Does the Philly United Way have a Ferguson problem? - Generocity Philly

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Oct. 5, 2017 12:55 pm

Does the Philly United Way have a Ferguson problem?

It's unacceptable for the regional funder, with a mission to fight generational poverty, to have an all-white executive team and mostly white regional board, argues Otis Bullock.

The many colors of Philadelphia.

(Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia)

This is a guest post by Diversified Community Services' Otis Bullock.
Lately, I have been concerned with the direction of our regional United Way’s leadership.

The United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey does not have a single person of color on its executive leadership team. Not one. People of color represent less than a quarter of UWGPSNJ’s massive regional board of directors. With its mission to end generational poverty, you’d think the United Way would do better and I know it can.

Consider these numbers from the My Brother’s Keeper initiative:

  • While 36.1 percent of Philadelphia’s youth live in poverty, Black children make up 20.4 percent of that number with Hispanic children coming in second at 9.4 percent.
  • Approximately 2,900 children in Philadelphia are homeless, 78 percent of them Black.
  • More than 66 percent of Black children live in a single female-headed household while more than 58 percent of Hispanic children live in a single female-headed household.
  • Research shows that a child living in a single female-headed family is nearly five times more likely to be poor than a child living in a married family.
  • Seventy two percent of the 10- to 18-year-olds in the juvenile justice system are Black.

These are all issues that the United Way seeks to address when its asks us to donate generously.

Three years ago, Derwin Dubose wrote a piece for the Nonprofit Quarterly regarding the nonprofit sector’s general lack of representation and how “the glaring disparity in nonprofit leadership bears a striking similarity to Ferguson,” where Michael Brown was killed. In Ferguson, two-thirds of the city’s population were Black, while “whites served as mayor, five of six city councilors, six of seven school board members, and 50 of 52 police officers.”

If UWGPSNJ’s mission is to eradicate generational poverty, and its biggest beneficiary is a largely Black and Latino population, why is it that there are so few people of color represented in United Way’s leadership? This is what Dubose calls the “Ferguson Problem.” I just never expected one of Philadelphia’s biggest philanthropic leaders to suffer from it.

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I’m also surprised as the UWGPSNJ states in its own core values that it “promotes a culture of inclusion and seeks talented staff from all backgrounds.” Yet recently, we watched UWGPSJ part ways with its only person of color in an executive leadership position, leaving the executive team 100 percent white. Despite its rhetoric about inclusion, UWGPSNJ is currently moving backward.

People of color have been effectively relegated to being recipients of charity instead of being empowered to improve their own circumstances. The corporate and private donor class should not find this acceptable.

But all hope isn’t lost. There are two very important ways to get our local United Way to turn it around. First, funders have to lead the way. Donors must demand nonprofit diversity even of the United Way. Secondly, UWGPSNJ must aggressively go beyond the rhetoric of inclusion and aggressively recruit people of color as candidates for its executive staff and membership to its board.

UWGPSNJ is currently looking for a new CEO. Maybe it can start there.

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VIEW COMMENTS
  • Pam Rainey Lawler

    Thanks, Otis for a great piece on a vitally important topic. Makes one wonder what in the world they’re thinking….
    Your wife Donna is a great friend to Philabundance. Talk about dynamic duo. Didn’t realize until today what the relationship is.

  • Diane A Menio

    Thank you for sharing this Otis, I share your concerns and I’d like to add that the United Way seems to have forgotten a generation or
    two in their focus on ending “intergenerational poverty.” Philadelphia is one of the oldest large cities in the nation with 18.3% of its population age 60+ years. (Census estimates 2016). Philadelphia is also among the poorest large cities in the nation. Among Philadelphia’s older adults age 65+, 17.4% live below the federal poverty level (FPL) while 24.5% of those 65 years and older live at less than 125% of the poverty level. (Census estimates 2015). The experience of poverty varies among older adults by race with White non-Hispanic elders having the lowest incidence of living below the FPL (14%) compared to Black non-Hispanic elders (24% below FPL), Hispanic elders (38% below FPL), Asian elders (32% ) and older adults of other or mixed races (21% below FPL). (PCA Area Plan 2016-2020). Supporting children and families is critical but we shouldn’t forget that older adults are part of our families too.

    • John Federico

      After I received an invitation to attend a United Way event about this year’s impact grant application and couldn’t find older adults represented in it it any way, shape or form, I came back to Otis’s column for a re-read. So happy to see your comments on this topic, Diane. It’s frustrating that United Way doesn’t see age as a factor in poverty.

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