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5 Questions for...Monique W. Morris, Executive Director, Grantmakers for Girls of Color

August 24, 2020

Launched in 2015, Grantmakers for Girls of Color (G4GC) has since grown from an online platform into a grantmaking organization focused on addressing the structural inequities faced by girls and young women of color and centering their voices in philanthropy and movement building.

Based on focus groups and surveys of girls and young women of color, the organization's 2019 report Start from the Ground Up: Increasing Support for Girls of Color identified nine types of structural barriers to the success of young women and girls of color, including disproportionately applied school discipline, insufficient financial aid, poverty and the struggle to meet basic needs, gender discrimination and patriarchal power dynamics, mental and behavioral health challenges, and exposure to community, domestic, and interpersonal violence. The study also found that funders and girls of color often frame the same issues differently.

Before becoming the inaugural executive director of G4GC, Monique W. Morris co-founded the National Black Women's Justice Institute, which works to reduce racial and gender disparities across the justice continuum. She is the author of Sing a Rhythm, Dance a Blues: Education for the Liberation of Black and Brown Girls and Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, which was released as a documentary in 2019.

PND spoke with Morris about her vision for G4GC, the impact of COVID-19 on the Black community, and what the reenergized movement for racial justice means for philanthropy. 

MoniqueMorris_G4GCPhilanthropy News Digest: What is your vision for Grantmakers for Girls of Color as it makes the transition from a funder network into a grantmaking organization?

Monique W. Morris: Girls and gender-expansive youth of color live at the intersections of sexism, racism, and other forms of oppression. My charge is to do all I can to help realize Grantmakers for Girls of Color's vision of mobilizing philanthropic resources so that Black girls and other girls and gender-expansive youth of color achieve equity and justice in this critical moment in our history.

I became the executive director of G4GC at the beginning of April, just as the country had shut down because of the pandemic, and then in May we saw the beginnings of a global movement for racial justice and against anti-Blackness. As an independent entity under the fiscal sponsorship of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, we are now able to shape our own future and determine how to best move forward. The needs mapping we're doing right now will help us inform that process. And while we will continue to serve as a resource for donors and funders seeking to support girls, fem(mes), and gender-expansive youth of color, we will also be increasing our capacity in the areas of research and grantmaking. 

Soon after I joined G4GC, we launched the Love is Healing COVID-19 Response Fund, our first grantmaking initiative as an independent organization, and to date we've awarded more than  $1.5 million to over eighty organizations across the country. I'm excited about what lies ahead, and we hope other funders will join us in this critical work. We have lots of other exciting partnerships and opportunities on the horizon.

PND: We hear you're planning to introduce a participatory grantmaking program. How would that work?

MWM: Yes, we believe participatory grantmaking is a critical driver of broader systems change. We see our partner organizations serving as agents of change rather than constituents. At this moment, all across the country, we're seeing girls, particularly girls of color, leading change in their communities, organizing protests, and advocating for justice. We see girls of color playing an important role in facilitating the paradigm shift this country needs and deserves.

That's why I am so excited about the Youth Advisory Committee we're forming to explore participatory grantmaking. We want to connect funders to the issues faced by girls and young women of color and help them better respond to those needs. The committee will help us figure out how to strengthen the capacity of girls of color to be active decision makers in the grantmaking process.

PND: According to Pocket change — how women and girls of color do more with less, a report published by the Ms. Foundation for Women, less than 1 percent of total foundation funding is awarded in support of women and girls of color. How do you explain that, and how can it be addressed?

MWM: In philanthropy, in academia, in the media, and in movement and policy circles, we generally adopt a male-centered approach to the fight for racial justice. If we think about Black girls and other girls of color at all, we tend to think of them as trickle-down beneficiaries of our work and investments in these issues. That has to change if we want girls — and our communities — to thrive. 

That study showed that of the $66.9 billion given by philanthropists in 2017, just 0.5 percent was awarded to organizations representing women and girls of color. That's about $5.48 per woman/girl. What it shows is that funders continue to operate with the assumption that the money they donate will "trickle down" to groups that are doing the work of empowering women and girls of color. And that is not happening. We have to be more intentional with our investments.

PND: In response to the pandemic, G4GC launched the Love Is Healing COVID-19 Response Fund, which, as you mentioned, has awarded more than $1.5 million to date. Given how the virus has disproportionately impacted African-American communities and highlighted existing health, economic, and other structural disparities, do you expect grantmaking to nonprofits serving girls of color to increase more broadly in the sector over the coming months and years?

MWM: I certainly hope so, and we are pushing with our partners to make that a reality. The COVID-19 crisis has shown how important it is that we dismantle the structural barriers that keep BIPOC girls from thriving. I wrote an op-ed in May about how, while the media and thought leaders had begun to acknowledge the harsh light that COVID-19 was shining on the racial inequities, less attention was being paid to how the crisis had exposed another ugly truth: the long-term marginalization of girls and gender-expansive youth of color. 

Unless we act now to close the disparities these kids face in every aspect of their lives, we will deprive them of their rightful opportunity to thrive and have a long, healthy life. This is a time for the philanthropic community to step up for young girls and women of color.

According to the CDC, there is growing body of evidence that suggests the virus is having the greatest impact on BIPOC communities. The majority of frontline workers — restaurant staff, cleaning crews, daycare workers — are people of color. Health care is too expensive for many of them. Organizations that had already been working to address these longstanding issues through an intersectional lens and need support are why we created this fund. The grant partners we have been able to identify and support through the Love is Healing COVID Response fund had been fighting to end the marginalization of girls of color well before the pandemic. These organizations have responded to COVID with creativity, courage, and compassion — and philanthropy, too, must meet the moment in similar fashion.

PND: Has the reenergized Black Lives Matter movement and the push to end police violence against people of color caused you to change your plans for G4GC? And are you hopeful, here in the summer of 2020, that the arc of the moral universe, to quote Martin Luther King, Jr., bends toward justice and that the United States will finally live up to the promise of its creedal documents?

MWM: It has reinforced and lent even greater urgency to our mission. We cannot continue to allow the issues and experiences impacting the quality of life for girls of color — Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Muslim, and Asian-American and Pacific Islander girls — to be relegated to the category "niche," which can lead to underinvestment and erasure that prevents the realization of their potential. It is my hope that in our efforts to provide more resources to movement work, we are able to embed a robust investment strategy that supports and ultimately provides opportunities for our girls.

This is a potentially historic moment of reckoning and reconciliation for our country around race, and I am heartened to see the beginnings of the radical transformation that those of us who do this work day in and day out have long hoped to see. But we won't get there unless we are intentional about centering the needs and lives of Black girls and gender-expansive youth. The philanthropic sector and society more broadly are not paying enough attention to the unique issues these girls face. In this moment, when more funders are asking how they can support the struggle for racial justice and anti-Blackness, we need to put Black girls and girls of color at the center of those efforts. We need to be there for the young people who desperately need our trust, allyship, and support.

— Kyoko Uchida

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