A "Separate But Equal" Internet?

Huff Post
by:Preeti Vissa

The phrase “knowledge is power” dates back to at least the seventeenth century, and it’s as true today as it was then. But today, technology has become the essential portal to information, and information technology has potential to be a great social and economic equalizer — but only if we preserve today’s open Internet.

That is not by any means a sure thing.

Continue reading “A "Separate But Equal" Internet?”

A $1.9 Trillion Christmas Present

Huffington Post
By Preeti Vissa

How would you feel if Santa left $1.9 trillion in your Christmas stocking?

Don’t worry — I wouldn’t know how to spend that much money either. But a $1.9 trillion boost to our economy could do amazing things, and it could actually happen. The catch is that it won’t come from Santa. We have to do it ourselves.

The good news is that we can, although it won’t be easy.

That’s the message from a new study funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and conducted by the Altarum Institute. Altarum researchers found that racial inequity costs the U.S. economy massively, and that eliminating this inequity would boost our gross domestic product by $1.9 trillion.

Altarum found that, after adjusting for age and sex, per capita earnings for people of color in the U.S. are now 30 percent below those of non-Hispanic whites. I’ll let the researchers lay out the full economic implications of that finding:

We found that, if the average incomes of minorities were raised to the average incomes of whites, total U.S. earnings would increase by 12%, representing nearly $1 trillion today. By closing the earnings gap through higher productivity, gross domestic product (GDP) would increase by a comparable percentage, for an increase of $1.9 trillion today. The earnings gain would translate into $180 billion in additional corporate profits, $290 billion in additional federal tax revenues, and a potential reduction in the federal deficit of $350 billion, or 2.3% of GDP.

Projecting farther out into the future (when Americans of color will move closer to being the new American majority), closing the earnings gap would increase U.S. GDP by 16 percent, a staggering $5 trillion per year.

The good news is that this income gap, and the accompanying racial wealth gap, did not happen by accident. They resulted from deliberate choices our society made and in many cases continues to make. We can close the wealth and earnings gaps if we make different choices.

As I said, this won’t be easy, and it’s not simple. Altarum’s report focuses on a web of intersecting, interlocking factors that I can’t help but oversimplify a bit in the space I have here. The essential point is that policies to close our racial wealth and income gaps not only don’t take anything away from anyone, they will lift the whole economy.

The study points out a number of areas where policy choices have led to inequity that better policies can change. One obvious one that I’ve discussed before is homeownership. The researchers note that in 2012, 74 percent of white families owned their own homes, compared to 57 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander families, 51 percent of Native American families, 46 percent of Latino families and 44 percent of African American families.

This difference is a major driver of the racial wealth gap. It can be traced directly to discriminatory policies that once were quite extreme (from African Americans being excluded from the 1862 Homestead Act because they weren’t considered citizens to the FHA officially promoting redlining and discriminatory lending in the 1930s and ’40s) to the more under-the-table housing discrimination that occurs today. The researchers point to a 2012 study that found continuing discrimination against Asians, blacks and Latinos seeking to rent or buy, as well as the well-documented marketing of predatory subprime loans in communities of color during the housing bubble.

Those policies promoted residential segregation, which continues today with severe negative impacts on health, education, and many other essentials for economic success. Some efforts to address these issues — such as creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to curb predatory practices — have been undertaken, but the authors note that more can and should be done.

There are many other factors that more sensible policies could change, far more than I can list here. But another that has to be mentioned is the criminal justice system. Having a criminal record can hobble your chances for getting a good job that pays a living wage.

African American and Latino males have massively higher incarceration rates than whites, and the difference cannot be explained by the rates of crimes committed by different groups. For example, official surveys consistently show African Americans using illicit drugs at the same or lower rates than whites, yet the researchers note that African American youth are a staggering ten times more likely to be arrested for drug offenses than white youth.

Please read the full study to learn the specifics that space does not allow me to list here. But the bottom line is really quite simple: Racial inequity didn’t just happen; it was a result of deliberate choices. We can reduce and eventually end this inequity by making different choices.

And in a nation where people of color are projected to be the majority by 2043, we literally can’t afford to continue on the wasteful and unfair path we’ve been on.

A Blueprint for More Equitable Transportation Planning

Next City
By Sarah Trent

Streets are among the most used public assets, but for many in Najari Smith’s Richmond, Calif., community, those streets don’t feel like the safe, accessible public infrastructure they’re meant to be.

In 2012, Smith founded Rich City Rides as a way of taking back the streets and building human infrastructure — connection, community, and safety in numbers — where the built infrastructure has failed them. The organization and their cooperatively-owned bike shop offer repair workshops, a youth earn-a-bike program, and weekly group rides.

Smith has heard his local government talk about safety in terms of fixing potholes or providing bike lanes. His community, on the other hand, talks about safety in terms of being targeted by the police, who might stop them for a minor infraction like riding without a helmet or lights, and then pat them down. There is a disconnect between his community – largely people of color in this working class city – and the officials charged with assuring everyone’s safety on the streets.

After years of working to make his voice heard by participating in various planning committees in his city and the larger Bay Area, Smith realized that sitting at those committees’ tables wasn’t enough. For years, he says, “I was allowed to weigh in on decisions that were already made. Don’t come to me with something you’ve already determined to be an issue and look to me to cosign it. That’s tokenizing. And it’s hard because you have this idea that if only I brought more people like me to the table, we’d have some equality.”

“I didn’t realize until a couple of years ago that my trouble wasn’t with there not being enough people like me at the table, the issue was that it wasn’t my table,” Smith adds. “I didn’t get to determine what was on the menu. I want to be able to say, ‘This is what I want, and I want you to cook it up for me, experts!’”

A newly published transportation planning framework provides one possible blueprint to build that table. From The Greenlining Institute, an Oakland-based multi-ethnic public policy, research and advocacy organization, the “Mobility Equity Framework” is a tool for transportation planners and community advocates to assess, compare, and make decisions on transportation projects together.

“You don’t have to be an expert to see that our transportation infrastructure is really failing,” says Hana Creger, lead author of the framework.

Transportation planning needs to prioritize people over cars, Creger says. It especially needs to consider the day-to-day needs of people over the spectacle of a showy piece of new infrastructure. In order to get to that point, she says, “we need to prioritize equity and community power in planning and decision-making, especially in communities that are marginalized.”

Creger points to recent debate over a new Bay Bridge crossing between San Francisco and Oakland as an example of how not to approach transportation planning. Citing “intolerable” traffic, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and East Bay Congressperson Mark DeSaulnier in December urged the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission to build a second crossing between the two cities.

It would be a spectacle, especially standing next to the recently completed eastern span of the existing Bay Bridge (which at $6.5 billion cost $6.25 billion more than original cost estimates). It might serve a car-centric vision for the Bay Area, “but what are the needs of people where this new freeway would be built?” Creger asks. “How would it impact their health and lives? The community knows best what meets their needs. Do they need a new BART line instead? Or bus routes? They should decide rather than policy-makers advocating for a new bridge crossing.”

The Mobility Equity Framework offers a method to assess and compare different transportation modes based on positive and negative impacts on low-income people. It’s applicable in rural and suburban environments as well as urban, the Greenlining Institute says.

It also advocates for community planning processes like participatory budgeting to ensure that planners are actually addressing community needs.

While there are many ways to budget with community input, “participatory budgeting” refers to a structured process by which community members can make recommendations and direct decisions on public spending and planning. Growing in popularity, participatory budgeting was first introduced in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and has since been used in at least 46 jurisdictions across the U.S. and Canada, including Chicago, New York City, Seattle, and the Bay Area cities of Vallejo and Oakland.

Late last year, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) opened up $25 million in planning grants to regional and local transportation authorities with the recommendation that projects include participatory budgeting as part of their planning grant proposals.

Participatory budgeting is valuable in particular because of its proven success engaging historically disenfranchised communities in planning processes. These communities disproportionately rely on public transportation, are most heavily impacted by toxic smog and other negative environmental factors, and have long been excluded from transportation planning. Without taking these community’s needs into account by engaging them in planning and decision-making processes, public infrastructure fails to serve those who need it most.

The Greenlining Institute hopes that the framework will be adopted in whole or in part by government entities and included in transportation planning guidelines across California to ensure transportation truly benefits all.

“I really do appreciate having smooth paved bike lanes to ride on,” Smith says. “But what I value more is knowing that people in the community feel like those lanes are for us, that those bike lanes are my bike lanes, and those trails are my trails. That they were made for me.”

A Decade After Katrina, Can Philanthropy Make Black Lives Matter?

The Chronicle of Philanthropy
By Nat Chioke Williams

On Saturday, people from around the world will commemorate the 10 years since Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. Although many people will tout the city’s recovery, few people in black working-class neighborhoods will be celebrating. After all, they have been mostly left behind.

But that is hardly the only poignant and painful reminder of the inequities facing blacks in America and how far the nation still must go to end them.

On August 4, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, the crowning achievement of the civil-rights movement, which was recently gutted by the Supreme Court.

Five days later, we recognized the one-year anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., an attack that launched what is commonly known as the Black Lives Matter movement — a movement to assert the sanctity of black life, even as it is fueled by a wave of black deaths at the hands of police.

But the question for the country — and especially for all of us in philanthropy — is not, Do black lives matter?, but rather, How can we make black lives matter and provide the best opportunities for the black community to thrive? And can philanthropy help ensure we don’t squander the advances that the broader movement has made in the past year?

The answer to this question is complex, but it ultimately boils down to power.

To make black lives matter more, philanthropy needs to do all it can to ensure that the black community builds the social, institutional, and political power it needs to directly challenge and dismantle the policies and systems that enable structural racism.

The success to date of the Black Lives Matter movement is most visible in the ways it has changed how the public thinks about race, racism, and policing.

It has used social media, traditional media, strategic communications, street protests, and other activities to become part of the public conversation — and it has become a strong counter to those who deny that racism is embedded in the policies and structures of our society. There now exists a unique opportunity to win policy changes to help ensure greater police accountability and to examine and address racial discrimination across many aspects of black life.

But this movement is at risk if it doesn’t get the money it needs to build institutions that can capitalize on this social power. For far too many decades, black-led social-change organizations have received too little in donations to grow into the strong influencers on the American way life that they must be.

Research from the Greenlining Institute has found that minority-led organizations get less money from foundations than white-led organizations. And anecdotal evidence suggests that this pattern is as bad, if not worse, for social-change organizations led by blacks.

Much of the work being done to propel Black Lives Matter forward has been carried out by newly created groups with limited funds and borrowed or volunteer staff, as well as older black-led social-justice groups that are already strapped for money. Philanthropy can help make the most of this moment by ensuring that black-led social-change groups are well supported.

Some grant makers, like the North Star Fund, the Liberty Hill Fund, Resource Generation, and others, have explicitly dedicated resources to support black-led grass-roots groups organizing to push for greater police accountability and other changes that will reduce violence and improve safety. Similarly, the Hill-Snowdon Foundation recently launched the Making Black Lives Matter Initiative, a three-year project that seeks to build the kind of long-term institutional and political power that the black community needs to achieve real racial justice.
Our focus on black-led organizing groups is an essential piece of building the organizations, leaders, and activists who will not just do the work today, but will lead future efforts to push for changes that will allow all black Americans to thrive.

We are dedicating $900,000 in new funds over the next three years for grants to support black-led organizing, as well as leadership development for black organizers and in-person meetings at which black social-change leaders can strategize on next steps.

This investment is significant for our foundation and represents almost a one-percent increase in our payout for 2015 and a 20-percent increase in our grants budget over the next three years. Hill-Snowdon’s trustees believe this opportunity demonstrates exactly why foundations have endowments: so they can seize on historic moments like this.

But it’s not enough for each foundation to demonstrate the courage to spend more. We must also join forces with other philanthropies to better coordinate and align our grant making for racial justice for the black community

That’s why we are working with the Association of Black Foundation Executives to create a network of grant makers to coordinate our grant-making efforts and maximize our impact on a range of racial justice issues affecting blacks. We invite our colleagues to join us.

Philanthropy needs to do more to make black lives matter in this historic moment. This includes:

Understanding and acknowledging how structural racism limits the possibilities of those in the black community and defines many of the social, institutional, political, economic, and cultural norms of American society. This understanding will make it clear why it’s imperative to focus on changing structures — and especially to focus on ways of ensuring that blacks gain the power they need to push for substantive and lasting change.
Making a commitment to make black lives matter by adopting a racial-equity lens for grant making in black communities. Grant makers should pay attention to race while analyzing programs, seeking solutions, and defining success.
Ending the funding inequities for black-led groups, especially black-led social-change and racial-justice organizations. Some of the imbalance in grant making may stem from unconscious bias. Imbalance also may result from a Catch-22 situation: Foundations want to support high-performing organizations, but that is a tough standard to meet when black-led nonprofits have received just crumbs from the grant-making table.
The nation is at a pivotal crossroads in its centuries-long struggle to confront and eradicate structural racism. The shocking events and subsequent organizing in the past year have helped lift up the veil to expose the pernicious and persistent impact of structural racism. Philanthropy’s challenge is to not look away, but to look deeper, and to act with courage and conviction. We must cultivate a commitment to making black lives matter, so that the black community and, indeed, the entire nation can thrive.

A Foreclosure Moratorium Should Be Just the Start

By Preeti Vissa

The good news is that recent revelations about foreclosures being finalized based on improper documentation — legal filings often not even read by the bank officials who signed hundreds or thousands of them at a time — have spurred outrage nationwide that could lead to action. The bad news is that it’s unclear whether that action will be enough.

Continue reading “A Foreclosure Moratorium Should Be Just the Start”

A Government Agency that Actually Listens

The San Diego Voice and Viewpoint
by Sasha Werblin and Jane Duong

It’s an old joke, made famous by President Ronald Reagan: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” But today one federal agency  proves Reagan wrong every day, one that not only really does help people but actually listens to them – and it’s under attack for that very reason.

The agency we are talking about is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created five years ago by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law to be a “cop on the beat” to protect consumers in their dealings with banks, credit card companies and other financial firms. In late May, we were part of a group of community advocates who met with CFPB Director Richard Cordray and top members of his staff to outline our continuing priorities and hear how CFPB is addressing the concerns of communities of color. To put it simply, we were impressed.

Understanding that the impact on consumers is felt most strongly outside of the beltway, Cordray and his colleagues came to California to meet with us, at the office of the Mission Economic Development Agency in San Francisco – a location fraught with symbolism. MEDA’s office is in the heart of what has long been a low-income neighborhood (92 percent of MEDA’s clients are low- or moderate-income) that’s now in the throes of heated battles over gentrification. In a city fast losing its black and Latino population, this is a neighborhood where you can see check cashing stores and payday lenders almost literally within shouting distance of high-end restaurants.

As a coalition of advocates for African American, Latino and Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, we laid out a series of concerns. Diversity – in both the financial industry and in the government agencies that regulate it – stood near the top of our agenda. Dodd-Frank created a mechanism to address diversity, the Offices of Minority and Women Inclusion (OMWIs), but the OMWIs’ proposed diversity standards arrived very weak and very late.  We think federal regulators can do much more to promote diversity in the banking world and to encourage financial businesses to increase their contracting with businesses owned by people of color.

We also talked a great deal about small businesses. According to the Small Business Administration, people of color own 4.1 million firms that generate $694 billion in revenues each year, employing 4.8 million people. These businesses are a major source of employment in communities of color across America. We want the federal government to adopt a model similar to California, where the Public Utilities Commission’s supplier diversity program has generated billions of dollars in business each year for minority business enterprises simply through public reporting and transparency.

Sometimes ethnic small businesses have had trouble accessing the capital they need to grow their operations. Unfortunately, no one has ever collected the data we need to know what stands in between these businesses and the loans they need. Another section in Dodd-Frank is designed to help address that, and we urged the CFPB to work with the Small Business Administration on guidelines that will give community advocates and ordinary citizens a clear picture of small business lending, with information on race/ethnicity, gender and many other factors.

Language access also topped the agenda for many of us. Given that nearly one in five residents of California identifies as being limited English proficient, we must protect consumers for whom English is not a first language. We discussed with CFPB several strategies for encouraging financial institutions to better serve the needs of these diverse communities.

Under the ground rules, I’m not able to write about everything that CFPB officials said in response to our concerns. What I can say is that they clearly listened and have considered our recommendations. They were active, engaged, and asked lots of questions. The mood was light-hearted but serious, cordial and energetic. This was not the behavior of bureaucrats just going through the motions or checking off a box on a form.

No government agency is perfect, but the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau clearly takes its job seriously. Some members of Congress who take their marching orders from Wall Street have been trying to weaken CFPB ever since it was created, but happily they haven’t succeeded. To learn more about the bureau, visit http://www.consumerfinance.gov/.

Sasha Werblin is Economic Equity director at The Greenlining Institute, greenlining.org, Jane Duong is director of programs and advocacy for the National Coalition For Asian Pacific American Community Development,www.nationalcapacd.org.

A Greener Wilmington… Coming Soon!

The Wilmington Wire
by Lauren Valdez

Another refinery explosion. Another flaring incident. Another industrial project polluting our air. We are used to hearing the bad news, but things are starting to look up for Wilmington.

California took the lead in combating global warming with landmark legislation called AB 32, passed in 2006. AB 32 requires a sharp reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to move towards a sustainable, low-carbon future. In 2010, Wilmington oil refinersValero and Tesoro spent millions of dollars to place an initiative, Proposition 23, on the statewide ballot that would have suspended AB 32, not just for the oil industry but for all industries. They wanted to kill AB 32 rather than spend their profits on upgrading their facilities to pollute less. We were at the forefront of this battle, with a statewide coalition of organizations including Communities for a Better Environment and the Greenlining Institute, leading multiple demonstrations at the refineries.

Big Oil’s Prop. 23 got clobbered that year, but the oil lobby hasn’t given up. Happily, neither have those working to clean our air.

To reach AB 32’s goal of cutting carbon pollution, the state implemented a cap-and-trade program, which limits the toxic emissions a company can put into the air and charges polluters for the damage they cause. The cap on emissions will decline each year, causing the cost of pollution to go up. The money raised from those polluter fees goes into a fund that helps pay for clean energy, energy saving and other programs that help clean our air. It’s critical that this money – and the projects it funds –go to places like Wilmington that need it urgently.

And it will, thanks to  a new piece of legislation called SB 535. SB 535 requires that at least 25% of all cap-and-trade revenues be invested in the state’s most polluted and environmentally burdened communities. This year alone nearly $270 million in funding is available, the largest pot of money ever given for environmental justice, and that amount will grow over the coming years

That $270 million is going to support renewable energy, affordable housing near public transit, low-carbon transportation, and urban greening. For the first time in history, our communities will get real help to counter the history of low income communities being used as toxic dumping grounds. Not only do the refineries finally have to pay for the damage they have done to our community, the money will go into programs that are already creating good jobs and changing lives for the better.

The bad news is that the polluters haven’t gone away. They’re still trying to weaken and even kill AB 32, and take away the best hope that’s come along in years for communities like Wilmington.

To make sure they don’t succeed, The Greenlining Institute created a new website, UpLiftCA.org, to tell the story of how California’s smart climate policies are helping real people in real neighborhoods around the state. Please check it out, sign up to receive updates, and tell your friends.

You might also want to contact the legislators who represent Wilmington in Sacramento and let them know you support AB 32 and California’s effort to fight climate change:

Assemblymember Mike A. Gipson, district 64: (916)223-1201 or use https://lcmspubcontact.lc.ca.gov/PublicLCMS/ContactPopup.php?district=AD64

Senator Isadore Hall, III, district 35: (916) 651-4035 or use http://sd35.senate.ca.gov/contact


A Just Food System for All Californians

Al Jazeera America
by Justin Rausa

I live in Oakland, California, around the corner from a trendy bar that touts more than a dozen local beers on tap and even more craft brews by the bottle. Down the street from me is a homeless encampment under a freeway overpass, where people look for empathy, money and food. These contradictions — options galore juxtaposed with blatant, unmet need — follow me from my bike ride to my office, where I work on California food policy and daily encounter a harsh truth: In the country’s most productive agricultural state, food equity for its citizens has a long way to go. And unless the state does a better job enacting food and farming policies that benefit all Californians, especially low-income people, its ranking as the state with the highest poverty rate could become its dominant tag line.

On Nov. 4, Californians will have an opportunity at the ballot box to help rectify that imbalance. Voters in San Francisco and Berkeley will decide on soda tax proposals designed to decrease the consumption of sugary beverages. Big Soda has poured more than $10 million to label the propositions as job killers and attacks on personal choice, especially for the poor, but advocacy groups are putting up a strong fight. Statewide, there is Proposition 2, a seemingly bland policy that would require the state to prioritize debt reduction over the next 15 years and save more money each year for the next time its economy swings toward crisis. Prop 2 could improve food security — in which all people have access at all times to nutritious food — by forcing the state to maintain public program funding that supports lower-income people when the economy tanks. For example, during the Great Recession, funding for public schools fell by more than $7 billion over two years. In response, some school districts lowballed (and still do) the number of enrolled low-income students, an accounting technique that trims free and reduced-price school lunch offerings. It’s a self-defeating move for a state that should prioritize the health of its future workforce.

Prop 2 and the soda tax proposals, should they pass, are both smart moves for a state whose less-than-holistic food system policy decisions are too often removed from low-income communities.

A food policy for all

California is an alarming example of how agriculturally productive states can still have a long way to go on worker rights, food access, sustainable agricultural practices and a more diverse, less industrial food economy. In short, we need more food equity. According to the Census Bureau (PDF), from 2011 to 2013, nearly a quarter of Californians lived in poverty, struggling to feed themselves and their families. That’s almost 9 million people. My work has taken me multiple times to California’s Central Valley, where farm workers have told me that they can’t afford the fresh fruits and vegetables they pick or that they are out of range from a store where such fresh produce is sold. One woman told me that on a good day, she serves her family rice, beans and soda. Fresh fruits and vegetables are not within reach for this worker and many others like her who, just hours before, spent a long day in a lettuce field, picking produce while battling searing heat and dust.

What these workers need is increased food equity. That means affordable food that is also fresh and healthy, farming and ranching practices that protect the land and the people who work on it and a living wage for food-chain workers.

Why, in such an enlightened food age, are low-income people’s voices so chronically underrepresented? The numbers are revealing: Only 25.2 percent of registered voters voted in California’s June primary this year, an all-time low, even for a midterm election year. Meanwhile, entrenched food and farming interests in California are too often trumping the common sense and evidence-based arguments for more equity in the food system. Earlier this year, for instance, the beverage industry and the California Chamber of Commerce pulled out all the stops to kill legislation that would have added health warning labels on most sugary drinks.

Research from PolicyLink and the Greenlining Institute confirm that equity is a necessary criterion for allocating resources in the 21st century. October poll results (PDF) from the Public Policy Institute of California, unfortunately, show that only 49 percent of likely voters support Proposition 2. But the local soda tax ballot measures in San Francisco and Berkeley offer some voters an opportunity to acknowledge the health cost of artificially cheap drinks — a significant driver for disproportionately higher rates of obesity and diabetes among the poor. It’s one of many steps that must take place to help ensure food equity for California’s working poor, but it could have an outsize impact in the message it sends to Big Soda.

What California gets right

That doesn’t mean that California hasn’t recently made some good decisions that have improved food access for low-income communities. Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 2413 two months ago, establishing the Office of Farm to Fork within the California Department of Food and Agriculture to improve communities’ access to healthy food. Moves such as this will help increase food security.

The Office of Farm to Fork will focus on securing funding and streamlining the state government’s ability to make healthier food more accessible to low-income communities in urban and rural areas, and it is a good first step. It is an encouraging sign that the state’s agriculture regulator understands that the success of small and midsize farms depends on meeting the needs of low-income workers. A financially secure and well-fed workforce is more productive, will generate more economic activity for the state and will save the state significant money as fewer people are forced to rely on its tattered social safety net.

But Assembly Bill 2413 was signed into law without designated funding, so the success of the office depends on Brown’s state budget proposal in January. To bring this election season argument full circle, the passage of Prop 2 on Nov. 4 would give the Office of Farm to Fork and its food security programs some economic stability during future recessions. The downside of Prop 2 is that less money would be available each year to expand or create public programs, making state budget negotiations — such as those that will take place in January — ever more important, especially for low-income people whose voices are least represented in Sacramento.

It’s time for California, where craft beer and homeless encampments stand side by side, to put politics to bed and take action to lift a quarter of its people out of poverty. Voters can help amplify the voices of low-income Californians by showing up at the polls in support of policies — even boring-seeming ones — that help bring healthy food to every table.

A Long Way to Go: What Kind of Change is Needed Within Foundations to Advance Racial Equity?

Inside Philanthropy
By Michael Hamill Remaley


Many people who work in the philanthropic sector are beginning to grapple with embedded racism in ways that they haven’t before. Organizations and individuals are asking existential questions that relate to power, interpersonal relationships and processes—and more foundations than ever say they are centering race in their reconsiderations of what is fair and just. But is this trend more than rhetorical?

“There has been a noticeable shift in philanthropic sector conversations—more focus on racial equity at conferences, gatherings, meetings,” says Michele Kumi Baer, Philanthropy Project Director at Race Forward, which merged with the Center for Social Inclusion in 2017. “And there have been increases in diversity in programmatic roles, there have been some shifts in practice, some new funds being directed to people-of-color-led organizations, and racial equity statements from foundations. But it is hard to tell from this vantage point how deeply people of different positions of power within philanthropic organizations are really being introspective about race and power in their daily practice.”

Kumi Baer’s assessment is more positive than those of other, more critical observers of race and philanthropy. When it comes to applying a racial equity lens to philanthropic professionals’ work at a variety of levels, many say there is a lot of talk, but not much meaningful action.

Cardozie Jones, the founding principal of True North EDI, which facilitates racial equity workshops, coaches leadership teams, and supports foundations and nonprofit organizations in creating more lasting change, has observed that few foundations seeking out his services are at a place where everyone in the organization is thinking about what they can do in their daily work. “Most organizations are still at the Racial Equity 101 stage,” Jones says. “Maybe 30 percent of the organizations that reach out to me have already begun the process of learning about the history of racial inequality and concepts of power, and are ready to advance to deeper ways of grappling with organizational structure, mission realignment or personally applying a racial equity lens to individuals’ work.”

The author of Decolonizing Wealth, Edgar Villanueva, is even less impressed by the efforts of most foundations. “We indulge those who say that diversity is important by conducting several decades of analyses, hiring consulting groups with absurd price tags. We publish reports. We create a task force and debate mightily over what to call it. We do not actually change, not more than superficially,” Villanueva says.

But a starting point is just that, Jones says. “In racial equity work, I like to make a parallel to recycling: We don’t need a few people doing it perfectly to make progress, we need a ton of people doing it imperfectly.”

Philanthropy’s Long History of Talking About Race

The philanthropic sector has never lacked for discussions of race, and its history of trying to grapple with racial injustice is long. But in the years following the Ford Foundation’s bold 2015 announcement of its intention to center equity in its grantmaking and the 2016 election outcome that shook many in philanthropy, the sector’s newfound intensity of attention on race is reshaping more than just conversation.

The Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity (PRE) outlined more than two decades of significant race-focused efforts in its “Timeline of Race, Racism, Resistance and Philanthropy 1992-2014,” in which it details an astounding number of projects aimed at racial equity and “diversity” in the sector. It starts by acknowledging that “though this timeline starts in 1992, it is important to recognize that obviously, there was significant pioneering work for many decades around racial justice and philanthropy before this starting point.”

Many of the philanthropic affinity groups that have focused on diversity, equity and inclusion already existed before 1992, but the timeline highlights other major milestones like the 1993 founding of Joint Affinity Groups (now CHANGE Philanthropy); pioneering racial equity and diversity initiatives by funders such as W.K. Kellogg, C.S. Mott, Ford and Annie E. Casey; the founding of new organizations like the Network of Alliances Bridging Race and Ethnicity (NABRE), PRE and the Diversity in Philanthropy Project (which later became the D5 Coalition); and some of the most important sector-influencing reports from organizations like the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, Public Interest Projects (now NEO Philanthropy), and the Greenlining Institute. The timeline’s authors say it is hardly exhaustive, but it makes abundantly clear that the philanthropic sector has been building up to its strengthened focus and evolved thinking on racial equity over many decades.

One aspect of the sector’s evolution on race becomes clear in this history, and that is its continuous recalibration of how much to focus on diversity within the sector’s ranks or forcing a broader discussion of power and justice that would necessitate a fundamental reorientation of both the sector and the operations of individual foundations. While experts seem to agree that the sector has a very long way to go on increasing diversity, it is the increasing number of foundations’ more holistic realignment of funding priorities and practices around racial equity that is capturing attention. Since Ford Foundation made its influential announcement, other prominent funders such as the Meyer Memorial Trust, Brooklyn Community Foundation, Weingart Foundation, Chicago Community Trust and San Francisco Foundation have declared that they, too, are pursuing equity frameworks across their grantmaking portfolios.

More recently, the conversation over racial equity in philanthropy has evolved further to examine the daily choices, practices and habits of individuals working in the sector through a racial equity lens. Many more people—whether CEOs, donors, directors of human resources, programs, communications, evaluation or administration—are facing the imperative to question their exercise of power and demonstrate a commitment to racial equity in their work. It is a trend that began to intensify in recent years, but there are questions about just how deeply it is taking root.

What Does It Mean to “Pass the Mic” in Philanthropy?

In order to make real progress on race—as well as on discrimination and power imbalances related to gender, LGBTQIA, immigration status, disability, rural isolation—racial equity experts say people at all levels in philanthropy must continually ask themselves deep and difficult questions about how they do their work.

For the vast majority of leaders in philanthropy who are white, does that mean passing the torch or expanding the circle? For leaders of color in the sector, does it mean being more than a face of diversity, an imperative to force change in an organization that still funds and operates in ways that exclude or perpetuate injustice?

In some philanthropic and nonprofit circles, the phrase “pass the mic” is gaining traction and moving past its original meaning—an exhortation to white people who insist on speaking on behalf of people of color to stop talking and give people who have experienced oppression the opportunity to speak for themselves—to a more general urging of people who hold power in philanthropy to actively help those who have experienced the greatest harms of societal injustice exercise their rightful power in decision-making over resources.

For philanthropists who are becoming more introspective about their own relationships to race and racism in philanthropy, there is a growing recognition that hiring more people of color to positions of power is just one part of the process. According to Villanueva, racism is often inextricably bound up in founders’ fortunes and their guiding beliefs about how to “fix” social challenges.

“Almost without exception, funders reinforce the colonial division of us vs. them,” Villanueva says. “Philanthropy is the savior mentality in institutional form, which instead of helping—its ostentatiously proclaimed intent—actually further divides and destabilizes society.”

But even as he presents this damning indictment of the philanthropic sector, Villanueva works for the Schott Foundation and sits on the board of the Andrus Family Fund, which is controlled by a majority of multi-generational, uber-wealthy white people. His continuing immersion in the sector demonstrates a faith that philanthropic professionals can create real change, not just reinforce power imbalances.

“Privilege is contextual,” says Ana Oliveira, president and CEO of the New York Women’s Foundation. “The question for people working in philanthropy is whether they are willing to move past the need for security and safeness and toward taking on racial equity more intentionally. Philanthropy’s history of exclusionism demands a constant examination of the boundaries, which are many. We need to shift dominance. The imperative that everyone in philanthropy has, no matter where they fit into the philanthropic sector, is to constantly ask themselves what impact they are having. What are the ripples out from your work?”

For those who hold power, especially white people, the question is how (or realistically, whether) to shift some of the power they possess. It is a challenge that is both practical and existential. If they are to “pass the mic,” what does that mean for white people who have made philanthropy their career, and who may believe that they, too, have valid acquired knowledge, life experiences, professional aspirations and a desire to work toward social change?

“Listen, we do need white women who are allies. We need to say to white women with privilege ‘You also have a job to do,’” Oliveira says. “It isn’t just ‘pass the mic,’ but what do we do when we come to the table? For white people to not be present is leaving behind potentially important knowledge and expertise. There is no absolute answer for the question of what white people should do.”

“Yes, ‘pass the mic’ is a useful metaphor, but limited,” Jones says. “Passing the mic doesn’t mean leaving the stage. We need one another to disrupt and rebuild. We don’t want to just replicate the same old traditional hierarchical, nondemocratic, top-down structure. Equity does include a redistribution of power, which inherently means a loss of institutional power for those who historically carry the most privilege, but there is nothing simple about what that looks or sounds like. I do know we need to reimagine and rebuild that world together.”

Not Enough Practical Tools for Specific Job Functions

For philanthropists who want to move beyond history and theory to ask deeper questions about applying a racial equity lens to daily practices, what are the resources available to get started? Even though there is an increasing number of consultants in this space, no one has created a comprehensive set of role-specific tools for CEOs, program directors, HR directors, evaluation staff, communications leaders, board members, major donors, etc.

Kumi Baer, whose Race Forward organization has deep knowledge of the sector and created the Philanthropy Project to advance just this kind of change, says she hasn’t seen role-specific tools. She says a valuable starting point is Deepa Iyer’s work on “solidarity practice” and allyship—how white people need to be an “accomplice” or co-conspirator, actually taking on risk. Iyer has received support from Open Society Foundations for her work on Solidarity Is This, a site containing a set of principles and practices that are helpful for anyone working in the sector. Kumi Baer also said that the Johnson Center for Philanthropy is doing some role-specific work on racial equity in philanthropy, but its tools are not widely available to the public.

In 2017, Jones’s True North EDI worked closely with the entire staff of Philanthropy New York, the regional association of grantmakers, to help each department integrate a racial equity lens and shape new annual goals in its operational plan. Each member of the staff was expected to think of new ways to increase racial equity. For example, the communications department sought to increase the number of POC bloggers and increase the number of POC-led media outlets it sourced in its work. That was in addition to its already established commitment to nurturing the voices of POCs in the department itself. But, says Jones, this type of process, in which individuals are engaged in rethinking their daily work to take on racial imbalances and broaden power sharing, is not happening in a lot of foundations.

“I was brought in by the DEI committee of a family foundation in a situation that was probably more typical,” said Jones. “It was really about convincing the president that racial equity work was worth doing at all. What she really wanted was ‘to align with current language,’ not change how the foundation operated. I ended up doing a three-hour session with the DEI committee that led to an internal statement of purpose to pursue staff education on racial equity issues. It was a useful start that led to an all-staff session, but there is a misalignment between leadership and staff that will make the road ahead challenging.”

But there are some wealthy white donors who are thinking more deeply about privilege and sharing power. Jeff Raikes, former Microsoft executive, former Gates Foundation CEO, and now leader of his own eponymous foundation, wrote a recent commentary in Forbes, reflecting on Anand Giridharadas’s book Winners Take All, professing his commitment to shifting power.

“I often say privilege is invisible to those who possess it. And power is wrapped up in privilege. When you have it—especially when you’ve had it for a long time—you don’t notice the myriad ways your ideas are the first to be heard; that your calls get returned before others; the benefit of the doubt you are given at every turn. You must pay attention to see it,” Raikes wrote. “The people you need to listen to—to both correctly identify the problem you are trying to solve, and to come up with ways to address it—are those with lived experience. In homelessness, that means talking to people who are homeless and who have been homeless. No one else knows the barriers to stability better than they do. It means working alongside the communities you seek to impact and letting them shape and guide the direction of your work.”

Listening to communities isn’t the same as giving up decision-making control, of course. But it does demonstrate a deeper recognition of power dynamics that some philanthropic experts say is a significant change taking place.

“When I think about power in philanthropy, I like to say that we don’t need to ‘cede’ power, but ‘seed’ power,” says Adam Liebowitz, Community Food Funders Director at North Star Fund, a social justice fund that supports grassroots organizing and communities building power in New York City and the Hudson Valley. North Star Fund has a 40-year history of centering discussions of power and racial equity in its work, and its president, Jennifer Ching, is a frequent critic of the philanthropic sector’s slow progress on racial equity.

“Racial equity work can feel like ‘just one big hug’ until the implications become apparent,” says Cecilia Clarke, president of the Brooklyn Community Foundation, which has been recognized as a leader in advancing racial equity. “Our board was uniformly supportive of racial equity work in theory, but as the exploration got deeper, and issues of power came into focus, tensions did arise. But for BCF, the mandate to listen to the community gave staff authority to pursue deeper racial equity work. For private foundations, it is a bit more of a challenge to get started because they are generally are rooted in white male individuals’ money and priorities. Community foundations have a bit more of a built-in imperative to be responsive to community.”

Begin Racial Equity Work, Even Without the Perfect Tools, Leaders Say

The experts and funders who are in the vanguard of racial equity work say that funders can’t wait for all the conditions to be right and all of the tools to be available for professionals to take responsibility for integrating a racial equity perspective into their daily work.

Jones says, “If you’re looking at a power structure that has a top (donor/board), middle (CEO, VPs, directors) and lower levels (managers, admin, etc.), ideally, you would be working at all levels simultaneously. But in reality, you have to work at whatever levels are available, and regardless of where you sit in the organization, consider the areas that are within your sphere of influence. Each of us is a gatekeeper in some way.”

“Beyond what we can do to improve the unequal systems around us, we must honestly grapple with the privileges our organizations enjoy as their beneficiaries,” Ford Foundation’s Darren Walker said in his annual message in January 2019. “This means interrogating our own unconscious biases, cultivating humility in ourselves and our organizations, and more clearly understanding how others experience the institutions of philanthropy—how remote we can be, how insular, how difficult to navigate.” For most people working in philanthropy, these are introspective processes that are not yet taking place.

This is the first in a planned series of articles examining how philanthropic professionals—especially white people—are pursuing racial equity in the sector. Future pieces in the series will examine specific job functions and how leaders in each area are adapting a racial equity lens to their work.

A Look at Inequalities in Health

Source: LA Watts Times | Written by: KELLIE MIDDLETON, M.P.H. and LEN CHANTY
Slow and steady wins the race… If Aesop’s moral holds true, then the race for black equality and social justice, which started nearly 40 years ago, should be nearing its end by now. But it’s not. In the 1960s, a great leader, whose birthday we celebrate today, started a successful movement to mobilize those treated unjustly on the basis of skin color. If Dr. King were alive today, he would realize that the civil rights race is far from being complete. The race for civil rights has shifted from the traditional and obvious discrimination against blacks to something more institutional but just as detrimental and unjust. Continue reading “A Look at Inequalities in Health”