On Race and Inequality, Philanthropy Has to ‘Get Woke’

By Robert Ross, President of the California Endowment.

This OpEd was originally published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy and on the California Endowment website.

As president of the California Endowment, I have an advisory group of 14 young people of color that provides me with an opportunity to hear directly from youths whose families reside in underserved and economically distressed neighborhoods across our state. Private foundations gather data about their work — in our case, the work of building healthier California communities — in multiple forms: community surveys, state and county statistics, and commissioned research and reports. But insights and feedback directly from the mouths of young people who face the hazards of structural inequality on a daily basis — community violence, underfunded schools, the lack of jobs and positive support structures — is the richest data source of all.

At this time, with our nation visibly struggling with matters of income inequality, perceived lack of opportunity, tensions between the police and communities, and exclusion based on race and immigration status, these young people have one clear, overarching message for philanthropy, and I am quoting one of them directly: “Dr. Ross, y’all gotta get woke.”

“Get woke.” It is a newfound expression of young activists, a challenge to lift consciousness out of a deep slumber and into the fight for social change. This youthful adviser was essentially asking me whether our foundation was in the fight or passively sitting on the sidelines.

Response to Inequality

This is a year in which we find our nation deeply divided, frenetic, and torn. Populist uprisings sweep the nation and infiltrate the discourse surrounding the most electrifying presidential campaign in at least a half-century. Many working-class white Americans and frustrated young people of color have channeled their anger through anti-establishment candidates, expressing disgust with Wall Street-dominated political influence. With the emergence of Black Lives Matter, structural racism has been officially called out as a crisis in America. The Dreamers movement unleashes activist energy in favor of immigration reform, even in the face of political paralysis in Congress.

The common thread across this range of activism, anger, and frustration is the matter of structural inequality and lack of opportunity in America, and it is more far-reaching and profound than the peculiarities of a presidential election. The issue of inequality in America is intense, urgent, and pressing.

And how will organized philanthropy respond? With detached curiosity? The proverbial “toe in the water”? A nonchalant shrug of the shoulders? Or will it match the intensity of the moment and join the fight?

Will the plea from my youth council — for philanthropy to “get woke” — go unheeded?

With that thought in mind, I offer a user-friendly and unapologetically unscientific seven-question tool to assess whether your foundation is truly wading into the epic battle unfolding against inequality in our nation or is sitting it out.

*Has your Board of Trustees recently — or ever — engaged in a quality conversation about race and structural racism in America?
*Does your board possess a clear plan to improve or maintain diversity and inclusion in its makeup and that of your organization’s management?
*Does your foundation possess a strategic plan to address inequality in any form (economic, educational, housing, health, etc.) through the lens of your mission?
*Does your foundation support any efforts to promote civic engagement, participation, or advocacy in low-income, marginalized populations or communities?
*Does your foundation allow for structured opportunities for trustees to visit with and hear directly from community, grass-roots, or young leaders in low-income, marginalized populations or communities?
*Has your foundation explored eliminating investments in industries that contribute to inequality such as for-profit prisons, or begun to engage in impact or mission investing?
*Has your foundation used its bully pulpit to speak out against inequality, violence, hyperincarceration, and bigotry of all kinds or to support healing and trust-building between communities and police?

Here’s how to determine your “get woke” score:

If you answered yes to six or seven questions, congratulations, you are well awake and in the fight. Don’t stop.

If you answered yes to three to five questions, your foundation is in the fight — but punch harder.

If you had one or two “yes” answers, your foundation has thrown a punch or two, but sleepily.

If you had no “yes” answers, your foundation is comatose. Do you give a damn about inequality?

Philanthropy, we gotta get woke.

Robert Ross’ OpEd was published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy and on the California Endowment website.

Inside the Funder Push for Girls of Color

In the spring of 2015, a group of community activists in New York City approached the City Council with an ambitious goal: They wanted to drill down on the issues faced by young women and girls of color, and quicken the pace of social change, advancing equality and opportunity for this population. The group spoke to Melissa Mark-Viverito, speaker of the New York City Council, and the first Latina woman to hold citywide office, who responded positively to the idea. In May 2015, the City Council announced the Young Women’s Initiative (YWI), a historic effort to tackle the health, safety, education, and economic disadvantages that confront young women of color.

Initial funding for the Young Women’s Initiative came in February of 2016, with a grant of $10 million from the New York City Council. That same month, the Philanthropic Table for Girls and Young Women of Color matched the City Council’s $10 million with another $10 million and set a new high for public women’s foundations dedicating funds specifically to young women and trans/gender fluid youth of color. Big donors to the Philanthropic Table include the New York Women’s Foundation and the Novo Foundation.

This is a striking public-private partnership, and New York City is a fitting focus. With close to a half-million Black and Latina girls in the city ages 12 to 24 (411,339 in 2013) representing just over 20 percent of the city’s population, New York has a huge stake in providing advancement opportunities for young women and girls of color. Right now, rates of poverty are significantly higher in the city among women and girls of color, and so is unemployment: Eighteen percent of women and girls of color are out of work or out of school, compared to 12 percent of white women and girls.

But New York is definitely not alone in addressing the particular difficulties faced by women and girls of color. As announced at the Obama Administration’s United State of Women Summit, the Young Women’s Initiative is expanding further. Seven women’s funds have committed to carrying out the multifaceted agenda of YWI in their own communities. The newly added foundations announced at the June 2016 Summit, which span several regions of the country, are the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, the California Women’s Foundation, Washington Area Women’s Foundation, the Dallas Women’s Foundation, the Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham, the Women’s Foundation for Greater Memphis, and the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts.

Read the full story in Inside Philanthropy.

Announcing 7 Regional Young Women’s Initiatives

I am Ana Oliveira, President and CEO of The New York Women’s Foundation. It is an honor to stand here today with my colleagues from women’s foundations around our country to share how we are creating solutions.

Last November, we came together at the White House to announce Prosperity Together. Prosperity Together is a partnership of 27 women’s foundations who – together – committed $100 million dollars over 5 years to support economic well-being for all women and families in the United States.

Today, we’re delighted to announce our next project together: the Young Women’s Initiative.

Started in New York City, with the New York City Council, the Young Women’s Initiative, is the nation’s first-ever cross-sector campaign that will close the disparities that young women of color experience and ensure equal opportunity.

Created with the leadership of young women of color and community leaders at the center, – many of whom are here today –  it brings together other advocates, researchers, policy experts, philanthropy, and government.

As a cross-sector partnership, we produce results together that we cannot produce alone. In NY, we have created a report and are carrying out recommendations on changes and investments that are necessary to address racial, gender and economic equity for girls, young women and trans youth of color.

Read the full piece on Philanthropy New York.

OpEd: Justice for Black Girls

This week marks the anniversary of the tragic death of a 7-year-old black girl named Aiyana Stanley-Jones. Six years ago, Aiyana was killed while she slept at her grandmother’s house.

Joseph Weekley, the Detroit SWAT officer who fatally shot her during a botched raid, is still on the police force. Despite being charged with involuntary manslaughter and two lesser charges, juries failed to reach verdicts and the charges were dropped in January 2015.

The loss of this innocent girl is heartbreaking, and it is a stain on the soul of this nation. It’s also a sickening comment on the state of black girlhood in America.

Earlier this year, news accounts and press releases made it seem like the moment for the recognition of black girls’ humanity had come at last. After years of lobbying, for example, the White House finally launched an initiative aimed at improving the lives of black and Latina girls — something similar to the program My Brother’s Keeper.

More recently, The NoVo Foundation, created by Peter and Jennifer Buffett, launched a seven-year, $90 million commitment to “support and deepen the movement for girls and young women of color in the United States.”

These developments follow the tireless work of organizations like the African American Policy Forum and the Human Rights Project for Girls as well as the careful research undertaken by scholars on the lives of black girls — from historians like LaKisha Simmons to social justice scholar Monique Morris to sociologist Carla Shedd. In April, the Black Girl Movement Conference in New York marked the nation’s first conference on black girls.

This momentum is positive and necessary. Unfortunately, it does not overshadow the virulent hatred and misogynic feelings that jeopardize African American girls’ very existence.

Read the full OpEd by Kali Nicole Gross on UT News.

New NYC Initiative for Women and Girls of Color

In 2014, President Barack Obama made a commitment to bettering the lives of the nation’s young boys of color with his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative. A year later, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio doubled down on predecessor Michael Bloomberg’s 2011 Young Men’s Initiative, a similar program devoted to supporting the city’s black and Latino men.

But even as many applaud these programs for being powerful and necessary, they leave a pressing question in their wake: What about women?

New York City’s Young Women’s Initiative is a direct response to the girls and young women of color neglected by these efforts. New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced the program’s launch in May 2015, and on Monday, on the steps of City Hall, she presented a blueprint on how the city council would work toward institutionalizing success for its young women of color.

The resulting report boasts over 100 policy recommendations for the city’s legislators, covering health, economic and workforce development, community support and opportunity, education and anti-violence and criminal justice. The council, along with philanthropic groups such as the New York Women’s Foundation, have donated $20 million in funds to implement the policies.

“You are women who embody what it means to be inspirational,” said Mark-Viverito, who was flanked by about 50 women involved in the initiative. “You are mentors, supporters and fighters — luchadoras. You are the future of our city. You are in the business of opening doors and shattering glass ceilings and you’re making a real difference in the lives of women and girls across our city.”

Mark-Viverito’s forward-thinking message is summed up via two hashtags: #SheWillBe and the Spanish translation #EllaSerá.

Read the full article at News.Mic.

A New Generation of Girl Philanthropists Inspires

As seniors at the elite Marlborough School for girls in Los Angeles, Olivia Goodman and Alana Adams are getting a top-notch education, preparing to attend renowned universities, and looking forward to long and rewarding careers.

They know they are fortunate. But they’re also painfully aware of what lies beyond their private school campus. They know that, just a few miles away, there are schools that lack basic supplies and where teenagers try to focus while the sound of gunshots can be heard outside.

That’s why, in 2014, Goodman and Adams joined the student-run Violets’ Giving Circle, part of the Women’s Foundation of California’s network of six collaborative giving circles. Recently, Goodman, Adams, and nineteen of their schoolmates announced they will award a total of $40,000 in grants to four Los Angeles-based organizations that support educational access and opportunities for women and girls. The organizations are Homeboy Industries, New Village Girls Academy, Women in Non Traditional Employment Roles (WINTER), and WriteGirl.

Natalie A. Collier speaking

Blurred Focus: The State of Black Women in the Rural South

Natalie A. Collier, Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative for Social & Economic Justice

Presentation Description: In a world that has its spotlight—for better and worse—shone brightly on boys and young men of color, their mothers, sisters and others who love them are often quietly working, overshadowed. Dreams for boys and girls of color are already typically far too small. For many southern, rural black women while coping with the trauma of poverty, its spheres and effects that have become second nature, they must also deal with their own issues and displaced dreams for not only their sons but their daughters and selves. The focus and conversation on uplift and reconnection to personal and community power cannot be either/or; it must be both/and. Continuing along this path of either/or, we systemically and grievously rob women of color of opportunities to exercise their right to dream for themselves and their children.

NYC Philanthropic Table Commits $10 Million for Girls, Women of Color

The NoVo Foundation, in partnership with the New York Women’s Foundation, has announced an initial commitment of $10 million through the New York City Philanthropic Table for Girls and Young Women of Color for programs targeting girls, young women, and transgender youth of color in New York City.

The gift from the Philanthropic Table, a group of more than a dozen local and national foundations that is co-chaired by the NoVo and New York Women’s foundations, matches a $10 million public commitment from the New York City Council. The new commitment will consist of funds newly committed or targeted to efforts aimed at improving the lives of girls and young women of color and that are aligned with the priorities of the Philanthropic Table.

Young Women of Color Break the Silence

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–The pain of the grand jury’s decision last week to not charge Darren Wilson, the police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., was just compounded by what happened here in New York. Another grand jury decided on Dec. 3 to not bring criminal charges against Daniel Pantaleo, a police officer who used a chokehold to restrain Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died after the confrontation. These incidents are tipping points for community organizations such as ours, Girls for Gender Equity.

We have led Brooklyn’s Hands Up solidarity protest for all victims of state sanctioned and gender based violence.

As we demand justice for all, we take a stand for the girls and women overlooked by the media. One recent example: The manslaughter charges against Officer Joseph Weekley from Detroit that were dropped on Nov. 30 for the shooting and killing 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones while she slept. Another: Tanisha Anderson, a mentally ill Cleveland woman was killed on Nov. 13 after police used a takedown move outside her family’s home.