Sunday, May 26, 2024



As protests and unrest grip the nation, how should Philly nonprofits respond?

June 1, 2020 Category: FeaturedLongPeople


Updated June 1, 2020 at 4:55 p.m. to add two new resources in Sarah Martinez-Helfman's comment. Updated June 4 at 9:50 a.m. to add two new entries, and changed the kicker to reflect the additions.
The events of the past week — infuriating, heartbreaking, frustrating, exhausting — demand that we take action so our nation can dismantle the structures of racism that have threatened Black lives and wellbeing since the nation was first established.

I know this isn’t news to many of our diverse and dedicated Generocity community members who fight for racial and economic justice on a daily basis. Still, the urgency of the now (I think I stole that line from Bill Golderer) calls for the nonprofit sector to respond.

What forms will that response take?

We asked folks in Philadelphia’s nonprofit sector to weigh in.

‘It’s time for the philanthropic community to seriously embrace demands for radical change and for national reparations’

Casey Cook, executive director, Bread & Roses Community Fund

The level of anger we’re seeing in these protests and unrest is not just about one case of police violence, it’s about a long history of white supremacy inflicted on the Black community.

Philanthropy has been complicit in this: only 10 percent of philanthropic dollars went to people-of-color led organizations in 2018. We need to change that. Philanthropy needs to prioritize its giving to organizations not just serving black and brown people but run by black and brown people.

It’s time for the philanthropic community to seriously embrace demands for radical change and for national reparations.

‘Examine how our sacred nonprofit organizations are agents of racism and anti-blackness’

Markita Morris-Louis, chief strategy officer, Compass Working Capital

Let’s not look at this as an isolated moment but as a milestone on a continuum of injustice and struggle. Many parts of our sector seek to support and provide services to the people most affected by the vicious acts of institutional racism we’ve collectively witnessed over the last few weeks.

From our Partners

I say, turn inward. Examine how our sacred nonprofit organizations are agents of racism and anti-blackness, whether in our hiring and promotion, the composition of our decision making bodies, or in the failure to lift up the voices of the people we serve. Before you “hit the streets”, hit up your HR teams, hold a mirror to your board, check your payroll and ask your employees of color experience how they experience your organization.

We have to change the definitions of covert and overt acts of racism. Stop thinking that covert racism is the exclusive purview of racist cops, neo-Nazis and members of the KKK. It shows up very much in how nonprofits are staffed and managed and the stories they tell about the most vulnerable in our society. Put down the social media long enough to engage in some self-reflection and long overdue change.

‘Our organizations need to create space for honest and intentional dialogue and collaboration’

Marángeli Mejía-Rabell, festival director, Philadelphia Latino Film Festival (PHLAFF)

Our organizations need to create space for honest and intentional dialogue and collaboration in the development and execution of community-led strategies to address these inequities face on, sin andarse con paños tibios.

We must work together to move towards the real change that is long overdue to support the healing and self actualization of our people.

‘It’s critical to provide a safe, open, and honest space for staff’


Trooper Sanders, CEO, Benefits Data Trust

Saying the system is broken suggests that it once worked well for all. It has not. Indeed, too many parts of the system were designed to exclude and do damage to some communities. That is why so many nonprofits exist — to address issues of inequality and injustice. By definition, mission-driven organizations as a combined force are helping to address the whole of people’s lives; we tackle the historic challenges that black communities and others face that lead to this sense of injustice, and that takes a toll on health, well-being, and economic advancement.

During these extraordinary times, when issues of police misconduct and violence towards African Americans is at the forefront, we have to carefully balance addressing the moment while continuing to pursue our core mission to ensure that the broader pursuits of justice, equity, and opportunity do not suffer.

  1. Stick to what you do best: double-down on what’s working, especially for communities of color.
  2. Amplify your message: use your platforms to support those who don’t have a voice, tell the public, elected officials, funders, and advocates what you do, why, and for whom. Then enlist their help doing the same.
  3. Support your staff, especially Black staff, facing this health, economic, and civic crisis. These are not only tumultuous times, they’re traumatic, and it’s critical to provide a safe, open, and honest space for staff to share their feelings.

Benefits Data Trust (BDT) helps advance equity by connecting people to critical public benefits that help pay for food, healthcare, and utilities, providing people a path out of poverty and towards financial stability. These are the times the BDT spirit and community were built for, meant to withstand, and see us all through.

‘Our job is to not return to business as usual’

Hannah Sassaman.

Hannah Sassaman, policy director at Movement Alliance Project (formerly Media Mobilizing Project)

Movement Alliance Project joins the sorrow and the rage of this nation at not just the police officer murder of George Floyd, but the generational oppression and divestment of Black and Brown people in this city and country.

Our job right now is to follow that rage and to amplify the demands of our people: to defund the police’s $14M budget increase in a time of enormous economic devastation, and to aim towards a world that does not need police.

We are far from that now, and the uprisings in our streets reflect the ugly dichotomy of the lie of the American dream and the racist reality of life in Philadelphia. Our job is to not return to business as usual, and to pressure our officials to not throw our city into a generation of even deeper poverty by focusing on property destruction more than the root causes of this uprising: racist divestment of Black and Brown people in the poorest big city in America.

‘[Follow] the leadership of Black-led organizations and organizers on the ground’

Erika Guadalupe Nuñez, executive director, Juntos

As organizational heads, we need to show true leadership and solidarity with Black lives by putting in the work to intentionally root out the systems of violence that have harmed Black and Afro-Latinx communities without consequence. This might look drastically different than our normal day to day work, but silence and inaction are complicity with a system that has terrorized and murdered Black people for centuries.

Our job is to push back against narratives that frame civil protesters as looters, reject any kind of line that values property over Black Lives. Our job also means taking a step back and following the leadership of Black-led organizations and organizers on the ground and using our privilege and resources to amplify their work. But that’s not all — you need to demand that Philly #DefundThePolice because the safest communities don’t have more cops, they have more resources for the people.

Defunding the militarization, surveillance, and policing of Black and brown communities is one of the first meaningful steps towards a more just future.

Philadelphia has slashed the funding for nearly every meaningful program in this city: housing, public education, the City’s Office of Arts and Culture and PAIFUP  — the only universal representation program for detained immigrants — are some of the few programs and initiatives that were either slashed or completely removed from this year’s budget. The Philadelphia Police Department however is slated to receive at minimum, a $14 million dollar increase this year. For every 34 cents this city spends on community centered initiatives, it spends a dollar expanding and militarizing our local police forces.

City Council is expected to vote on the budget this Friday, each and every one of us need to contact our elected officials and tell them that we will not stand for this budget increase. Call, email, tweet, and sign up to give testimony on June 9 to City Council so you can tell them directly why we don’t need more cops in this city, and why they should take this money and use it to invest in the programs that actually keep people safe.

‘We better have a plan’

Otis Bullock, Jr., executive director, Diversified Community Services

Here in 2020, we have witnessed another explosion that Malcolm X warned about in 1964 in his “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech. Protests, looting, and riots have overtaken our city and the nation by citizens who are fed up with police brutality and the most recent killing of George Floyd; and over the seemingly ruthless killings of black and brown people by the hands of the police over too many years. They are angry. They are tired of the oppression and exploitation. They are fed up. And quite frankly, I am angry and tired too. For too long, we have been sold empty political promises. Now citizens have taken to the streets to serve up Malcolm’s prophetic “bullet”.

The year 2020 should not look and feel like the year 1964. It is not supposed to. We were told that if we had more representation in elected office and positions of power that things would change. But history has shown us that just because we slap a Black face onto a system of oppression, it doesn’t make the system any less oppressive or racist. In Philadelphia, we have gotten Black leadership into office and have nothing to show for it. We’ve had three Black mayors, four Black police commissioners, a Black DA, countless Black judges and state legislators, and a City Council that is predominantly Black. And still, the year 2020 feels like 1964.

We still live in a system where George Floyd can be murdered with a police officer’s knee on his neck, captured in broad daylight on video, and we still have to question whether that officer will be brought to justice. We’ve watched Ahmaud Arbery be murdered while jogging. Breonna Taylor was shot eight times by the police while asleep in her own bed. Philando Castile was shot and killed by the police at a traffic stop. Seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin was hunted down and killed just holding a bag of Skittles and an iced tea. Twelve year old Tamir Rice was gunned down by the police at a playground in Cleveland. And there are so many others that time and space won’t allow me to name here. So yes, the anger is justified. I would be angry if people weren’t angry.

While many protesters marched peacefully, there were many more who chose to channel that anger into destruction. They looted and burned businesses in Center City and along neighborhood corridors. They set police cars and police stations ablaze. The past couple of days there seems to be a nonstop rampage through the city of Philadelphia, as well as many other cities across the nation. And I ask just two questions: 1) does any of this destruction get us closer to a solution; and 2) where do we go from here?

Rioting and looting is not a new response to anger over police brutality. We have been there and done that. My experience is that it doesn’t end well for us. My generation suffered the consequences of the North Philly race riots of 1964. I was born and raised in the heart of North Central Philly where the riots took place, as well as Mantua, and I witnessed firsthand how my neighborhood never recovered from the misplaced destruction from more than 50 years ago. Burned down businesses and buildings still remain in North Philly from the destruction caused more than 50 years ago. So there I was, a little Black boy, growing up with the burden of knowing that any dealings with the police could be a death sentence for me but also living with the added burden of a distressed dilapidated neighborhood that was destroyed by my own people. Burning down the neighborhood did not solve the problem. And that is why I ask my two questions.

I don’t ask these questions to chastise the protesters’ angry response to oppression. They have an absolute right to be angry. I ask these questions because I don’t want to hand my own two Black sons a worse situation that was given to me; trying to clean up and put back together what we destroyed 50 years from now. We’ve been here before. This is not new. If we are going to “tear down the walls of oppression,” we better know what the endgame is. And we better have a plan.

‘Invest time and resources into combating anti-blackness’

Elicia Gonzales.Elicia Gonzales, executive director, Women’s Medical Fund

I struggle to find the words to capture the swirl of feelings. Anger, despair, disbelief, rage. I see people more appalled at stores being looted than they are with the continued murder of Black and brown bodies. I notice people and organizations posting #blacklivesmatter when I know they are doing little to combat white dominance in their everyday lives.

But I also see hope, community, resiliency, and determination. I see people uniting and saying that we are not going to take it anymore. I talk with folks who want to put in work and build a better world. And that is where I hope we can put our energies in the weeks to come.

We in the nonprofit arena have to interrogate our organizational practices that uphold white supremacy and invest time and resources into combating anti-blackness. Do our boards and leadership reflect our city? Are we paying a thriving wage? Are we fighting against the cult of white professionalism? Are we allowing people to work remotely and have schedules that enable them to take care of their families? Are we being transparent and committed to holding white staff members accountable?

We all have a role to play. This is about more than police brutality. We have to examine, fix, and heal from the myriad ways we have all been complicit in perpetuating anti-blackness and racialized violence. It’s been time.

‘There are three things we can do immediately: open our hearts, ears, and bank accounts’

Sarah Martinez-Helfman, president, Samuel S. Fels Fund

There is no quick fix for systemic racism and I, as a white leader in philanthropy, don’t profess to have the answers, but there are three things we can do immediately: open our hearts, ears, and bank accounts — all of them in combination.

Let’s lead with our hearts, especially now that they are broken. If we are not all hurting from the blatant, intentional systemic brutality against Indigenous, Black and brown people in this country, then I don’t think we should be in this work. For those of us in philanthropy that are not understanding where this uprising is coming from, we need to educate ourselves on this country’s legacy of entrenched racism. Here are some resources to get started: The 1619 Project; this anti-racism resource for white people by Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa Klein, and this organizing resource from Philly We Rise, listing local movement-building organizations that can be funded directly.

We can and need to listen to Indigenous, Black and brown people in our communities and at all levels in our organizations. Truly listen. I witnessed a beautiful example of this on a livestream last night when Councilperson Jamie Gauthier stepped between a tense police standoff with a large group of young people in her district at Chestnut and 52nd Street. The young people were shouting their rage and nothing the Councilperson said made them feel heard until she asked, “What do you want?” She listened to their demands for police accountability, for change, for justice. Only when we listen to the people most affected by injustice do we have a chance of getting any of this right.

Then we can act quickly, building trust by responding to what we hear. This means funding organizations working for real change that are led by people most affected by the harms. Examples include the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund and PA Domestic Workers. We would be happy to share a fuller list. And let’s make it easy. An organization that’s doing important work shouldn’t need a development director in order to navigate our hoops.

But let’s be honest. Of all of the funds that have sprouted up in response to COVID-19, the ones that are getting the least support from philanthropy are those advancing systemic change. We have to ask ourselves why is that? Why are we protecting the status quo instead of supporting movements that build power in communities that have been looted by white supremacy for centuries? We have options at the ready, including the Bread & Roses Solidarity Fund for COVID-19 which distributes dollars to grassroots organizing groups and PA is Ready that funds immigrant-led community organizing and legal services. We can increase our grantmaking beyond the 5% IRS minimum, provide general operating dollars and fund multi-year. We can align our financial investments with our mission, proactively investing our endowments in businesses owned by people of color, both citizen and immigrant. In Philadelphia, a majority African American city, let’s invest in Black-owned businesses.

Fels Fund is doing all of these things and we are not perfect at it, but we are committed to doing better.

‘The funding community must step up’

Linda Waters Richardson, president and CEO, Uptown Entertainment and Development Corporation

During the recent unrest in Philadelphia, most neighborhood corridors were decimated. In one area, over 600 jobs were lost.

Nonprofits must be able to harness the resources to provide information to neighbors on basic services and identify youth in the community that can be developed as leaders. Food and medicines are needed as these sites have been destroyed.

Many of us who have provided these services are strapped for resources, particularly operating funds. The groups that are doing food programs will be more strained as access to food is more difficult.

The funding community must step up and provide more than the allowable percentage of giving to support job training, job creation and work with government on a massive Marshall Plan for domestic purposes.

Finally the COVID-19 pandemic that have decimated Black and brown communities require investment in culturally competent medical training, neighborhood medical centers, forgiveness of loans for medical practitioners working in urban and rural communities.

Most importantly, a message of hope must be instilled in everything we do.

‘We must set real goals and actions to further the idea of Black and brown solidarity’

Blanca Lucha Pacheco, co-director of New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the pandemic of systemic racism that police institutions are part of, must push us to build towards the change we want to see. We must set real goals and actions to further the idea of Black and brown solidarity.

The pandemic has awakened each of us differently — the old normal was never good for brown and Black people — and we want a new normal. We demand a new normal.

The pandemic has also showed the multiple oppressions that we suffer. After seeing George Floyd’s murder, and the different range of responses of our brown communities, it’s clear to me that we have a lot work to do to learn about our own internalized racism, colorism and responses to Black people’s pain.

Now is the time for us to take serious and intentional steps to learn and find the connecting dots between the injustices we face as immigrants with brown bodies and the injustices Black people have always faced in the U.S., in order to learn, to teach each other our struggles, to find bridges so we come together to push the government for concrete change.

‘The response to the current expressions of anger is to answer the call for systemic change’

Aja Beech, program coordinator — Philadelphia area, Keystone Development Partnership

The Keystone Development Partnership (KDP) is an affiliate of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO and was founded by union members. We understand that protests are an expression of the oppressed springing from a culmination of injustices. We are horrified by continued injustices against minorities across the globe.

We see a living wage for all and more opportunity for minority workers as essential to developing a more just, equitable, dynamic, and successful workforce. We have been, and continue to be, committed to increasing diversity in the workforce throughout Pennsylvania and ensuring that once people get into those careers, they experience upward mobility, including pay increases, worker protections, and worker training. We also connect businesses to government services to supplement the costs of these services that help workers as well as their employers.

Personally, from my years working in Victims’ Services, I saw firsthand that opportunity decreases violence. From educational programs for youth to career opportunities for all.

The response to the current expressions of anger is to answer the call for systemic change. KDP will continue working to answer this call, as we have since our inception as a non-profit that focuses on equity in the workforce for all working people.

‘Significant changes are needed within our city, state and federal governments’

Hispanic Clergy of Philadelphia

During this time of strife in our country, our hearts are burdened for our people.

Our prayers as clergy are asking God to touch the hearts of our young Philadelphians, who are working out their anger and angst in ways that are not constructive for the changes we need in society. Many different groups, including outsiders and our own people, are causing destruction in our neighborhoods through targeted vandalism and looting – the violence must stop.

Significant changes are needed within our city, state and federal governments, which have continually perpetuated our communities’ demise. We are hopeful that every young person who desires to see change would begin to organize to create that change through the democratic process. Only then will we see lasting transformation of the structures that have led to inequity and injustice, instead of deeper suffering.

Let’s join together to create the environment we deserve. That can only happen when we define the changes we need, and fight for them together in a constructive way. We can transform our society if we unite, organize and fight together for the change. Please join us, or organize with others, and we will join you to push for a better way of life for our people.

We pray we can emerge from this violence and destruction with the will to come together and develop real and effective plans to fix the broken areas of our society.

‘We will organize until the change that is necessary is achieved’

Rev. Luis Cortés, founder, president and CEO of Esperanza

It’s time for us to take a moment. To recognize that African American and Hispanic people are beginning to rebel against the forces of power that have been assaulting our community while we are expected to remain passive. It’s time to take a moment to be candid and clear about what we all know about what happens in our country.

We know how to recognize when the death of a Black or brown man at the hands of a police officer is murder.

We know the Dixie flag is a flag of anti-American, pro-slavery traitors.

We know that people who excuse murderers and traitors are enablers.

We know our labor is exploited, even though we are called “essential” during times of crisis; we have always been paid as if we are modern-day serfs.

We know why our schools aren’t funded — so our children can’t compete with those that can afford a better education.

We know why Black and brown people die of coronavirus at higher rates than white people in cities across America — because of who has better nutrition, better healthcare, and better employment achieved via family and social networks, that allows them to work from home.

We want the full benefits of the social compact promised to us in the constitution and bill of rights, that the power elite and political class of this country have constantly failed to provide. We — the systemically oppressed and disadvantaged — are not so naïve and unaware as the wealthy and powerful believe.

Our social compact is supposed to guarantee that when we work, participate, and contribute to our civil society, our sons and daughters will be protected. Our political “leadership” — you have failed us. You allow racists to run amok with guns and Dixie flags in public rallies while you exonerate murderers. You deny us healthcare, so when a deadly disease arrives, we die in greater numbers. At the very same time we are suffering and dying more than anyone else in America, you call us “essential,” you rely on us to keep food on your table, and fail to protect us from further harm.

Murderers must be arrested and put in jail.

Traitors and racists must be called traitors and racists.

Enablers must be removed from leadership.

Low-income school districts must be funded on par with top-funded districts across their states.

High quality universal healthcare must be provided to every American.

Jobs must pay livable wages.

Ultrawealthy individuals like Jeff Bezos and companies like Amazon must pay their fair share in taxes.

We want to own the companies that we bail out with our tax dollars.

We want protection from technology companies that intrude in our lives and in our privacy, profiting on our data and manipulating our society under the guise that they are helping us.

In the coming months, we will find ways to respond. There are deep divides in our nation, and we must expose the ugly truths that prevent us from creating a peaceful and prosperous society for all. Today we will begin, by using the language that speaks the truth about our conditions. We will call people who they are: Murderers. Racists. Thieves. Enablers.

We have allowed the truth to be ignored for long enough. Those of you who create these conditions for your own gain must be exposed. We will organize until the change that is necessary is achieved.

We are interested in hearing from more nonprofit professionals and leaders, especially Black leaders, about what your next steps are now, and what they will be six months from now. Send me an email at with your comment (no more than two paragraphs, please) and a headshot, and we may incorporate them into this story. 


Media Mobilizing Project

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