race, can get messy and hurtful and ugly.

Mic Hargrove_Mentor_Healing with a GrooveHealing With a Groove fortifies the students growing up in this atmosphere with programming that breeds honest dialogue accompanied by personal revelation. So while the racial dynamics may not change in Bolivar County any time soon, the young black men who live here hopefully will. Mic Hargrove, a junior at Delta State and a mentor with the program, has seen it happen. "We did a workshop in Meridian, and one guy we were working with asked, 'Do you know what it's like to be invisible?' That's how he felt. But by the end, he was one of our main participants. He was the one who recorded the 'Rise' verse," Hargrove says, referring to a song the group recorded together.

"We give people a chance. We choose which person is going to actually put their voice on the song. Everybody collectively helps write it, but then we choose one person to actually record. The invisible guy was the person that ended up recording the song. It was cool."

Activities like the one Calvin led with the young men in the circle help to lower defenses and machismo. Maintaining that forgiving attitude throughout allows them to feel at ease enough to share their stories, experiences, concerns, and realities.

"When we tell about ourselves and are open with them, when they see that we are real and that we are there for their benefit, then they kind of open up. Once we open up, they open up," says Hargrove, an artist in his own right who describes the message in his music as "hope and faith and progressive thinking." That, whether in song or in spirit, is exactly what the young brothers under his tutelage need.

Taking the Music on the Road

A state-of-the-art production studio inside a 26-foot-long bus would intrigue the average adult. It downright thrills the Healing With a Groove guys. The DMI Mobile Music Lab is indeed impressive: it's dark, cool, an environment conducive for creating. A shiny wood-grained doorway in the back leads to the booth where the boys will record the songs they've written. The production workspace featuring four big-screen Apple monitors mounted flush to the walls and lighted equipment tucked under the desks looks like the control panel for something really great. For the boys, it is.

Vickie Jackson_Project Coordinator_Delta Music Mobile LabWhen Calvin's latest group climbs into the bus for the first time, they are all visibly and audibly wowed, transformed for a moment into wide-eyed kids. Vickie Jackson, the lab's project coordinator, never tires of that reaction. Then she puts them to work. She admits that she loves a self-aware a-ha moment, but her strategy is to engage the group with the nuts and bolts of music production, then covertly slide in as many teachable moments — about race, women, themselves — as their time together allows.

"The whole process, from songwriting to recording, is important. I want to provide them with a platform to speak honestly about themselves and race relations. Once you develop self-esteem, you're saying, 'I know who I am. Now I can figure out who I am with you'," she explains. "But I also want to teach them about the science, the art behind creating music."

Jackson isn't necessarily trying to churn out the next generation of great American artists and music producers. She does hope that navigating the music-making process will expose the boys to the college experience and encourage them to continue their learning. "I tell them, if this is something you really like, you can come to a university and study more about this. There are other opportunities out there for you." Sometimes they become interested in the production side of things and consider, maybe even seriously, a career behind the scenes. It does happen, Jackson says, but she's happy just to broaden their perspectives in general.

There's a line in a song titled "Trying to Make It" on the seventeen-track CD produced by the young artists at work that is profound:

"The more I learn, the more I understand where I'm coming from" — which, as grown folks who have lived a little bit of life know, is just as important as being clear about where you are going. There's tremendous power in storytelling for both the person weaving the tale and the people who have the pleasure of hearing that tale. For their part, the architects and organizers of Healing With a Groove have done a beautiful thing simply by introducing dozens of young men to themselves and their community's greatest legacy, music.

— Janelle Harris

'Under Construction': Phoenix Indian Center – College and Career Readiness

October 03, 2014

Under_construction_logoUnder Construction is a multimedia online exhibit showcasing some of the best and brightest organizations working with males of color. The UC team of filmmakers, photographers, writers, and nonprofit experts worked directly with each of these organizations for several weeks. The collaborations yielded comprehensive portraits of the services men of color receive. Each profile features a short video, a photography exhibit, a visual program model, and a narrative essay detailing the efforts of these organizations.

Under Construction is a project of Frontline Solutions nd was made possible through the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.For more profiles, click here.

The Hohokam Indians made their mark nearly two millennia ago. In the hot desert region that is home to Phoenix today, the Hohokam developed agriculture based on a sophisticated irrigation system. Using only hand tools, they fashioned a canal network stretching more than five hundred miles through the Gila and Salt River valleys.

This summer, Augustine Newman, 16, heard of these amazing feats of engineering for the first time. This wasn't just historical fodder; the pre-industrial technology of the Hohokam fueled a deep pride in Augustine, an aspiring scientist who is half-Apache and affiliated with the San Carlos Tribe. "We Natives had our own system," he explains. "We were able to be self-sufficient."

PIC_augustine_newmanAugustine was among sixty young men who heard about the Hohokam canal system during a tour of the offices of the Central Arizona Project (CAP), a diversion system that carries water from the Colorado River to municipalities and reservations in central Arizona. The visit was part of a summer career exploration program within a larger College and Career Readiness initiative organized by the Phoenix Indian Center. Katosha Nakai, former chair of the center's board of directors and CAP's tribal affairs and policy development manager, led the tour through the many CAP departments — accounting, legal, engineering, water operations. The tour largely served to show the young men the kinds of jobs available with the right training and education.

The trip to CAP was one of many eye-opening moments during the first phase of a program serving young American Indian men in tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades. Over two short weeks, the guys connected with each other, explored their roots, and considered different college and career options. It was a time for surveying the world beyond their home base in Phoenix or on one of the nearby Indian reservations.

It's quite possible that the Hohokam irrigation canals are not featured in local school textbooks. One of the program’s participants, Nathaniel Talamantez, who is Akimel-O'Otham and a member of the Gila River Tribal Community, says that at his school "maybe they'll do two pages [of Indian history] in the book and that's it."

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Doubling Down: When a Foundation Renews or Expands a Grant

July 25, 2014

Headshot_sandy_edwardsAs a new foundation in 2006, the Jim Joseph Foundation outlined a strategy of awarding large multiyear grants. Through a careful planning process, we determined that multiyear grants would give grantees the time needed to successfully implement and evaluate bold initiatives — and that longer-term investments likely would be needed for  the foundation's grantmaking to achieve substantive goals. As of June 2014, 82 percent of the foundation's grants had at least a three-year term, and a full 67 percent were for four years or more. As a result, only in the last few years have we begun to consider the renewal or expansion of grants to key grantees.

There are many factors in this process. At its core, an opportunity for renewal or expansion of a grant initiative is a result both of positive outcomes demonstrated by a grant evaluation and/or a deep relationship that has developed between the foundation and the grantee. Both of these critical factors — one tangible and the other more abstract — evolve over the lifetime of a grant period.

During the grant development stage, foundation staff work closely with future grantees to determine the strategy alignment of a potential grant, with a particular focus on the extent to which it addresses the core priorities of an organization's work. Once a grant is awarded, the relationship between the foundation and grantee is hopefully strengthened through open and honest dialogue. Major grant awards include an independent evaluation to determine whether project goals are being achieved (in ways that advance both the foundation's and grantee's missions), key learnings are being disseminated, and to help guide the continued efforts of the grantee. Fortunately, there are many grant renewal success stories we can highlight, each one unique and with important insights to offer.

In 2007, the Jim Joseph Foundation funded the Foundation for Jewish Camp's Specialty Camp Incubator, which resulted in the opening of five new camps (92Y Passport NYC, Adamah Adventures, Eden Village Camp, Ramah Outdoor Adventures, and URJ 6 Points Academy) in the summer of 2010. In addition to significant enrollment growth at each camp, an independent evaluation (31 pages, PDF) conducted by Informing Change reported that campers, as a result of their camp experience, had improved their specialty skills, become more self-confident, knew more about being Jewish, felt more positive and enthusiastic about being Jewish, made more decisions based on the camps' Jewish values, and felt closer to Jewish kids their age. As a foundation committed to creating more and better Jewish learning opportunities, we welcome the opportunity to build on a successful grant and, based on the successful outcomes generated by the incubator effort, we decided to fund a second incubator and the launch of four more camps in partnership with the AVI CHAI Foundation. This grant will broaden FJC's sources of funding and enable it to continue to enhance and strengthen the Jewish summer camp experience with a proven model that increases the number of exciting camp options.

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Our Girls Are in Trouble, Too

May 28, 2014

Headshot_cathy_weissI was thrilled recently to read about the Foundation Center's new report Building a Beloved Community: Strengthening the Field of Black Male Achievement. The report details the exciting and long overdue work in the area of black male achievement and provides recommendations for strengthening that work.

At Stoneleigh Foundation, we are familiar with the disparities that black males — particularly boys and young men — face, and we believe that, to improve life outcomes for this population, it is imperative to understand what it means to be a young black male in the context of current and past realities. We are certain that policies for serving these boys and young men can be successful only if we consider the intergenerational cycles of neglect and trauma that have been hardwired into their brains. Using a gendered and, in this case, cultural lens to approach public policy is necessary to advance a targeted and effective strategy.

We at Stoneleigh applaud the "intensified focus" on black males, and we look forward to having more partners join us in redressing the policies that have resulted in such unfortunate realities for too many.

Similarly, we would like to see the same gendered lens applied to girls when devising policies that affect young, at-risk females. Research shows a basic lack of awareness of how the challenges faced by girls differ from those of boys — and how we can and should serve girls differently. At a recent symposium hosted by Stoneleigh, we explored the unique challenges girls are facing, how coping with these challenges often leads to system involvement, and why girls are falling through the cracks of the current "one size fits all" child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

Compared to previous generations, adolescent girls are getting into trouble with the law and with their peers at unprecedented rates. Girls in the child welfare system experience more teen pregnancies, bad birth outcomes, and poor health, and they are more likely to abuse their own children. And for many girls, the child welfare system leads directly to the juvenile justice system. But why? And what are we doing to support girls so that system involvement doesn't lead to these heartbreakingly too-common outcomes?

Our systems are failing girls because we have yet to seek the answers to these questions. We must explore ways to better harness the strength and resilience of girls, and that starts with understanding who they are, the challenges they face, and what they need to thrive. Let's take a cue from the powerful work being done to address the challenges faced by our at-risk boys and young men, and apply the same focus to girls. Our collective success depends on it.

Cathy Weiss is executive director of the Philadelphia-based Stoneleigh Foundation, which works to improve the life outcomes of vulnerable children and youth and also funds fellowships for individuals working to improve the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. The foundation recently convened a symposium titled "What About the Girls?" that brought together leaders in juvenile justice and child welfare to discuss the concept that girls can only be served effectively if we begin to understand the unique challenges they are facing.

It's Time to Make the American Dream Available to All

May 27, 2014

Headshot_geoff_canadaThe barriers to success that black men face have been in plain sight for decades, so it is particularly heartening to see a movement taking shape that is specifically crafted to address these challenges and change the odds for one of the most disenfranchised populations in America.

I was on the board of trustees of the Open Society Foundations when the idea of a black male achievement campaign first came up. While it was obvious that something needed to be done, we immediately found ourselves facing a philosophical dilemma: Was it right to target just one group when other groups also need help?

In a country where cultural and racial relations are as complicated as they are in the United States, people are understandably hesitant to publicly announce they are going to help one group while seemingly ignoring all others. Eventually, we concluded that tailoring our efforts to a group that has a common history and a resulting set of common challenges is absolutely the right approach. Black men in America — while individuals in their own right — are heirs to a unique historical experience. After slavery was ended by the Civil War, black men faced decades of institutional racism, Jim Crow and segregation, public lynchings, and disenfranchisement. More recently, they have been abused and demeaned by a toxic street culture and media stereotypes that glorify self-destructive behavior.

If we are going to close the achievement gap and end what the Children's Defense Fund calls the "cradle to prison pipeline" for black boys and men, we need to take into consideration the insidious context of their situation. Indeed, as the Campaign for Black Male Achievement has taken shape, gaining traction even as parallel efforts have emerged, we've seen how necessary and overdue such an effort is. While there is certainly a lot of day-to-day work still to be done, the narrative and national dialogue have begun to change. Ignorance and fear are giving way to empathy and intelligent action.

We have, in Barack Obama, a president who has given the imprimatur of the White House to the idea that racism will not be sanctioned or ignored by society.  In the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin shooting, the president's empathetic response created space for an honest, open, and clear-eyed public discussion of race relations and the stubbornness of racism in America.

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'Under Construction': La Plazita Institute - Albuquerque, New Mexico

March 18, 2014

Under-construction-logoUnder Construction is a multimedia online exhibit showcasing some of the best and brightest organizations working with males of color. The UC team of filmmakers, photographers, writers, and nonprofit experts worked directly with each of these organizations for several weeks. The collaborations yielded comprehensive portraits of the services men of color receive. Each profile features a short video, a photography exhibit, a visual program model, and a narrative essay detailing the efforts of these organizations.

Under Construction is a project of Frontline Solutions and was made possible through the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. For more profiles, click here.

As in the desert that surrounds this city, it seems almost all living happens at dusk. The sun throws rose-colored light on the Sandia Mountains, the pale houses empty, and the sidewalks fill. Above, the skies look brush-stroked and extravagant, and a breeze comes, as if it had been hiding, too. When you endure in the desert, this hour is your reward.

And if you are a boy here, this is the hour when someone will show you a crooked path to manhood. You'll follow an older brother or cousin down to the Rio Grande to receive an initiation of blows and beatings. There, under the Cottonwoods, you'll try not to cry when they say you need to go beat up that kid you used to play with. In just a little while they'll call you carnalito (little brother, little dude).

Like many of the Chicano and Native American youth in Albuquerque who take guidance from La Plazita Institute, Raymond Maestas was brought into gang life before he got out of middle school. He learned to go at life with a gun on his waist and to get away from it all by taking a hit. But one day when he was fifteen a man invited him to earn respect a different way, by talking about his feelings, by serving his neighborhood, and by beginning to honor a heritage he had never been taught. The man was Albino Garcia, and the place was called La Plazita. The other guys in the room, the ones he was supposed to open up to? They were the ones he'd been conditioned to hate.

"I was stuck in the life, gang style life, I grew up here in the South Valley, you know," Maestas remembers. (South Valley is a neighborhood in the city's Southeast District.) "The words of Albino made me think. I was fifteen and I had a son.

That was ten years ago, soon after La Plazita began trying to help one of the most underserved populations in the country with programs like organic gardening, ceramics, and screen printing, along with traditional Native American rituals like a sweat lodge and "Warrior Circles." Here Maestas, who is twenty-five now and is covered neck to waist in tattoos, will tell younger teens how he learned to talk about his feelings, and, perhaps for the first time, those mentees will know someone who has dared to walk a different path.

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'A Small Committed Minority of Believers'

February 18, 2014

(Shawn Dove is campaign manager for the Open Society Foundations Campaign for Black Male Achievement. In a December 2012 Newsmaker interview with PND, he discussed the report Where Do We Go From Here? Philanthropic Support for Black Men and Boys.)

Headshot_Shawn Dove_A generation ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. asserted in Where Do We Go From Here, Chaos or Community?, the last book he published before he was assassinated, that "it will take…a small committed minority [of believers] to work unrelentingly to win the uncommitted majority. Such a group may well transform America's greatest dilemma into her most glorious opportunity."

The great dilemma that King wrote about in 1967 still gnaws at the roots of a nation that was founded on a premise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness but was built on a foundation of racial and gender inequality. And while today no single group of people in America can claim that it alone is marginalized — sadly, there are many such groups — it is hard to dispute that disparities faced by black men and boys across a number of indicators, including incarceration, academic achievement, and unemployment, paint a picture of their systemic exclusion from the American mainstream.

The thorny issue of black men and their standing in American society is, of course, not a new one. Yet in light of recent advances in the emerging field of black male achievement, there is reason to hope that the small committed minority of believers who have been working hard to improve the life outcomes and perceptions of black men and boys are swaying the majority of non-believers.

By now, most people have heard that President Obama intends to launch a significant new effort "to bolster the lives of young men of color" in America. Building on momentum that has been growing over recent years, the public rollout of My Brother's Keeper, as the initiative is called, represents a bold response to the challenges confronting so many young men of color. Without a doubt, this is an historic moment for the work and aspirations of many leaders working within and outside philanthropy who have devoted their lives to creating an America where black men and boys can compete on an even playing field of opportunity and realize their full potential.

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The Transparent Spend Down

September 23, 2013

The following post by Charles R. Bronfman, chairman of The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies (ACBP), is the first in a new blog series, "Making Change by Spending Down," produced by ACBP in partnership with GrantCraft, a joint service of the Foundation Center and the European Foundation Centre. In the post, Mr. Bronfman explains how he, his late wife, Andrea, and ACBP president Jeffrey Solomon arrived at the decision to spend down the foundation by 2016; why he and Solomon decided to take extra steps to create transparency around the spend-down process; and what they hope the added measure of transparency will accomplish.

We welcome your comments on this and every post in the series and encourage you to discuss and/or share individual posts on Twitter using the #spenddown hashtag. To learn more about the project, visit the GrantCraft Web site.


My parents were my greatest mentors. They taught me the meaning of philanthropy through their active involvement in many causes. Creating initiatives to address social, cultural and community needs now, and facilitating positive change for the future, were and remain my guiding principles.

Those principles became the foundation for The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, which my late wife, Andy, and I established in 1985. All along, we believed in creating programs with long-lasting effect and which could and would make a real difference in the world.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, after doing our homework about foundations created in perpetuity, Andy; Jeff Solomon, the president of our foundation; and I decided that ACBP should fulfill its mandate. While several other foundations had chosen this course, we decided to keep our decision to ourselves. But as more foundations chose to be time-limited and publicly announced their decision, we decided to go public with ours in 2008.

In an open letter to the philanthropic community three years later, Jeff Solomon and I announced that we would spend down ACBP by 2016.

That's not news anymore. What is, though, is the transparency we vowed to establish around the spend-down process, a conscious effort to share our experiences -- expected and not, good and bad -- on the road to 2016.

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How Should Philanthropy Respond to Obama's Speech on Black Men and Boys?

July 22, 2013

Shawn Dove is manager of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, an initiative of the Open Society Foundations "to create hope and opportunities for black men and boys who are significantly marginalized from U.S. economic, social, and political life." In collaboration with the Open Society Foundations, the Foundation Center recently launched, a go-to resource for data and information related to black male achievement that also highlights the role philanthropy can play in supporting black men and boys. A version of this post appears on OSF's Voices blog.

Headshot_Shawn Dove_How do we as a nation heal from the open wound caused by the Zimmerman verdict? Words from Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, offer guidance: "We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now."

I've watched President Obama's speech responding to America's Trayvon Martin moment more than ten times now. And with each viewing, I am increasingly inspired by our president's courageous depiction of the challenges black men and boys face in a society that too often perceives them as criminals and ignores their potential to be productive contributors to this great nation.

Debates about race, gender, the criminal justice system, and states' "stand your ground" laws rattled the country in the week leading up to the president's speech. When he finally spoke, Americans of all races who have devoted their time and resources to improving the life outcomes of black men and boys had divergent reactions -- from sighs of relief, to jaw-dropping disbelief, to tears of joy. Others thought the president's message about how America views, values, and invests in black men and boys was off-base, too late, divisive, and lacking a call to action.

Much of what the president said resonated with me, particularly as a black man, the father of young twin boys, and the manager of the Open Society Foundations' Campaign for Black Male Achievement. What was perhaps most compelling was how he helped the country understand the pain black communities were experiencing by weaving explanations of the complex policies that create the disproportionately large population of incarcerated African American men with his personal experiences of being racially profiled. What also resonated with me was the refrain "Where do we go from here?"

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A New Way to Sustain the Campaign: Foundation Center and Open Society Foundations Launch

March 28, 2013

(Shawn Dove is the campaign manager for the Open Society Foundations' Campaign for Black Male Achievement. The original version of this post appears on Philanthropy New York's Smart Assets blog.)

Headshot_Shawn Dove_This June will mark the five-year anniversary of the creation of the Open Society Foundations' Campaign for Black Male Achievement, which was launched in 2008 to address the economic, political, social, and educational exclusion of black men and boys from American society. When I consider the upcoming five-year milestone I can't help but think that the campaign was originally slated to be just a three-year "initiative." But thanks to the determined and focused work of our partners in philanthropy, government, the not-for-profit community, and the private sector, our board extended the campaign's term limit and provided CBMA staff with much-needed breathing room, increased funding, and an opportunity to exhibit bold leadership on behalf of the emerging field of black male achievement.

During the past five years, the work of the campaign, along with the efforts of an evolving group of philanthropic partners and leaders from the policy, advocacy, practitioner, and research sectors, has expanded on the earlier work of funders like the Ford Foundation and the 21st Century Foundation to tackle a seemingly intractable problem. It has been fueled by a broad and diverse sector of organizations that combine a direct services and policy change approach. From the time we launched the CBMA, my daily mantra has been "sustain the campaign" in the belief that the philanthropic sector could not remedy a generational problem facing black men and boys with a short-term grant-cycle mindset.

In partnership with the Foundation Center, we have launched the Web portal to facilitate engagement, collaboration, and strategic decision making among funders, nonprofits, and policy makers working to promote positive outcomes for black men and boys in America. It could very well be the pivotal investment that enables this work to gain the sustained philanthropic commitment necessary to overcome the structural and systemic barriers that prevent too many black men and boys from realizing their full potential.

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5 Questions for…Cheryl Dorsey, President, Echoing Green

February 27, 2013

Social innovation and entrepreneurship are two of the most powerful tools available to those committed to black male achievement. So argued Cheryl Dorsey, president of Echoing Green, a global social venture fund based in New York City, at the Innovation and Impact Forum hosted by the Open Society Foundations' Campaign for Black Male Achievement last October. In part, added Dorsey, that's because they have captured the attention of, and increasingly are being driven by, a millennial generation interested in a networked, technology-enabled model of social change.

In 2012, Echoing Green partnered with OSF to launch the Black Male Achievement Fellowships and announced the first cohort of BMA fellows in June. Earlier this month, the organization announced the 2013 semi-finalists for both the Echoing Green and Black Male Achievement Fellowships.

Recently, PND spoke with Dorsey about the BMA fellowship program, her own experience as a social entrepreneur, and the role of public policy in the field of black male achievement.

Headshot_cheryl_dorsey_echoingPhilanthropy News Digest: What did you think of President Obama's State of the Union Address?

Cheryl Dorsey: I think the president's address presented a call for effective collaboration to solve crucial problems in our country. Many people make it their life's work to try to solve tough problems, from engineers working to create microchips that are smaller but carry more information to community bankers seeking to provide greater access to capital and teachers seeking to help more children in the classroom move ahead. President Obama's State of the Union address was a call for those who are on this path of enterprise, service, and innovation to work together.

These are the principles at the heart of the work of our fellows, who strive every day to solve some of the challenges and problems the president laid out in his speech. When the president talks about reducing the cost of solar energy, I think about 2012 Black Male Achievement Fellow Donnel Baird, who is doing important work to make clean energy accessible to all communities, especially low-income communities. When the president talks about expanding service opportunities for young people, I think about Echoing Green alums like Wendy Kopp, Alan Khazei, and Michael Brown, visionary leaders of the national service movement. The State of the Union address made me think about how Echoing Green can continue to support our fellows who are out there on the front lines in communities across the country and around the world.

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Closing the Achievement Gap for African-American Males: An Economic Imperative

February 26, 2013

(Angela Glover Blackwell is the founder and CEO of PolicyLink, an Oakland-based national research and action institute working to advance economic and social equity. She currently serves on the President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and is a co-author, with Stewart Kwoh and Manuel Pastor, of Uncommon Common Ground: Race and America's Future.)

Headshot_angela-glover-blackwellIn the United States, a black public school student is suspended every four seconds, while every 27 seconds a black high school student drops out of school. Black students are also 3.5 times more likely than white students to be suspended or expelled. Within this group, black male students fare the worst.

At PolicyLink, our mission is to achieve equity by "Lifting Up What Works." We find innovations and strategies that expand opportunity and, working with local partners, get what's working into policy so that effective innovations are more widely disseminated. We are particularly inspired by the strategies being employed by the Oakland Unified School District, where in 2008-09 only 49 percent of black males graduated, compared with 72 percent of white males and 61 percent district-wide, and where 18 percent of African-American males were expelled at least once, compared with 3 percent of white male students and 8 percent of students district-wide.

In response to those disturbing numbers, OUSD opened an Office of African American Male Achievement (AAMA) in 2010. With funding from Atlantic Philanthropies, the Mitchell Kapor Foundation, the Stuart Foundation, the California Endowment, and Kaiser Permanente, AAMA is working to change educational outcomes for young men of color -- and in the district as a whole -- in innovative ways. For instance, many Oakland high schools and middle schools now offer Manhood Development Classes, in which African-American men from the community teach skills designed to help students navigate the conflicting value systems they experience in different areas of their lives. Family and parent summits at each school include "data walks" where parents and kids are provided with charts detailing educational outcomes at the school as well as where the gaps in access and learning occur. And those efforts are bearing fruit: in 2012 the U.S. Department of Education announced a voluntary resolution of the compliance review initiated against OUSD regarding the disproportionate harshness and frequency of disciplinary measures meted out to African-American students. The district has even been cited as a model for other districts across the country due to its intense efforts to improve in this area.

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Weekend Link Roundup (December 22-23, 2012)

December 21, 2012

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


Philanthropy 2173's Lucy Bernholz wants to know which would have a greater effect on charitable giving: "[G]etting rid of the tax deduction or removing the ability to give anonymously." Cast your vote here.

In the most recent installment of her Social Good podcast series, Allison Fine chats with Giving Tuesday creator Henry Timms, deputy director of the 92nd Street Y, about "the phenomenally successful first year of the event."

"The day took on a life of its own," Fine says on her blog. "Organizations broadened the original concept to include volunteerism as part of the 'donations' for the day and it became [part of] a larger conversation about creating what Henry called Opening Day for the giving season."


As part of its annual awards program, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy is asking people to help choose the three grantmaking institutions that "embody philanthropy at its best."

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Newsmaker: Shawn Dove, Campaign Manager, Campaign for Black Male Achievement, Open Society Foundations

December 17, 2012

Headshot_Shawn Dove_In October, the Open Society Foundations and the Foundation Center released a report, Where Do We Go From Here? Philanthropic Support for Black Men and Boys  (40 pages, PDF), which found, among other things, that philanthropic support for African-American men and boys has risen steadily over the past decade, from $10 million in 2003 to $29 million in 2010. At a time when nearly every major indicator of economic, social, and physical well-being shows that African-American males do not have access to the opportunities they need to thrive, the philanthropic sector is working to address this critical need on two fronts: by supporting organizations in the "black male achievement field" and by spotlighting the fact that more needs to be done to tackle racial and economic inequality in America.

In the foreward to the report, Shawn Dove, manager of the OSF-based Campaign for Black Male Achievement, noted that former Open Society board member Lani Guinier has long argued that African-American males are not unlike "canaries in the coalmine," in that their socioeconomic plight foreshadows many negative trends that eventually will affect the broader society. That explains why, for many, the well-being of African-American men and boys is not a "black issue." It is, as Dove said when we spoke to him recently, "an American issue." Moreover, he added, "[g]rantmakers should not enter th[e] field with the expectation that they can parachute in and save the day....We need to look at what's working, and to spread the word about what success looks like."

After more than twenty years working in the fields of youth development, education, and community building, including stints as a director of a Beacon School in Harlem, as creative communities director for the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts, and as vice president for MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, Dove joined OSF in 2008. PND spoke with him in November, shortly after the release of the report.

Philanthropy News Digest: We've been told that America in 2012 is a post-racial society. Is it?

Shawn Dove: I guess that depends on one's definition and interpretation of "post-racial." If one's definition is a society in which there are no racial disparities when it comes to opportunity, access, and equity, I would say, "Not so much." In 2012, America aspires to be post-racial. But judging by the wealth gap, ethnic and racial disparities in access to high-quality education, and the number of people of color in the House and Senate, I'd say we still have some work to do.

PND: Countless studies and papers have outlined the many root causes of racial inequality in America. If the causes are clear, why do large portions of the African-American community continue to be adversely affected by disparities in education, health care, and employment?

SD: You know, that is the billion-dollar question. Two of our grantee partners, the American Values Institute and the Opportunity Agenda, have done extensive research on implicit bias in America, and what their research revealed was that far too many people hold unconscious racial prejudices that affect their decision making when interacting with races other than their own. So while retail sales managers, for example, will say they don't have racist attitudes or are not prejudiced, they'll also resist putting people of color, specifically African-American males, in roles that have direct contact with customers.

Americans of all ethnicities still have an exceedingly difficult time having honest conversations about race. There are a number of organizations and leaders who are organizing people to have discussions about racial disparities in our society, but a lot of work still needs to be done to change the behaviors that perpetuate inequality in this country.

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A 'Retail' Solution to the Dropout Crisis: A 'Flip' Chat With Dr. Michael Durnil, President/CEO, Simon Youth Foundation

October 17, 2012

(This video was recorded as part of our "Flip" chat series of conversations with thought leaders in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. You can check out other videos in the series here, including our previous chat with Jake Porway, founder and executive director of DataKind.)

In 1983, a blue-ribbon commission tasked with assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the American educational system arrived at the following conclusion: "Knowledge, learning, information, and skilled intelligence are the new raw materials of international commerce and are today spreading throughout the world as vigorously as miracle drugs, synthetic fertilizers, and blue jeans did earlier. If only to keep and improve on the slim competitive edge we still retain in world markets, we must dedicate ourselves to the reform of our educational system for the benefit of all -- old and young alike, affluent and poor, majority and minority. Learning is the indispensable investment required for success in the 'information age' we are entering...."

Three decades after A Nation at Risk, the report based on the commission's work, was released to the public, the American educational system is struggling to keep pace with a variety of powerfully disruptive trends, from globalization and rapid technological change, to growing inequality and the country's changing demographics. One thing everyone agrees on, however, is that the system fails far too many kids. How we address that failure and create an educational system that is more equitable, flexible, and affordable is the great challenge of our time. There are no easy answers. But one thing is clear: innovation and experimentation will be on the test.

Recently, PND spoke with Dr. Michael Durnil, president and CEO of the Indianapolis-based Simon Youth Foundation, a national nonprofit that works to reduce the school dropout rate and increase college access, about Simon Youth Academies, the foundation's signature program. Located primarily in malls owned by Simon Property Group, Simon Youth Academies are non-traditional high schools that give at-risk students the same education they would receive in a traditional classroom but in a flexible environment.

(If you're reading this in an e-mail, click here.)

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