Today, many leaders in the field of philanthropy will attend a historic meeting to unveil My Brother’s Keeper, President Obama’s new initiative to improve outcomes for men and boys of color. We are excited about the promise and realize the opportunities that come along with this announcement. Ironically, just a few days ago, we learned the outcome of the Jordan Davis murder trial. Holding these two events and associated emotions in our hearts and minds is stressful to say the least. But, welcome to our world! If anything, it reminds me to stay focused on winning the war and not just battle relative to Black men and boys. As leaders in philanthropy, we must remember that the ultimate goal is influencing the thinking and behavior of those in power who distribute resources (both public and private) in this country. This is not just an effort to get more resources to select initiatives; it is about reform. Ultimately, reforming the ways in which resources (read “opportunity”) flow to the Black community is what we are after.
A few points to consider:
- while the work on Black men and boys is very gender-specific; this work is ultimately about strengthening Black families. Black boys don’t just materialize – they grow up in Black families (of different shapes and sizes) and Black families predominantly live in Black communities. Are we reaching far enough in our investments to support Black families and to ensure that they live in communities that provide them access to the necessary supports needed to do their job which is to raise their children?
- related to the above, much of the focus in this work is about Black boys – rarely about Black men. A more intentional focus on Black men raises the issues of jobs, fatherhood and criminal justice reform among others. Yet a scan of Black male investments suggests that many of the existing initiatives often fall short on these issues. We need to be more intentional about investing in the lifespan of Black males.
- Black leadership in philanthropy matters. There is no coincidence that the majority of the foundation investments to support Black men and boys and men and boys of color generally are led by foundation leaders of color…often Black men themselves. Let’s ensure that as we convene foundation presidents to discuss this work that we are clear that it is not only about their investments, but also about forward-thinking Black leadership in their foundations. It is often the case that the discussions about investments for Black men and boys rarely focus on the issues of diversity and inclusion in foundations. Right now we have the most powerful example of why forward-thinking Black leadership matters – both in philanthropy and in the White House! Black men are particularly under-represented in professional decision-making positions in foundations and those who are in critical program officer positions struggle with moving their Black male agendas.
We know these opportunities come and go and we must move forward with urgency to make a difference for our community. But let’s keep our eyes on the prize…let’s move forward strategically.