On behalf of the entire board and staff, we wish you peace on the observance of Dr. King’s birthday. This holiday is an opportunity for all of us to take stock on the progress this country has made relative to his vision and dream for America. Our organization is guided by a specific framework for responsive philanthropy in Black communities and I use this as a backdrop to share my thoughts on the “state of philanthropy” to and for Black communities as we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday.
Building power and agency through investments in Black community organizing and constituency engagement is the first principle of our framework. At a time when we have witnessed organized protests across the country, the field is yet to fully embrace the notion that building power in communities that have withstood a history of oppression is a necessary strategy to facilitate change. If the field were to do so, we would see more community engagement in the development and assessment of grantmaking strategies, more support to organize Black communities and more investments in building Black businesses (versus just connecting people to jobs) and other strategies that focus on wealth creation.
Our second principle, increased investments in policy advocacy and systems change, is a more palatable notion for philanthropy; I am pleased to see more foundations taking on the idea of policy change as history has shown us that policy can do more harm to our community than “bad people”. Who advises and/or influences policy change is the more important question for us in the field at this time; are foundation investments investing in policy change engaging the people most impacted by issues of unemployment, over-incarceration and school readiness or are policy think-tanks and academia driving this work? I believe it is more of the latter.
The third principle of our framework calls for increased investments in the leadership and infrastructure of Black communities. Similar to philanthropy’s record on the first principle of organizing and constituency engagement, I believe we have a ways to go. While we see investments in leadership, I believe there is virtual no activity in strengthening infrastructure – that is ensuring for the sustainability of Black-led institutions that uniquely and specifically serve the Black community. If anything, there seems to be a lack of understanding or agreement that Black institutions are critical to the future of our community (you know the conversation, “do we really need HBCUs anymore?”). To deny the need for Black-led institutions (not just Black leaders!) is to deny the factual history that these institutions are the only way we have accumulated power to change the course of this country. At ABFE, we are gravely concerned about the capacity and sustainability of Black institutions.
The final two principles, increased investments in asset-based data and research and strategic communications to change the narrative to counter inaccurate portrayals of our community are critically important as well. Outside of the work championed by select foundations on improving outcomes for Black men and boys, there are few examples of innovation in this area. Again, we have a ways to go.
Of all the inspirational quotes Dr. King left with us, my favorite is that which President Obama chose to recite during his 2016 State of the Union address as he described his hopes for America; “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word…”. Let’s hold each other accountable to speak the unarmed truth about where we are in this sector and work together for continued progress.
Peace and blessings.