283 posts categorized "African Americans"

Unfinished business: Why the social justice movement needs nonprofits

June 18, 2021

BlackLivesMatter_protest_fist_minneapolis_foundationIn 2020, social justice issues moved front and center in ways most of us couldn't have predicted. As some of the largest and broadest demonstrations for racial justice in U.S. history erupted across the country, corporations came under greater pressure than ever before to take an active role in addressing social injustices.

At the same time, the events of 2020 highlighted how essential nonprofit organizations are to efforts to advance social justice.

Understanding equity vs. equality

The ongoing fight for equality in our country has traveled a long and storied road. The related but separate movement for social equity digs deeper into the ways in which opportunities are presented — or are closed — to different groups.

While equality means each individual or faction is given the same resources or opportunities, equity recognizes that each person or faction comes from different circumstances, which may require a restructured allocation of those resources and opportunities. Incorporating those factors into programs serving marginalized populations results in better outcomes; nonprofits make it their business to understand those complexities.

"Equity is a way, not a what," André Ledgister, communications catalyst at Partnership for Southern Equity, told me. "We make sure our efforts reflect equity in that we take into account what specific community organizations need in order to access resources. In that sense, the work of nonprofits is to empower the community to create their own change."

Nonprofit leaders know that fostering allies beyond donors, volunteers, and sponsors is critical to success. Similarly, for social justice activism to effect lasting change, education and advocacy efforts need to cross various divides to become truly multiethnic and multicultural.

"Nonprofit organizations teach, whether the work is relevant in science, in STEM fields, or in humanities and the arts," said Vicki Crawford, executive director of the Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Collection. "The hope is that this type of education will open people up to exploring the ways in which we are inextricably linked; to open up the conversation around the commonality of all humans across the differences of race, class, gender, religious affiliation."

Taking that understanding one step further means recognizing the ways in which we fall on either side of the ally relationship.

"Everyone has multiple identities, some of which can be privileged and some of which can be marginalized," said Sharmila Fowler, founder, coach, and consultant for the Red Lion Institute. "Your particular situation really depends on which room you're in. I could be a woman in a room full of women with very few men, or I could be an Asian American in a room full of many other ethnic identities and few Asian Americans. It's important to recognize that your identity shifts around privilege and marginalization, and to allow for that fluidity of identification."

Connecting the dots

Driving fundamental social change requires multiple levels of expertise and influence. For nonprofits, making connections and appealing to specifically focused stakeholders is a way of life. Already primed to network toward a goal, these organizations know how to pull the right levers to move social justice causes forward in an impactful way.

"For us, relationship acceleration is connecting those philanthropists, policy makers, community organizers, grassroots groups — putting everyone into the same room and saying, 'Okay, this is the problem we need to address,'" Ledgister explained. "They're all coming together from different areas of life, different industries, working together to push for change."

Leadership development

Social justice can't happen in a vacuum, nor can real change be achieved when dictated from outside the communities where the greatest need exists. In addition to creating social equity by clearing access to resources, nonprofits are positioned to build sustainable social change by inspiring community-based leaders and, more importantly, potential leaders.

"Supporting leadership development is so important," said Ledgister. "Making sure community members have the opportunity to be trained on initiatives is essential to progress. They can bring that forward and continue to push for change in the way that best fits. Those in the community are closest to the issue; they are the ones closest to the solution."

Generational mindset

The hard, long-term work needed to move the social justice needle can be daunting. Organizations looking for quick solutions will likely be disappointed and unable to sustain the effort. But nonprofits are used to going for the long game. Change doesn't happen in a funding cycle; it requires unwavering focus on the horizon despite the inevitable setbacks.

"All this work we're doing, this is generational work," said Ledgister. "I may not see results in my lifetime, but my daughter will hopefully see the purpose of this labor — when she goes into the marketplace and she's not looked at as somebody that is 'less than,' when she is looked at in the fullness of her character and has everything she needs to thrive."

Crawford agreed, recognizing that by drawing from the past, nonprofits and allies can better inform the future for the next generation. "It's important to learn the history of a particular era, because that moment speaks to the present moment," she told me. "Because ultimately, it's unfinished business that we're dealing with."

If we are going to finish that business by learning from and improving upon the work of past social justice leaders, nonprofits will have to be at the forefront leading the way. With their boots on the ground and connections to local communities, nonprofits are the heartbeat of the development pipeline for future leaders, the ones who know how to listen as allies, lean on their constituencies, and push new paths forward. We need these leaders now more than ever, and it's more important than ever to support them in every way possible.

Sima Parekh_PhilanTopicSima Parekh is executive director of 48in48.

The pain of leading while Black

May 25, 2021

Wright-GlobalProtestsGeorgeFloydIt's been a year since George Floyd was murdered by people who were supposed to protect and serve him.

I can spend time analyzing how the nonprofit sector has — or hasn't — changed since then; but there are plenty of others who will do that in the coming days. Instead, I have been reflecting on what it means to lead a national organization centering racial justice as a Black woman moving through a world in which my Black skin could get me killed for merely existing.

The reality is, I walk through the world scared for my life, my child, and my man. We are George. Ahmaud. Sandra. Tamir. Even Ma'Khia. The pain never ends. Today, the video of Ronald Greene's torture at the hands of police has been making the rounds. And even in those rare moments when supposed "justice" is served, I am forced to sit back and witness others continue to justify the murders of people who look like me.

The weight of this compounded trauma is crushing me, and other Black leaders, too.

There is no handbook on how to lead while reliving trauma. It's not even talked about much outside of "Black spaces." And while philanthropy has been talking more about anti-racism and anti-oppressive practices, I've seen very little to show me that the sector understands what leading through this pain looks like, feels like, and sounds like.

So much of the anti-racism work in our sector focuses on moving white-led organizations to center Black people and their voices. But then what? Are we actually changing the dynamics of the industry or simply putting a new face on the same problem? As the first Black executive director of re:power, I can assure you, we don't have this figured out yet.

I am trying to create a new reality for people like me — not only in our impact work but also within my organization, and so are many of my fellow executive directors of color across the country. We are all trying to answer an impossible question: How do we lead when faced with the never-ending and persistent trauma we are experiencing in America?

Truth moment: when George Floyd's murderer was convicted, I took the day off and spent most of it crying on my bedroom floor. I shared this truth with my staff and asked them to prioritize their own peace as well. We are all very busy, often stretched, but we were quiet that day. And I think we're better for it.

What has become increasingly clear for me is this: if I don't invest in my own self-care as a Black woman executive, I can't effectively lead my organization to do its important work. When I have ignored what I need to do to take care of myself, my pain is multiplied — and is also transferred onto the folks closest to me, including my staff.

Taking my time to protect my peace is not a selfish act. It is an act of self-preservation and resistance. 

The smartest thing any executive director of color can do right now is take the time necessary to give our organizations the leader they need. Philanthropy can and should help by acknowledging that Leading While Black presents unique challenges to those who do it and addressing those challenges in its funding priorities.

Ask leaders of color what they need to take care of themselves right now, not just what they need to continue the work. Seeing our humanity should be part of your work as an anti-racist philanthropic institution. Philanthropy is focused on creating big impact, changing the material conditions of people who look like me through large-scale policy reforms and power-building. But how do leaders like me, who identify as a member of one of the "marginalized groups" we serve, fit into the picture?

If the philanthropic community wants to see real change and support the centering of Black folks within our sector, we can't forget about those who are tasked with leading the way.

Heashot_karundi williamsKarundi Williams is the executive director of re:power, a national training and capacity-building organization focused on racial justice. re:power trains primarily Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) leaders and organizers who are reclaiming their power for radical change.

Intentional philanthropy to diversify science

May 17, 2021

News_scientists-in-labLast week, Michael Bloomberg announced a $150 million gift to my alma mater, Johns Hopkins University, to provide permanent funding for a hundred STEM PhD students from minority-serving institutions. The gift is noteworthy not for its amount but rather for its potential to increase PhD attainment for Black and Latinx students in STEM fields.

The initiative has the potential not only to signal change but to drive it. In the decade from 2010 to 2019, the share of Black Americans among all PhD recipients rose just over half a percentage point, from 4.9 percent to 5.5 percent. Assuming that representation at Hopkins is reflective of the national data, Bloomberg's gift could double the number of Black and Latinx students in Hopkins PhD programs. It's an important start, but not enough; long-term change will require a sea change in culture across all STEM fields.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other funders have been working to address the problem for decades, but several recent studies suggest that targeted funding at the PhD level does not translate to higher retention of Black and Latinx scientists in academia. A 2017 study found that Black faculty members made up only 0.7 percent of tenure-track faculty in biology across forty top institutions in the U.S., highlighting the dramatic attrition of Black PhDs over the course of the typical academic career trajectory. While most PhD scientists go on to have successful careers outside academia, it is nevertheless important to monitor the data for those who stay — not least because academic researchers play a key role in training future scientists, interfacing with clinical trial participants, and directing scientific inquiry. If Black scientists are choosing to seek other careers, we must stop to ask why and address the issues so that efforts to increase representation among scientists translate to all settings where scientists are engaged.

Funding, equity, and community

A decade ago, a study found that Black scientists were significantly less likely to receive a research grant from NIH than similarly qualified white colleagues. In 2019, NIH published a follow-up report showing that one contributing factor to the disparity was that Black researchers applied for funding in areas that were of lower overall priority to the federal agency. A seemingly obvious solution to the problem would be to encourage Black researchers to apply for grants in higher-priority areas. However, the critical questions should be: "Exactly who is determining health research priorities?" and "Are these priorities addressing the needs and perspectives of the whole population?"

Shifting to nonprofits and philanthropies, it is well documented that advisory recommendation boards lack diverse perspectives and are therefore less able to navigate and guide health research in ways that are most impactful for a diverse population. Increasing the diversity of the bodies that set priorities will feed back into research settings where Black scientists struggle to access funding for the topics they see as most important.

Beyond the differences in fields of study that Black, Indigenous, and people of color scientists choose, NIH has noted that the standard process by which scientific proposals are evaluated may drive disparities in funding. Overall, Black scientists are half as likely to receive key research grants from NIH. The agency has noted that proposals from BIPOC scientists are less likely to be discussed and, when discussed, tend to score lower on average. Given that the applications all came from highly accomplished researchers, the finding not only suggests systemic racism, it underscores how it is perpetuated.

Finally, funders and institutions must pay attention to how Black and Latinx student-scientists are supported when there are so few faculty members available to them. Nearly 6 percent of biology PhD recipients but only 0.7 percent of biology PhD faculty are Black — an imbalance that places a disproportionate amount of mentoring and role-modeling responsibilities on a relatively small number of faculty. Increasing diversity among STEM scholars and scientists must not come at the expense of increasing the workloads of BIPOC faculty. Funders and institutions can help address these challenges by providing more support for Black faculty and/or acknowledging the existence of these disparities in the review process.

Last fall, many of us celebrated MacKenzie Scott's investment in the endowments of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Today, we cheer Mike Bloomberg's effort to connect these programs to top-tier STEM PhD programs. And we hope his investment will set the stage for other funders, philanthropic and public, to support scholars of color at every stage of their scientific careers. All funders must take a deep, critical look at their priorities, vetting processes, and advisory protocols. After all, what better way is there to further the change you want to see?

Altimus-Cara_PhilanTopicCara Altimus, PhD, is a senior director at the Milken Institute Center for Strategic Philanthropy.

More Americans may be going back to work, but their jobs are getting worse

April 16, 2021

Essential_worker_Christine_McCann_sffLast April, the coronavirus pandemic brought the longest economic expansion in American history to an abrupt and shocking halt. In just a few short months, the unemployment rate shot up from a fifty-year low of 3.5 percent to nearly 14.7 percent. A year later, many people are breathing a sigh of relief as the rate has ticked back down to 6 percent, with some taking it as a sign that America is on track to full economic recovery.

But while recent headlines may be cause for optimism, they don't tell the whole story. Using the unemployment rate to gauge the health of an economy is like putting your hand on someone's forehead to check whether they have COVID-19. It can tell you whether they're running a fever,  but it doesn't provide enough data to make an accurate diagnosis.

The truth is, the unemployment rate tells us nothing about the quality of jobs, making it an inadequate metric to understand the true health of the labor market. Gallup's 2020 Great Jobs Report, which Omidyar Network supported in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and  Lumina Foundation, found that more than half (52 percent) of those who were laid off during the pandemic — even if they were subsequently re-hired — reported a decline in their overall job quality as measured across eleven dimensions, including pay, benefits, stability, and safety.

First commissioned in 2019, the Great Jobs survey was groundbreaking: unlike simple "job satisfaction" metrics aimed at providing an overall sense of job satisfaction, the intent of the survey was to look under the hood of the labor market and identify trouble spots. A diverse group of more than sixty-six hundred working people were asked to define what a "good" job looks like and then assess how their own jobs stacked up against that standard. The original survey showed that less than half (40 percent) of working people in the United States believed they were employed in a good job, while one in six (16 percent) believed they were stuck in a bad job, with significant disparities by race.

The latest survey gives us a window into how the pandemic has impacted job quality. Those who started 2020 in a low-quality or "bad" job — based on their own assessment — were far more likely to have been laid off (36 percent) than those working a high-quality or "good" job pre-pandemic (23 percent). And low-wage workers with high-quality jobs in 2019 reported experiencing much lower COVID-19  risk and better employer-provided protective measures during the pandemic. The fact is, job quality matters, especially when a crisis hits.

Even before COVID struck, the topline numbers masked how unhealthy the U.S. economy really is. The richest 10 percent of Americans control 77 percent of the country's wealth, while for millions of Americans the rising cost of living has skyrocketed, wages have stagnated, and the wealth inequality gap continues to widen. These are not the hallmarks of a healthy economy.

The findings from The Great Jobs Report underscore the mounting evidence that the pandemic exacerbated structural inequities within the U.S. economy. Indeed, job quality in 2020 actually improved for people who avoided being laid off, with many reporting improvements in their compensation, flexibility with respect to where and when they worked, workplace safety, and  a sense of purpose in their work. By contrast, those who experienced being laid off reported lower scores on every dimension of job quality except safety.

But COVID-19 is just the latest driver of worsening job quality in the U.S., with technological disruption leading the list of other threats. While automation may not lead to the mass destruction of jobs — as feared by some — it could lead to deterioration in job quality in many industries and sectors. Meanwhile, the gig economy has made underemployment an acceptable alternative to unemployment. If someone who is laid off starts driving for Uber, they count as employed  — even though it is a more precarious, unstable, and lower-paid kind of work. This also has the effect of skewing the monthly unemployment numbers lower than they otherwise would be. An upskilling and job-matching program won't address these trends; the problem is with the jobs themselves, not the skills of the people in these jobs.

The alarming state of job quality in America reinforces how critical it is to empower working men and women to bargain for a fairer deal and better quality jobs across the dimensions that matter most.

We can create an economy where everyone has a good job. But if we don't start to pay attention to the quality, and not just the quantity, of jobs, we risk creating an economy where major disruptions driven by pandemics or natural disasters, automation, and climate change could lead to continued deterioration in quality of jobs for those who already find themselves in a precarious position. And if we continue to rely on the unemployment rate to tell us what's going on, we risk becoming dangerously out of touch with what's really happening.

We are heartened by the Biden administration's American Jobs Plan and the emphasis it puts on high-quality jobs. But it's going to take a concerted effort across society to detangle the perception that the unemployment rate is the final word on the health of our economy and working Americans. We urge other philanthropists and foundations, experts and economists, advocates, and activists to join the movement to put quality at the center of how we think about jobs and help us find better ways to measure, understand, and fight for quality jobs.

(Photo credit: Christine McCann, San Francisco Foundation)

Tracy_Williams_Omidyar_philantopicTracy Williams is a director at Omidyar Network, where she leads the social change venture's work to reimagine capitalism, build the power of working people, and shape a new economic paradigm.

Getting rid of standardized testing will penalize kids from underserved schools 

April 09, 2021

SatFor the first time in half a century, the University of California will admit thousands of high school seniors who did not take the SAT or ACT. With the coronavirus pandemic impeding students' ability to safely sit for the exams, many colleges — including the California system's public universities as well as elite private schools such as Yale, Cornell, and the University of Chicago — announced they'd forgo the testing requirement.

This came as welcome news to critics of standardized testing, who have long denounced the SAT and ACT as being racist, irredeemably biased, and poor at predicting collegiate success. Add to that the surge in the number of college applications this past fall once the tests were abandoned — Harvard alone received 42 percent more applicants than in a normal year — and the future of the tests doesn’t look bright.

My organization has been preparing low-income students to take the SAT since 2013.  I take the tests myself on the three occasions a year that adults are allowed to do so. Those experiences — and eight years' worth of data we've gathered on test-takers — have convinced me that, despite their flaws, standardized tests are a vital tool for low-income students and students of color seeking to earn admission to elite colleges and universities. What's more, the tests can be mastered, and that process can help students from underresourced schools strengthen their critical thinking skills as well as their content-related educational chops.

Initially, many students from disadvantaged backgrounds find standardized tests to be mysterious and impenetrable. But as they practice taking the test, they improve — and not just their overall scores. As they master more of the SAT math questions, they learn  math basics they may have missed in the classroom; as they improve their scores on the reading comprehension part, they become better readers. Test prep helps them hone their critical thinking skills, fill knowledge gaps, and manage test anxiety, while eliminating many of the imperceptible barriers that keep low-income students from educational success. By the end of three weeks, my students typically improve their SAT scores by 130-180 points (the single highest score improvement was 710 points!) and have built a solid foundation for future educational success. 

That's not reason enough, perhaps, to keep standardized testing. But there's another factor: selective colleges often use the tests as a gauge of a student's ability to complete a four-year degree. Just months before the University of California system made the tests optional, a UC task force found that the elimination of the test requirement would deny automatic entry to 40 percent of African-American students and more than 25 percent of low-income and first-generation students admitted to UC. Standardized tests, in other words, are their ticket to a four-year degree and a brighter future.

The same test score-based sorting takes place at private colleges and universities. "If the student can't break a combined 1000 on the SAT," an elite college admissions officer once told me, "no matter how much support we give, that student is unlikely to graduate." The inverse of her statement is also true: A student who can match or surpass that score is much more likely to complete their degree. In its concreteness, the test can signal to an admissions officer that a student has the raw material she/they/he needs to thrive in a four-year college setting. 

Indeed, the less we rely on standardized testing, the more unequal higher education is likely to become. And the most worrisome aspect of that reality is that the change will largely escape the notice of those who don't work with underserved populations. Here's why: Elite institutions like the Ivies have admission quotas for members of historically underrepresented, socioeconomically marginalized groups (primarily Black and Latinx). By scoring above 1000 on the SAT, low-SES students show that they are "college-ready" and can succeed at a highly selective institution. If we take away one of the few avenues these students have to demonstrate their mettle and readiness to undertake a rigorous academic program, my students' odds of attending an Ivy or other elite institution are going to go down, not up. If test scores are eliminated from the equation, those schools will simply take kids who tick off a particular race or ethnic box — and many will be international students who can afford full tuition. Very few people look at the number of Pell-eligible students a college accepts/graduates, but that's where you’ll see the change.

Elite institutions are not wrong to think that students from underserved schools struggle more than students from well-resourced schools. They know — and our partner organizations know — that students from underserved schools often are four to six grade levels behind their better-resourced peers and can struggle with significant content gaps. It can be particularly hard for underserved students to hit the ground running in freshman year (something all would-be STEM majors must do). Many need some remediation or time to adjust to an unstructured academic workload that's far more demanding than what they experienced in high school. An SAT score of 1000 is enough for Harvard to take a chance on such a student. Without that score, and given the grade inflation that prevails at many underserved high schools, Harvard has no reliable way of knowing which students are (and are not) likely to persist.  

Standardized testing's many outspoken critics point to the tests as a symptom of a racially biased system, which they are:  underresourced schools do a poor job prepping primarily Black and Latinx students for college. Standardized tests correctly diagnose that failure, but that doesn't mean we should throw away the tests; instead, we should focus on fixing the unequal educational system. 

In making the test the enemy rather than focusing on fixing the problem, critics also overlook the ways in which standardized tests can help reduce systemic inequities as a key to privilege: higher college graduation rates are correlated with greater college selectivity, which is correlated with higher SAT scores, which means that raising Black and Latinx kids' SAT scores (those most affected by undermatching) and getting them into an Ivy or other elite institution is both a path to graduation and — through lower student debt, higher post-graduation salaries, and the power of college networks/name recognition — a more economically secure future. 

Despite their many failings, standardized tests are among the most powerful levelers in society and, if approached with a clear understanding of their benefits as well as shortcomings, can help us close the all-too-persistent opportunity gap in higher education. The answer is not to throw them away, but to keep them and invest more in preparing students —all students — to excel in the skills they measure.

Headshot_alyssa_bowlbyAlyssa Bowlby is  co-founder and executive director of the Yleana Leadership Foundation.

Jobs for America’s Graduates supports our nation’s most vulnerable students

March 29, 2021

Jobs for Americas GraduatesJobs for America's Graduates (JAG) was founded forty years ago to address the inequities experienced by too many young adults in America. Over those four decades, JAG participants have shown that a well-executed model can help those historically held back by discrimination, poverty, and other barriers achieve equal or greater success in high school, postsecondary education, and employment. As a national nonprofit with affiliates in 40 states operating across 1,450 communities, JAG reaches 76,000 of the most underserved youth in America each year, providing them with the essential skills they need for success.

As the country continues to grapple with the ongoing pandemic and renewed calls to address racial and social inequities, JAG continues to support young people who have been hardest hit — and are likely to be impacted the longest. JAG represents the diversity of America and serves people of color, those with disabilities, the economically disadvantaged, and other underserved populations with programs that help them achieve equality in outcomes and opportunities.

During the past year – and throughout its forty-year history — JAG has achieved remarkable outcomes. Consider the following:

  • JAG students achieved a 97 percent high school graduation rate in 2020, which is higher than the 84 percent national graduation rate. And JAG serves the lowest performing 20 percent to 40 percent of the high school population.
  • JAG graduates are 230 percent more likely to be employed full-time than their non-JAG peers, and for African-American participants the rate is nearly 290 percent.
  • JAG graduates are twice as likely to go on to postsecondary education as their non-JAG peers.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as of May 31, 2020, the highest unemployment rates in the nation were experienced by youth 18 to 19 years old (30+ percent). But for the JAG Class of 2019, the rate was less than 11 percent — a third that of the national average for all youth in that age group, not just the most vulnerable students served by JAG.

JAG achieves these kinds of outcomes thanks to a "village" of supporters, including governors, nineteen thousand employer partners, donors, legislators, school administrators, and other champions and advocates. Fourteen of the nation's acting governors serve on the JAG board of directors — the largest number of governors serving on any board in the country. The board is chaired by Gov. John Bel Edwards (D-LA), with support from vice chair Kim Reynolds (R-IA). Indeed, JAG has benefited from bipartisan support since its inception, while legislatures in twenty-four states have continued their support for the organization, recognizing that the most underserved populations need our services today more than ever.

Behind the scenes, JAG Specialists (teachers) are the key to student success, managing the day-to-day with their students, helping students master JAG’s 37 Employability Skills Competencies, and showing unwavering support for their kids.

Among other things, they:

  • Serve as a lifeline for their students. JAG Specialists often are the most consistently present adult in their students' lives, offering guidance that helps disadvantaged young people stay in school, graduate on time, and pursue postsecondary education and/or a career. In addition, because JAG is a trauma-informed organization, JAG Specialists have been able to help their students overcome feelings of anxiety, depression, and isolation stemming from the COVID crisis.
  • Go above and beyond for their students. JAG students (and their families) have been disproportionally impacted by job losses during the pandemic, with many no longer able to depend on regular paychecks to cover their basic expenses. During the pandemic, JAG Specialists have delivered groceries to food-insecure families that might otherwise not eat, laundered students’ uniforms to ensure they have clean clothes to wear to work, and provided masks and cleaning supplies to students and families in need as well as learning materials where Internet access is not available.
  • Have worked tirelessly with school districts, our corporate partners, and other supporters to provide much-needed tech equipment and connectivity during the pandemic. The sudden, unplanned switch to remote and/or hybrid learning in many school districts spotlighted the homework gap: students without access to technology are at a distinct disadvantage. For vulnerable youth who already faced economic and academic challenges, this leads to a growing risk that they will wind up a lost generation. JAG has partnered with companies like T-Mobile and AT&T to provide computers and connectivity to JAG students so they can stay engaged and involved with school, jobs, and support systems.
  • Provide virtual job-readiness training. JAG Specialists have always trained their students in the organization's thirty-seven job-readiness skills (e.g., resume writing, interview prep, etc.). Now, they're doing it virtually, preparing students to enter one of the most daunting job markets in recent history.
  • Facilitate partnerships. JAG Specialists, working with JAG National, are securing employment and learning partnerships with companies like Adecco, McDonald’s, Honeywell, Synchrony, AT&T, and Entergy. These partners provide JAG students with real-world experience, mentoring, and — often — their first jobs.

While JAG has enjoyed overwhelming support during this difficult year from its partners, donors, legislators, administrators, and teachers, it’s also important to acknowledge the 76,000 JAG students who rose to the occasion, showing their resilience and determination in the face of adversity. They are the real heroes in this story.

Headshot_kenneth-m-smithKen Smith serves as president and CEO of Jobs for America's Graduates (JAG), the nation's largest dropout prevention and school-to-career transition program for young people of promise. He also serves as a trustee of the America's Promise Alliance, a cross-sector partnership of more than three hundred corporations, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and advocacy groups that are passionate about improving lives and changing outcomes for children and young people.

Supporting the South's small businesses is supporting an equitable recovery

March 26, 2021

Closed_due_to_coronavirus_sign_GettyImagesLike the rest of the nation, small businesses across the South have faced unprecedented challenges since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of them saw demand drop and had to close their doors as their reserves were depleted. The breadth of the impact has been staggering — from industries like travel, food service and hospitality, to dentists, artists, mechanics, and farmers.

While federal relief efforts have been helpful for some, they have been insufficient or inaccessible for many, especially women, people of color, immigrants, and other underbanked populations. To address the gap, a number of philanthropic programs have been launched in states across the country to help small businesses at the back of the line — or not in the line at all.

The South has long suffered from a lack of philanthropic and institutional investment, a trend that has continued through the pandemic. The region benefits from only 56 cents of giving for every dollar granted in other regions. And for every dollar given to address structural change in the rest of the country, just 30 cents goes toward these issues in the South, despite well documented challenges with economic mobility, particularly in communities of color. This lack of investment could mean a slower, more difficult recovery and a deepening of those structural issues in the region.

Now is the time to change that trajectory, and supporting small businesses, including small-scale farmers and critical community organizations, is a place to start. Small businesses create jobs, drive economic vitality in communities, and have a tremendous impact on the well-being of families: entrepreneurship is second only to home ownership as an effective means of building family wealth. Plus, we know that small businesses tend to provide higher-quality jobs and are active participants in their communities.

Given adequate resources to navigate and rebuild from the pandemic, these resilient, creative, and resourceful entrepreneurs can overcome the immense hardships they are facing; in fact, many are already showing their resolve to do so. For countless small business owners, there has been no other option.

Unfortunately, even pre-pandemic, many of these businesses lacked access to affordable credit. NextStreet estimates that the credit needs of un- or underbanked small businesses exceeds $80 billion — and that was before banks pulled back because of the economic uncertainties created by COVID-19. We saw bank lending decline 16 percent during the Great Recession; given the recent trends of bank consolidation and the loss of many community banks, we expect the pandemic-driven decline to be even steeper in low-income, rural, and already underresourced communities across the country.

Luckily, we know — and have seen throughout COVID — that nonprofit community-based lenders certified as community development financial institutions (CDFIs) take the opposite approach. In times of crisis, they lean in. CDFI lending increased during the Great Recession, with many CDFIs doing five to ten times more lending in 2020 than in previous years to support the immediate needs of the small businesses and community-based organizations operating within their footprint.

That is why we are building and supporting the Southern Opportunity and Resilience (SOAR) Fund alongside thirteen CDFIs across the South. The program was designed to support the needs of local community lenders so they have access to low-cost capital, a technical assistance ecosystem, and a centralized technology platform that helps them find small businesses, including small-scale farmers, and nonprofits who need their help.

The economic recovery from the impact of COVID-19 is going to be long, and support for small businesses will be needed well beyond the administration of vaccines. If we want the post-pandemic recovery to be more equitable than the last one — and be focused on the potential and opportunity in local economies across the South — we need solutions structured to support the scaling of organizations that have been built in and served these communities for decades.

If we want to create asset- and wealth-building opportunities while maintaining the critical cultural fabric of our communities, philanthropists need to come together to support CDFIs and the small businesses they were built to serve.

(Photo credit: GettyImages)

Beth Bafford_Jennifer_Gadberry_philantopic - CopyBeth Bafford is vice president of syndications and strategy at Calvert Impact Capital, which is acting as the arranger for the SOAR Fund. Jennifer Gadberry is vice president of asset management at Heifer Foundation, an investor in the SOAR Fund.

Empathetic leadership during the storm

March 17, 2021

Texas storm capture"Lead with an iron fist," said some.

"Never let them see you cry," others recommended.

"You were born to lead," many affirmed.

Countless people have offered advice and encouragement to me as a leader over the years. Yet the idea of empathy in leadership has rarely been addressed.

As a Black female nonprofit executive in Texas who earlier this winter found herself in a vulnerable moment, I feel compelled to record some of my struggles. First there was the pandemic, followed by the killing of George Floyd and heightened racial tensions, and then — boom! — a winter storm with near-zero temperatures that collapsed the state's power grid and left millions of Texans in dark, unheated homes. Even as it was happening, I knew it was going to be bad, and most likely deadly.

My first instinct was to reach out to my staff and inquire about their housing, food, and other needs. In my experience, employers in times of crisis rarely do wellness checks on their employees (other than to inquire whether the employee will be coming into work or not). While nonprofits are quick to respond to community needs during a disaster, how many organizations offer direct support to their own staff? As an empathetic leader, I was concerned first and foremost that those closest to me were safe and out of harm's way.

During the deep freeze, I considered my teams' mental health and reminded them of our EAP program and insurance plans that could assist with counseling. With a team comprised largely of women of color, I understood how responses to crisis and trauma live in our bodies. But in my role as executive director of Faith in Texas, I also knew I had to consider all the harms suffered by the communities my organization serves.

Where did that leave me? Self-care seems to be the rage these days, but it's much easier said than done. Infuriated by the lack of accountability on the part of Texas officials, ERCOT, and electric companies serving the state, I decided to take a break from the news. But within an hour, an employee texted me asking if we could help dozens of families that had been locked out of their hotel rooms and had nowhere to go.

It was then that the magnitude of the crisis became apparent. This wasn't a time for self-care. As a single mother, my heart ached for the displaced mothers and their children. I imagined them trying to survive the freezing cold, dealing with harsh conditions as they scrambled to find public transportation to the suburbs, where mutual aid groups could secure them rooms. I imgained them trying to find food to eat, water to drink, hygiene products, even underwear for themselves and their kids.

It was more or less the same thing the employee who texted me was experiencing. A Black woman and mother of small children, she, too, was scrambling to find temporary housing. And yet she was advocating for others in crisis; self-care would have to wait.

In the days that followed, family and business colleagues from around the country reached out to check on me and my sons. And my answer to their first question was always, "I'm fine. Grateful to be safe, warm and healthy." But I was numb.

Through my contacts, I began to hear about helpers on the front lines — heroic individuals, small nonprofits, and local Black churches that were doing crucial, in-the-moment work to help people survive. I knew their names wouldn't be mentioned during funder calls. And while local and national media outlets were making an efort to highlight the work they were doing and individuals around the country were responding to calls for donations, I realized I had a responsibility to elevate all the organizations and people who were selflessly neglecting their own self-care to provide critical services. Truth be told, I wasn't sure if every organization had 501(c)(3) status, but that hardly seemed to matter. They needed — and deserved — all the resources they coud get. And they deserved to be trusted to use the money — not just in-kind donations —  in an effective manner. Standing up for grassroots organizations is another role I embrace.

Leading with empathy probably isn't the best long-term strategy for a Black female nonprofit executive looking to impress large funders and donors, but, inspired by John Hope Bryant's Love Leadership, it's the legacy I prefer to leave. Like Bryant, I recognize that there can be no strength without suffering, no power without vulnerability. As Black women calling for equity and healing, my sisters and I speak out of love and respect, from a history of suffering, and mindful of our own vulnerability. All we ask is that you give us an opportunity to show our greatness.

(Photo credit: Mario Cantu/Cal Sport Meia via AP Images)

Headshot_Akilah Wallace_cropAkilah S. Wallace is executive director of Faith in Texas. This article originally appeared in the Opinions section of  Women of Color in Fundraising and Philanthropy.

5 Questions for...Helene Gayle, President and CEO, Chicago Community Trust

February 26, 2021

In Chicago, recovery from the Great Recession was uneven, the lingering economic impacts of the downturn most keenly felt by low-income individuals and Black and Latinx communities. A dozen years on, the COVID-19 pandemic has been equally as devastating for many of those communities, exacerbating disparate economic and health outcomes that all too often are the legacy of structural racism and decades of disinvestment.

To ensure that a post-pandemic recovery does not leave low-income and Black and Latinx communities even further behind, the Chicago Community Trust recently launched Together We Rise: For an Equitable and Just Recovery. Having received more than $37 million in commitments to date, the initiative is working to bring partners from philanthropy, business, government, the nonprofit sector, and local communities together to ensure that those hardest hit by the pandemic are able to build back better and stronger.

PND spoke with Chicago Community Trust president and CEO Helene Gayle about the initiative, some of the lessons we've learned from the pandemic, and what the trust is doing to ensure a more equitable post-pandemic recovery in Chicago and beyond.

Headshot_Helene Gayle Portrait-5QsPhilanthropy News Digest: Tell us about Together We Rise? What is your vision of what success looks like?

Helene Gayle: If you look at the recession of 2007-08, communities of color and communities that were financially fragile and insecure never fully recovered; indeed, they were left further behind. With Together We Rise, we want to make sure those communities don't get left behind this time and that we have a more equitable approach to recovery post-pandemic. We also hope it will be a model for other cities.

Looking at the issue of unemployment, for instance, we are looking at how recovery dollars get distributed to Black and Latinx households and communities, which have been especially hard hit, and at things like small businesses, which, as is painfully clear from the number of business closures in the city, have been disproportionately impacted. Making an impact in these areas means working with communities to build back better than before and helping them develop resilience so that they're better able to weather the next crisis, whatever it might be.

Our vision is to facilitate change that will be noticeable across the community. We want people to see businesses coming back, we want families to be more financially secure and Chicagoans to be able to get jobs that pay well and help them support their families, and we want to stimulate investment in neighborhoods where disinvestment has been the rule. And we hope that we achieve those things in a way that shows members of the community and public officials and other stakeholders that, as a result of the initiative, communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic were able to bounce back in a way that they would not have without our focus on these issues.

PND: What kind of role did the pandemic and the killing of George Floyd play in the decision to develop and launch the initiative?

HG: Although tragic, COVID and George Floyd's death have been pivotal in raising people's awareness of the legacy of racism in this country. The pandemic clearly highlighted race-based inequities in access to jobs that pay a living wage, in access to affordable, quality health care, in the many structural factors underlying poor health outcomes in this country. And the killing of George Floyd and the sense of racial reckoning it catalyzed have amplified people's commitment to doing something tangible about racial inequity, particularly the economic consequences of the pandemic and issues like the racial wealth gap.

Clearly, one of the things to come out of this whole situation is a much greater awareness of systemic racism in the United States, how it's embedded in institutions and policies, and why it's so hard for individuals of color to get beyond all that. I mean, so many of our systems were set up to keep some populations of color back while giving a leg up to others. With Together We Rise, we're trying to tackle some of these issues, recognizing that while individuals are part of the equation, the real problem is at the institutional and systemic level.

PND: In a recent op-ed, you outlined some of the ways we could begin to address historical race-based inequities — for example, by enforcing and strengthening the Community Reinvestment Act, investing more in public transportation, investing in job creation in low-income communities, and expanding eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit. What can CCT and other philanthropic organizations do to make sure the Biden administration is listening and acts on your recommendations?

HG: We've been working on these issues for a long time, but they are also issues that are important to the new administration. President Biden and his team have put economic recovery post-pandemic at the top of their list of priorities, and we're going to continue to push them to move on things that we think will make a difference in closing the racial wealth gap, help close the gap in household wealth, increase investment in communities that have been ignored, and give communities a greater voice in deciding how federal dollars are allocated. All of these are things we'll continue to focus on, and we know they are priorities for the new administration as well.

PND: With coronavirus vaccines being rolled out in communities around the country, what do you think we might be overlooking in our fight against the virus, and what do you think needs to be done over the coming months to address the continuing damage caused by the pandemic?

HG: What was most lacking in the country's response to the virus in 2020 was a clear, consistent national strategy that gave people the information they needed to protect themselves. That would have gone a long way to getting us all rowing in the same direction and saving an untold number of lives. It's one of the things I expect to see under the new administration, and we're starting to see it with vaccine distribution, that kind of all-hands-on-deck effort coordinated at the national level, in partnership with state and local public health officials. That kind of coordinated effort is critical in rolling out vaccines effectively, and it will also help us in our overall COVID prevention efforts.

PND: What are the lessons we should take away from the pandemic? What have we learned that we shouldn't forget?

HG: We've learned a lot about how to engage communities that are hard to reach. We've learned a lot about how to work with community organizations to build trust and get the support of communities that are used to being ignored or neglected. Building trust is incredibly important if the vaccine rollout is to be effective. We know that 58 percent of African Americans nationally say they won't take the vaccine, even though African Americans have been among the hardest hit by the virus. So we really have to focus on and lean into how we are working with those communities and make sure we're doing so in a way that builds trust, not only for the duration of this pandemic, but for the next crisis and the one after that.

Matt Sinclair

Charter schools have contributed to education equality and saved lives

February 22, 2021

Kids_amber_chaarterFor African Americans, learning and knowledge has been — and continues to be — the drumline of survival and success.

Enslaved black families knew this. It's why they risked severe punishment by breaking laws that forbid them learning how to read and write. The opening of black colleges and universities after the Civil War signaled that those dark ages were over, but education equality was still little more than a dream.

But much progress has been made, albeit slowly and in stages. It has come thanks to a series of landmark U.S. court cases related to equality of opportunity in K-12 education as well as self-help movements like the citizenship schools of the 1950s, the freedom schools of the '60s, on through to charter schools today.

Surprised to see charter schools in that list? You shouldn't be. Though not exclusively African American, charter schools have been tremendously successful in helping minority students get a quality education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, these schools enroll higher percentages of minority and low-income students than traditional schools. And they've been doing that for nearly three decades.

In 1992, City Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota, became the nation's first publicly funded, privately run charter school. Its founders set out to pioneer a new way of teaching students who encountered the harsh impact of drug abuse, jail, or even homelessness.

Out of desolation, the founders of City Academy created opportunities for their students. The small school's rigorous instruction and caring teachers have gone on to inspire education activists nationwide to follow its example. Today, there are 7,200 charter schools in 44 states and Washington, D.C.

These schools are not only giving kids an education. In many cases, they are literally saving lives. Education analyst Corey A. DeAngelis reports that winning a lottery to attend a charter school in New York City reduced the likelihood of incarceration for male students by 100 percent. The study also found that female charter school students were 59 percent less likely to experience teen pregnancy.

It's not that these schools are daily preaching "stay out of jail and avoid teen pregnancy." But those self-destructive behaviors don't seem to flourish in schools rooted in a vision of achieving excellence and writing a legacy of purpose.

Tyal Prince agrees. After leaving his district school disappointed and disillusioned, Prince attended Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School. He went on to graduate from the University of Pittsburgh. Today, he is employed by DataBank and is responsible for multi-million dollar contracts in the areas of cloud computing and other technology services.

Prince has also become a community leader, working with the local Big Brothers Big Sisters program and the Boys & Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania. Most importantly, he celebrates life as a family man and a first-time dad.

Prince attributes his success to Lincoln Park. "Going to a charter school saved my life," he says. "That's why I'm trying to make sure that I can get my little brother into a charter school for high school as well."

But what Prince found at Lincoln Park is not available to millions of his African American brothers and sisters — especially those in our largest cities. Too often, they find themselves consigned to public schools mired in a defeatist vision of low-expectations, victimhood, and resignation.

Children, no matter where they live, should not be relegated to that kind of non-productive, non-learning environment. They deserve options — and charter schools have proven to be an attractive and productive option.

Just ask Lenny McAllister, a champion for education equality and civil rights, now serving as CEO of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools. The coalition encompasses well over a hundred brick-and-mortar and cyber charter schools throughout the Keystone State. Of the 169,000 students enrolled in those schools this year, roughly 70 percent are students of color and approximately two-thirds are eligible for the federal free- and reduced-price lunch program.

McAllister sees charter schools as "school choice within public education," and notes that parents of children enrolled in a charter school, regardless of their economic circumstances, are afforded "self-determination in education, the same self-determination that we celebrate each Fourth of July in our Declaration of Independence."

I couldn't agree more.

Headshot_Angela_SailorAngela Sailor is a vice president at the Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation.

5 Questions for...Lisa Mensah, President and CEO, Opportunity Finance Network

January 15, 2021

After serving for two years as under secretary of agriculture for rural development in the Obama administration, Lisa Mensah joined Opportunity Finance Networka leading network of community development financial institutions, as president and CEO in March 2017. In November, with a $100 million investment from Twitter, OFN announced the launch of the Finance Justice Fund, a socially responsible investment fund aimed at raising $1 billion in grant capital to address racial injustice and persistent poverty in the United States. 

PND asked Mensah about the initial response to the fund, the impact of COVID-19 on the efforts of community development financial institutions, and the persistent lack of investment in rural communities.

Lisa_Mensah_squarePhilanthropy News Digest: What kind of response to the Finance Justice Fund have you gotten from corporate and philanthropic investors since the fund's launch in November? And are you on track to meet your fundraising goal?

Lisa Mensah: It's been wonderful to see the strong interest from both corporations and philanthropies in the work we're doing to finance justice. OFN is in discussion with potential new Finance Justice Fund investors; some of them are new to the CDFI industry and some are longtime partners. All understand that now is the moment to invest in Black and minority communities — the nationwide call for economic justice is louder and stronger than ever. We have a path to meeting our $1 billion goal and expect to announce new investment partners in the first quarter of 2021.  

PND: What was the genesis of the fund? Was it in the works before COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency and nationwide racial justice protests erupted after the killing of George Floyd last spring, or was it created in response to those twin crises? 

LM: Justice takes money, and CDFIs exist to finance justice. Our field started as a small grassroots movement to counter discrimination in banking and investing — the earliest CDFIs were created to provide financial services and support to people that banks wouldn't or couldn't serve. We've grown into a $222 billion industry that works to address longstanding disinvestment, the racial wealth gap, and persistent poverty by investing in people and communities left behind by mainstream finance. So the roots of the fund are really in our industry's history and unique role as community lenders. 

For years, OFN has been advocating for more public- and private-sector investment in communities underserved by mainstream finance. Since I joined OFN in 2017, we've been listening to our CDFIs and exploring new programs that would help the industry go bigger and bring new partners to our work. Then 2020 happened. 

The overlap of a pandemic-related economic crisis that disproportionally hurt low-income and minority communities and widespread calls for social justice put CDFIs front and center as a way to address both. The forces of 2020 — and interest from new corporate partners like Twitter — accelerated our plans. 

The Finance Justice Fund is just one result. In March 2020, OFN also welcomed Google as a partner: With OFN as the intermediary, the company is investing $170 million from its corporate treasury and $10 million from its philanthropic arm into CDFIs to help minority and women-owned small businesses. This mix of debt and grant capital is the type of investment we need to scale. 

PND: How has COVID-19 impacted OFN's and member CDFIs' programs and priorities? Are there lessons learned that might be applicable to the broader nonprofit sector?   

LM: The communities CDFIs serve are the communities that have been hurt most by the economic and health impacts of the pandemic, and so they have been very busy. 

From the very beginning of the crisis, OFN — the organization of thirty-five staff members and the network of more than three hundred CDFIs — understood the threat facing our communities and borrowers. In response, our member CDFIs have established new ways of providing services and support to borrowers. They have been proactive about easing the economic disruption for America's smallest, most vulnerable businesses, nonprofits, and homeowners, making loan accommodations, and standing up new loan programs. Many CDFIs have also helped small businesses adjust their business models to meet the new realities of stay-at-home mandates and changes in customer behavior. Our response from the beginning was focused on survival and recovery for our communities. 

One lesson for our industry and the broader nonprofit sector is that recovery from a major crisis demands partnerships, and that when those partnerships are strong we can move America forward. The last ten months have seen new partnerships with philanthropy, impact investors, corporations, and government. Never again should the CDFI field think of itself as insignificant. We must see ourselves as essential partners to the big work of having an economy that works for all. 

PND: The phrases "racial injustice" and "communities with high rates of poverty and disinvestment" are more often associated with urban, rather than rural, areas. What's behind that disconnect, and what are the implications — for rural communities in general, and for BIPOC residents of those communities in particular? 

LM: The truth is that racial injustice and high rates of poverty and disinvestment exist in both urban and rural areas. Persistent poverty in America — extreme poverty rates of more than 20 percent for more than thirty years — exists in more than ten thousand census tracts, roughly 14 percent of all U.S. neighborhoods. It has a strong hold in many rural communities: 19 percent of areas characterized by persistent poverty are rural, and millions of rural people live in persistent poverty. We also don't hear much about the racial diversity that exists in rural America. We don't think of Native communities or Black communities or Latino communities when we think about rural America, but these are vibrant and important populations in rural America.

I've focused on rural development for much of my professional life. One of the key questions is how to alleviate and begin to reverse the economic distress that has been driven by the systemic loss or contraction of major sectors of the economy such as agriculture, forestry, mining, and manufacturing. The community developer's challenge is to find ways to create wealth and livelihoods by reinvigorating local economies and connecting to larger urban/regional markets. CDFIs do this but also retain a racial equity lens and are willing to make loans to the communities and people who have too often been ignored. This is true in both rural and urban areas. 

And, of course, rural and minority communities live under the double-edged sword of poverty and racism — they've suffered the most historically and suffer the most from crises like COVID-19, climate change, and economic upheaval. 

PND: Your career has spanned the private, public, and social sectors, and you've led collaborative efforts across all three sectors. What has been your North Star in your work over the years? And what are your hopes for the incoming Biden administration with respect to policies that support racial and economic justice?   

LM: Economic justice has been my North Star — for me, that means fighting for financial capital to reach all people and communities. Financial capital is the fuel that drives economic opportunity, and I'm on a lifelong journey to help make sure that the allocation of capital is inclusive. 

I have many hopes for the Biden administration. It is exciting to see the administration embrace a goal of advancing racial equity and then to define this goal as spurring investment in small business opportunities, investing in homeownership and access to affordable housing for Black, Brown, and Native families, and ensuring that racial equity is considered in federal procurement and federal investments in infrastructure, clean energy, and agriculture. These are all policies to which CDFIs have much to contribute.  

CDFIs understand that government policies helped create the racial wealth gap and government policies must help end it. In the last week of 2020, Congress passed a historic government investment in CDFIs as part of the most recent COVID relief bill: $12 billion for CDFIs and minority depository institutions (MDIs). This is a giant step forward for our industry and the communities we serve. But injustice is persistent and tenacious, and we won't undo it with one bold step.

So, I'm considering that federal investment as a down payment, and I hope we can build on it in the months and years to come.  

— Kyoko Uchida

Prioritize public education in our philanthropic COVID-19 response

January 12, 2021

Children_sky_square_GettyImagesWith the arrival of effective vaccines against COVID-19, the end of the pandemic may finally be in sight. Yet the crisis in public education, one deeply exacerbated by the virus, will continue to wreak havoc beyond 2021.

If they have taught us anything, the last ten months have taught us who and what is essential. As people who work in philanthropy, who care about the future of the country, and as moms, we know that our kids and those who teach them are essential. And yet we as a country are not paying nearly enough attention to the public education crisis unfolding before our eyes — or responding to it as the emergency it is.

Here is what we know: More than fifty thousand students in the Los Angeles Unified School District never logged in to online learning during the spring, and there was a dramatic increase in middle and high school students failing classes in the fall. In Montgomery County, Maryland, almost 40 percent of low-income ninth-grade students failed English in the fall, and McKinsey estimates that Black and Latinx students will lose an average of eleven to twelve months of learning by June if the current state of affairs persists.

Here's what else we know: While learning remotely is not easy for any child, the learning losses from school closures and distance learning are not evenly distributed. As working mothers, we've seen first-hand the difficulties distance learning imposes on children and families, even those with significant privilege in the form of economic security, reliable broadband Internet access, quiet(ish) spaces to study, and parents who are working at home and can help their kids with schoolwork. Most children are not so lucky.

Nationally, nearly sixteen million school children lack adequate Internet service or don't have a device that connects to the Internet. In Los Angeles, where we live and work, at least one in four children in high-poverty schools lacks reliable high-quality Internet access, making it functionally impossible for them to participate in a meaningful way in school. Parents who risk their health every day in essential low-wage jobs have no realistic way to support their children through the daily challenges of distance learning. Meanwhile, students from wealthy and upper-middle class home have been able to resume in-person schooling even as high-poverty schools in the same city remain shuttered. The result is that students from poor and working-class families — kids who deserve and most need quality public education — are falling ever further behind their more fortunate peers.

While this is not a problem that philanthropy alone can solve, those of us with access to resources must find creative and strategic ways to show up for kids. All kids.

In the early days of the pandemic, we saw the difference philanthropic dollars could make. While federal stimulus funds and federal emergency funds allocated to the states took weeks and, in some cases, months to reach those most in need, public-private partnerships in many places were able to move quickly and efficiently to distribute funds. Here in Los Angeles, a group of more than thirty nonprofit organizations came together to form One Family LA after it became clear that low-income and immigrant families would be the most vulnerable to both the health impacts and economic devastation caused by the virus. In the weeks after the One Family was created, and before federal stimulus funds were fully disbursed, the organization was able to move quickly and distribute over $2 million in emergency relief funds to more than forty-five hundred families in need.

But the emergency is far from over. So what can philanthropy do to make a meaningful difference? How can it encourage and support educators and school district leaders to take the longer view that will be needed to recover from the pandemic even as they struggle to manage a seemingly endless list of day-to-day challenges?

First, philanthropy can use its greatest assets — nimbleness, creativity, and the freedom to take risks — to amplify the bright spots that already exist in public education. Chicago Public Schools recently partnered with philanthropists and community organizations to launch a $50 million program aimed at bringing free, high-quality Internet access to every student who lacks it. We know that things like intensive tutoring reliably help students from lower-income households make major academic gains. Philanthropy should partner with schools and school systems to get tutoring pilot programs off the ground, and efforts like these should be replicated by local leaders in communities across the country, with philanthropy providing seed funding and helping to disseminate best practices across city and state lines.

Second, in the months ahead, philanthropy must use its platforms to promote and fund advocacy work that keeps education at the forefront of the state and federal funding conversation. If we believe that creating a more equitable education system is critical, we need to make investments that articulate and put that priority in front of our elected officials. With so many health and economic challenges facing the country, this year's elections barely touched on the topic of education. Public schools across the country are doing the best they can, but they can't shoulder it all on their own. Ignoring months of learning loss and looming budget crises at the state and district levels is asking educators to do too much with too little.

In his book Our Kids, writer and political scientist Robert Putnam explored the many ways in which housing segregation and growing economic inequality have dissolved the social fabric that used to support poor and working-class children. And while most communities used to have a sense of collective responsibility for all children in the community — all kids were "our kids" — now when we speak about "our kids" we usually mean only the kids in our nuclear families.

We will never build the public-school systems we need or the society we want to live in unless we recapture that sense of collective responsibility for all children. While philanthropy is not an appropriate long-term substitute for robust city, state, and federal funding, it needs, at this moment, to prioritize public education in its COVID-19 response investments. At Fundamental and Great Public Schools Now, we are doing just that, because we know it's the best investment we can make for our families, for society, and for all our kids.

(Photo credit: GettyImages)

Ana Ponce_Rachel Levin_philantopicAna Ponce is executive director of Great Public Schools Now, and Rachel Levin is president of Fundamental.

Make America whole: how to heal our divided society

January 08, 2021

America_dividedOn Wednesday, a white man strolled into an office, settled down in a leather chair, and casually put his dirty boots on the desk in front of him. I saw this, and I wept.

For this was not his office, but that of Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. She had been evacuated by armed police for her own protection, and the man, Richard Barnett, was part of a pro-Trump mob of domestic terrorists who had smashed their way into the U.S. Capitol building. It had been a long and traumatic day at the end of a long and traumatic four years, and this is what reduced me to tears — a photograph of a white man with his feet up.

How very easily he and his fellow extremists had strolled, virtually unchallenged by police, through the halls of power. How comfortably he committed the crime of sedition, disgracing our country while the whole world watched in amazement. How warmly he was praised for his thuggery by a president who called him a "very special person" and a "patriot."

I wept for our national humiliation and for the violation of our precious, fragile democracy. I wept for all the Black protesters who just six months previously had knelt on the hard, hot streets outside that very building to peacefully proclaim that their lives matter and who had been beaten, pepper-sprayed, and arrested for their pains.

Many of the rioters who stormed the Capitol in the dying days of Donald Trump's nightmarish presidency had tattoos linking them to White supremacist groups with their roots in some of the darkest — or perhaps whitest — chapters of U.S. history. Racism and its dreadful consequences are deeply engrained in our past and have never been fully resolved. Our present is tainted by the ongoing devaluation of those with Black and brown bodies: we can still hear their blood crying from the ground.

I truly believe that the struggle for justice for all will succeed one day, but not before we, as a nation, own the sin of racism. Its horrors cannot be negated; they must be examined honestly and repented, and the pernicious myth of race dismantled for good.

But rather than seek retaliation against those who are taken in by racist lies and madcap conspiracy theories, we should reach out to them. We should strive for reconciliation, for with God's blessings of forgiveness and grace, even the worst of us can be turned away from evil in repentance and redirected toward good. And if it proves beyond us to change the minds of these people, then we must hope to teach their children the true values of democracy. We must show them how to love those who don't look or sound like their parents, so that this hatred does not poison the hearts of another generation of Americans.

Sadly, the divisions we face today are wounds that go well beyond a few extremist groups; they permeate our society. President-elect Biden is now fighting to mend the soul of America. He cannot do it alone or quickly — a cure will take decades — but he can lead us all in taking bold steps toward healing.

Wounds must be allowed to breathe: first, we must talk openly to one another about our discontent and our anger, our fears and our hopes. And we must listen. This will require love, civility, and courage, but we should not rest until we find common ground. We may be surprised by how much unites us. We all have a soul. We all dream of a better future for ourselves and our children. We are all patriots. We all long for justice. We are all God's children.

Having acknowledged our shared humanity, the next step will be to repair our broken nation. Politicians, faith and community leaders, and educators all have their roles to play, but each of us has the capacity to offer our own unique solution: look into your heart and ask yourself, What can I do to make the world better? How can I overcome my suspicion of the "other" and truly attempt to engage with, understand, and even love someone whose ideology is utterly different from my own? How can I redirect our energies toward the common good?

If I could, I would sit down in a neutral space somewhere with that man who put his feet up on Speaker Pelosi's desk. I would ask him what he was hoping to achieve that day, what he was so angry about and why. I would try to really listen to his answers, however abhorrent I mighr find his beliefs. I suspect he would tell me he thought he was fighting to save democracy, because he saw it as the very soul of America, the source of all hope. That, surely, is one thing we would be able to agree on. And perhaps it would be a start...

Headshot_keith_mageeKeith Magee, author of the forthcoming Prophet Justice: Essays and Reflections on Race, Religion and Politics, is a theologian, public intellectual, and social justice scholar. He is also chair and professor of social justice at Newcastle University and a senior fellow in culture and justice at University College London.

5 Questions for...Starsky Wilson, President and CEO, Children's Defense Fund

December 18, 2020

In September, the Rev. Dr. Starsky D. Wilson was named president and CEO of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), succeeding Marian Wright Edelman, who in late 2018 transitioned into the role of president emerita of the organization she founded almost fifty years earlier. Wilson started his tenure as president and CEO of CDF on December 7.

Wilson previously served as president and CEO of the Deaconess Foundation, a faith-based philanthropy focused on child well-being in St. Louis, and as pastor of Saint John's Church, an interracial, inner-city congregation. In the wake of the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown, Wilson was asked to co-chair the Ferguson Commission, convened by then-Missouri governor Jay Nixon; the report issued by the commission, Forward Through Ferguson: A Path Toward Racial Equity, called for sweeping reforms to policing and the criminal justice system as well as a renewed commitment to child well-being and economic opportunity for all.

Earlier this month, PND spoke with Wilson, who serves as board chair of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy and as vice chair of the Forum for Theological Exploration, about the intersection of faith, racial justice, and philanthropy; the rising generation of racial justice activists; and Marian Wright Edelman's legacy.

Headshot_Starsky-Wilson_childrens_defense_fundPhilanthropy News Digest: As the former co-chair of the Ferguson Commission, what was your reaction to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and the nationwide protests that followed? And have we made any progress toward racial justice since Michael Brown was shot dead by a Ferguson police officer?

Starsky Wilson: The video of the eight minutes and forty-six seconds in which George Floyd was killed by Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on his neck in Minneapolis was a triggering reminder of the four hours Michael Brown, Jr. lay in the street in Ferguson, Missouri, after being killed by Darren Wilson. Six years passed between those tragedies, and yet so much was the same: the days waiting for the responsible police officers to be arrested, the outpouring of pent-up rage and pain from decades of oppression and brutality.

Six years have passed and little has changed in the response of these systems. On the other hand, much progress has been made in the activation and mobilization of community leaders on the ground, and in building the capacity to change narratives and organize people for long-term impact.

The only way to stop police violence is to address the root cause directly and deeply. Racist oppression and myths of criminality lead to public lynchings of Black people by those sworn to protect them. We need effective leaders who are not afraid to stand up and speak out about racial injustice. We must lift up and listen to the voices of impacted communities that for decades have been crying out about police brutality, violence that endangers our children and youth. We must take meaningful action on a systemic level: removing the police presence from our schools, ending the cradle-to-prison pipeline, and investing in programs that allow marginalized children and their families to thrive.

PND: As an early supporter of and participant in the Black Lives Matter movement, you're seen by many as a bridge between Marian Wright Edelman's generation of 1960s civil rights-era activists and a new generation of millennial and Gen-Z racial justice activists. As the new president and CEO of the Children's Defense Fund, how do you see your role in the movement for racial justice?

SW: Child well-being and racial justice are intimately and forever interconnected. Many people don't realize that 2020 is the first year in American history where the majority of children in this country are children of color. This makes the civil rights legacy and child advocacy vision that the Children's Defense Fund has woven together for nearly fifty years even more vital.

That's also why I am honored to join the organization built by Marian Wright Edelman. She has understood since she founded the Children's Defense Fund in 1973 that it is essential to weave together the struggle for civil rights and the fight for children in order for both movements to succeed. That means any action we can take toward providing opportunity, relieving social and economic burdens, and expanding healthcare access for the nation's children helps build a safer and more equitable society for people of color. At the same time, any action we can take to dismantle the policies and structures that uphold systems of racism in this country creates a better nation for our children.

Holding and earning the trust of leaders within the Movement for Black Lives is just as high an honor. I have been pleased to stand with, beside, and behind them on the streets and the public square, to invest in their work, and to strategize with them. At CDF, I look forward to working with these same leaders to extend the movement for justice that so many are inheriting at about the same age that Mrs. Edeleman was when she planted the flag of her work for justice.

PND: CDF recently was awarded a $1 million grant by the Thriving Congregations Initiative at the Lilly Endowment. As a pastor and a nonprofit leader, how do you see the relationship between faith and social justice advocacy? And how will the organization use the grant?

SW: Only faith in some idea, expression, or being greater than ourselves gives us the capacity to see justice in the face of injustice and to sustain strength to pursue it. Faith leaders like Rev. James Lawson and the late Rev. C.T. Vivian taught me that, at critical moments, we must win locally with spiritually grounded activism before we can win globally with on-the-ground activism. My job as a faith leader is to stir our collective imagination, encourage moral action, and pursue justice and righteousness as I encounter those themes in sacred texts and communities. When we bring our beliefs and bold action into the public square, we nurture the change that can transform a nation and help children flourish.

The Children's Defense Fund has a long history of working with faith leaders and communities to activate champions for our children through programs like the Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry and the annual National Children's Sabbath. The generous grant from the Lilly Endowment will take that work to new heights by allowing us to pursue a focused partnership with a small group of congregations to help strengthen the connections between the teachings and actions of their places of worship with the challenges facing children in their communities and across the country.

PND: Over the course of your career you've been focused on the well-being of children, and that includes your work on the CDF Freedom Schools summer literacy program and the Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry. Have you had time to determine what your top priorities for CDF are over the short to immediate term?

SW: There was already so much work to be done to make sure our most marginalized children can flourish — and that was before the COVID pandemic set those children back even further in their learning, their development, and their safety and well-being. The top priority at CDF will always be to be a strong, effective voice for the more than seventy-four million children who cannot vote, lobby, or make campaign donations to the lawmakers with the power to help them. Our immediate focus right now is urging Congress to pass robust COVID relief that will help our children and their families stay housed, fed, and safe in the difficult weeks ahead.

More broadly, we will continue to push those in power to take a holistic view of our children. They are not just students and future employees; they are entire human beings who need to be supported mentally and physically to lead joyful lives. We must be proactive in supporting children in all aspects of their life, not just working on the back end to dilute the damage after they have experienced a traumatic experience. We will not solve the complex, interconnected set of challenges facing our most vulnerable children unless we as a society adopt that kind of approach to serving them.

PND: Many foundations have come to the realization that they need to do more to address systemic racism and support efforts to advance racial justice. What are the one or two things foundations could do in 2021 to really accelerate progress toward a racially just society?

SW: First, foundations must make good on their public statements and commitments made in response to the reckoning we saw in 2020, from COVID-19 to racial uprisings to the presidential election. To truly and faithfully advance racial justice, they must invest in an equitable recovery from the pandemic, including supporting responses designed to correct the disproportionate health and economic impacts on Black and brown children and families. That will require higher payouts, the application of a racial equity lens to their grantmaking, and the adoption of a systems-change approach to everything they do.

Philanthropies must invest in Black-led social change and listen closely to leaders and organizations in impacted communities. Just before coming to CDF, I led the Deaconess Foundation's work to invest $4 million into Black-led pandemic response and racial healing initiatives. That type of deliberate, focused action is what is needed to produce the results foundations say they want in their mission statements and theories of change.

Finally, leaders of foundations can lift their own voices to amplify the demands of those whose voices are too often drowned out or ignored. The freedom to advocate afforded to foundations and their leaders is a powerful tool when it's used to shift narratives and educate the public. And I am truly glad to hear some of these leaders already speaking out loudly and forcefully.

Kyoko Uchida

How Social Issues Influenced Voting by Young Americans

November 24, 2020

VotingsizedThe research team I lead at Cause and Social Influence tracks the behaviors and motivations of young Americans (ages 18-30) with respect to social issues and movements. And while plenty of issues have drawn the attention of young Americans in 2020 — not least COVID-19 — our latest research finds that one issue In particular drove young Americans to vote in the recent U.S. presidential election: racial equity for Black Americans and people of color.

We surveyed young Americans in October and then again on November 4, the day after the election. Our results — published in two waves, Influencing Young Americans to Act — 2020 Election Research Reports, Wave 1 and Wave 2 — reveal that a consistent, overriding concern about racial inequality, discrimination, and social justice, particularly though not exclusively as it impacts Black Americans, was a key factor in young Americans’ decision to vote and choice of presidential candidate.

Based on our sample, here are a couple of things we learned about young Americans' participation in the 2020 presidential election:

1. Young Americans voted for a candidate, not against one. In our first wave of election research in October, the vast majority of survey respondents had already settled on their candidate, with 64 percent saying they planned to vote for Joe Biden and 28 percent planning to vote for Donald Trump. When asked to give a reason for their choice, 58 percent said they liked and supported their chosen candidate’s stance on issues important to them, while 25 percent said they neither liked nor supported the other candidate’s stance on issues important to them. In other words, a majority of young Americans responding to our survey said that support for, rather than opposition to, a candidate and his positions was a key motivating factor in their choice of candidate.

By the time Election Day (November 3) rolled around, nearly two-thirds (60 percent) of young Americans had already voted or planned to vote for Biden for president, while about a quarter (28 percent) had already voted or planned to vote for Donald Trump.

2. Racial equity was a key factor in the way young Americans voted. When asked in October to name the specific issues or causes driving their choice of candidate, 60 percent of respondents said Black Lives Matter (i.e., racial inequity, discrimination, and injustice related to Black Americans), while 39 percent mentioned civil rights/racial discrimination/social injustice related to groups other than Black Americans.

Respondents' reasons for supporting a candidate remained more or less unchanged for those who voted on November 3, with our second wave survey finding that nearly two-thirds (59 percent) of all respondents said the biggest factor in their choice of candidate was Black Lives Matter (racial inequity, discrimination, and injustice related to Black Americans), while 42 percent mentioned civil rights/racial discrimination/social injustice related to groups other than Black Americans.

The other top issues cited as reasons to back a certain candidate were COVID-19 (44 percent), the budget and economy (43 percent), and healthcare reform (38 percent).

3. Young Americans trust social movements and local government the most. Given the proliferation of false and misleading information in the months leading up to the 2020 election — New York Times' reporters tracked 1.1 million election-related "falsehoods" in September and October alone — we asked young Americans how much they trusted specific individuals and entities to do what was right to ensure a fair election. Social movements (65 percent) and local government (65 percent) scored highest, followed by Joe Biden (58 percent) and nonprofit organizations (5 percent).

The list of "I do not trust them at all" responses among our sample was topped by Donald Trump (42 percent), followed by Republican members of Congress (30 percent), Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (27 percent), corporations (26 percent), and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (25 percent).

Bright Spots

During what surely was one of the most divisive elections in my lifetime, one response stood out for me and actually made me hopeful. About half of our sample said their voting experience was good because, "I had a voice in the 2020 presidential election. I think my vote matters this year." Another hopeful response: 64 percent said the results of the election won’t affect their charitable giving plans.

Our research underscores the importance of social issues to young Americans — something we will talk more about in the coming weeks. At the same time, the high levels of activity and engagement surrounding the election speak directly to the opportunity nonprofits and for-profit companies have to promote greater civic engagement and participation among young Americans through the causes they themselves support. If anyone is looking for reasons to be hopeful as we try to get a handle on the coronavirus and keep ourselves and our families safe over the next few months, that seems like a good place to start.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence, and the author of the new book, The Corporate Social Mind. For more by Derrick, click here.

Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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