Convening Through Pain Reflections on Harambee 2020 and Why ABFE Matters

Hello ABFE Members and Friends:

It is fitting that ABFE, formed in 1971 as the first affinity group of the Council of Foundations, would be the first philanthropy-serving organization (PSO) in the U.S., to host its multi-day, concurrent-session, annual conference Harambee , as a virtual meeting during a global pandemic April 15-17 th of 2020. It was a difficult thing to do: we were set for an in-person meeting in Raleigh, N.C. during the same time period; however, in Mid-March, we made the difficult decision to go virtual rather than cancel as so many PSOs had to do before us. This meant a “second” planning effort that grappled with how to scale down our content from 40+ sessions to 15 at a time when everything that we chose to discuss had to give our community hope in addressing the health and economic crisis that has disproportionately hit our community. If that was the true challenge, it would have been an easier feat; our New York city team have been personally impacted by the virus in the loss of immediate family members and friends. So for us at ABFE, we could not let the heavy lift of re-purposing the conference and the personal loss get in the way; we realized that we are uniquely and divinely positioned to memorialize those who we have lost in this season by giving African people in the sector hope, inspiration and love. In the end, that is what got us through. This is what helped us work through the pain.

As a nonprofit organization that raises funds from foundations, we are often making the case as to why ABFE matters. At last count, there are XX number of identity and issue-based PSOs around the country. “There are so many affinity groups”; “if we fund you, everyone will approach us for funds”. These are a few of the responses we get when we reach out for dollars that will sustain us beyond year-to-year and through tough times. Our colleagues – HIP, NAP, AAPIP and LGBTQI Funders – have similar challenges. In the age of COVID-19, we are all reminded that Black communities are subjected to racism that continuously puts us in harm’s way and that Black professionals in philanthropy grieve for our community and tackle anti-Black racism head on every day. We realize we are in seats of privilege and gain strength from our ancestors and leaders who have come before us to ensure that philanthropy’s promise of ensuring a just and equitable society is alive and well. The work to address inequities in our community is our life’s work; COVID-19 shines a spotlight on existing injustice, but there are so many philanthropy professionals of African descent who are willing to fight through this. Yet, we too get tired; we need our community and the energy that being together brings us. The values and principles of self-determination and collective responsibility are central to Harambee. That is what ABFE does – that is why we matter. And that is why, no matter how much we hurt, you will see us stand both individually and together in times of adversity. Increasingly, the data on COVID-19 underscores why we exist.

During our three-day program, we received countless words of thanks from members as to why we matter and why the decision to push through with our conference was the right thing to do. This sentiment sums up the intent of so many others:

“This may not mean much, but I want you to know that there are tens, hundreds and thousands of [philanthropy] professionals of the like who have looked to ABFE as a guiding light. We see you. We follow your work. We are encouraged and heartbroken by the disparities in the Black community created and maintained by systemic racism and we are fighting with you and our ancestors. Whether explicitly or implicitly, we lift up and look to ABFE.”

During Harambee 2020, ABFE members led bold discussions responsive to the critical threat our community faces in today’s pandemic:

  • What are the immediate steps that the sector can take to address the “redlining” of Black-led social change organizations that aim to build political and economic power in Black communities?
  • How do we build and protect Black wealth, assets and ownership at a time when the health-driven pandemic will further deepen the racial wealth divide?
  • What is philanthropy’s role in shaping proposals for reparations for people of African descent in the U.S.?
  • Given the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on Black communities in the U.S., what are the specific COVID-19 relief efforts that center Black communities to ensure that our families, businesses and organizations can survive this current crisis?

Participants received invaluable information on strategies to strengthen their resolve and their grantmaking. ABFE is moving forward with a series of action steps to increase donor investment in our communities. We ask that the donor community stay tuned, stay focused and recognize the value that groups like ABFE bring to the sector and the broader society.

Blessings to all of you,

Susan Taylor Batten
President and CEO, ABFE