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Beyond the slogan: Putting Black Lives Matter into practice in philanthropy

August 11, 2020 Category: FeaturedMediumPurpose


This guest column was co-written by Cheryl Thompson-Morton of the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, Roxann Stafford of the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund,and Nuala Cabral of Independence Public Media Foundation.


Update: This article was corrected to reflect guest columnist Roxann Stafford's organizational affiliation. Also, the underwriting disclosure was updated to reflect that "Black Philanthropists" editorial calendar month is being underwritten by Equally Informed Philly, a free service of Resolve Philly. (8/17/20 at 5:40 a.m.)
Black Lives Matter is more than a slogan. It is a call for our nation and every system to arise and acknowledge the humanity of Black people, rectify the centuries of oppression and commit to the path of justice.

In philanthropy, it’s a call to mindfully center BIPOC communities, who will  identify solutions and approaches that are helpful to all, and embrace what is necessary for equity to be nurtured and sustained. Philanthropy has the ability to repair and evolve itself, but only in relationship with communities.

In “Love as the Practice of Freedom,” bell hooks, author and scholar, says that “working within community, whether it be sharing a project with another person, or with a larger group, we are able to experience joy in struggle. That joy needs to be documented. For if we only focus on the pain, the difficulties which are surely real in any process of transformation, we only show a partial picture.”

This is a profound time of struggle and joy. And in fact struggle and joy are two of the pillars of reinvention and reimagination. As philanthropy finds itself operating in a space of reinvention and reimagination, only together in true community, we’ll be able to identify lines of action that lead to uncovering resources and approaches that have not been realized before. While reflecting on your grantmaking practices consider the following that serve as equity imperatives and enhancers:

See value in everyone and everything

  • Recognize that answers are already present in the community and figure out how to provide resources in such a way that reframe how people think about resources they already have access to.

Build strategies based on the lived experience not just independent research and data

  • The lived experience opens portals that create exponential “returns”, because it is grounded and relational vs extractive and theoretical. Spend time in your communities, learn from BIPOC’s, listen and look for opportunities to collaborate beyond traditional grantmaking. This also includes learning from the lived experience of Black folks working in philanthropy.

Focus on increasing agency rather than dictating a finite, universal solution

  • If we focus on ways to increase the agency of those involved in the grant and the community that it serves, the true investment has lasting effects beyond capital and can be adaptable to dynamic changes.

Explore new ways to open decision-making and access to information in communities

  • Sustainability is not only linked to capital, but also access to information and channels to participate in decision-making. Ensure that BIPOC’s have multiple seats at the table not only as grantees, but also on boards and as staff and partners. More importantly, does a new “table” need to be created to reflect shared decision-making?

Actively make anti-racist investments, i.e. investments that do not perpetuate racism

  • Pledge to not invest in industries that harm BIPOCs, like ones that uphold mass incarceration. Interrogate your processes and develop meaningful transparency where values are put into actions that evolve with the times. Commit to bringing an anti-racist lens to your porfolio. Collaborate with others to reinvent industries and issue areas, especially those that are seemingly benign, but are also predicated on inequalities.

What are your equity imperatives and enhancers? Who are your thought partners in this work? How are you bringing the ethos of Black Lives Matter into your work?

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