What the world witnessed last week in America is not new.
George Floyd, another African American man killed by police. Over one hundred uprisings in cities around the country to express the collective hurt of racism, state-sanctioned violence, and economic want. The hurt is intensified because we bore witness to ten minutes of documented terror; because COVID-19 increasingly reveals people of color to be both essential and expendable in this crisis; and because economic insecurity has brought the country to its knees as U.S. jobless claims climb to 40 million.
Uprisings can be powerful political displays calling out injustice and inequity. History shows us that they can also lead to substantial reforms and spur more political participation. Unfortunately, uprisings also elicit backlash as inequitable systems—and people invested in them—fight back in the form of economic disinvestment in affected communities and draconian policy changes that emphasize law and order rather than community investment and support. That messaging is already beginning to be heard in this moment. At Echoing Green, we’re pushing back against that narrative.
The emerging leaders and social innovators of tomorrow are among those marching in the streets of Minneapolis, St. Louis, Brooklyn, Tulsa, and so many other communities. Just like our Fellows, they are fueled by the passion and purpose required to drive positive change. And their expertise is forged from lived experience and a deep understanding of what “solutions” are actually needed and wanted. These future leaders deserve our support—and we need to connect them now to the broader field of social innovation. With voices like these at the center of rebuilding and reimagining the possible, not only can we push back against the countervailing forces of economic disinvestment and regressive policies in the aftermath but also ensure that we’re pursuing an equitable recovery agenda as we move forward through two societal scourges—structural racism and a viral pandemic.
Now is the time for philanthropy to invest in Black leaders and Black-led organizations.
It’s not enough to desire equity and sustainability in our recovery. It is time to act, to make it so, and that leadership must be rooted in racial equity; anything else will be far too incremental, far too hollow, and far too idle to meet this moment. As many leaders and organizations (including many in Echoing Green’s community) have long known, successfully changing the world depends on taking an intentional, explicit, and sustained focus on addressing racial disparities across the problems we are trying to solve. Because of this, we call on all those who care about progress and positive social change, including funders, to implement five strategies as we move forward together:
- Invest now and significantly in Black leaders and Black-led organizations, particularly those who are proximate to the communities they serve. These leaders were hard at work in their communities before COVID-19 hit, before the uprisings swelled, and will remain in those communities long after the immediate decimation of COVID-19 recedes or the momentary allyship subsides. These leaders include Echoing Green Fellows like Brandon Anderson, who is using AI to help the public monitor police interactions; or Cory Greene, a healing justice leader; Jelani Anglin and Gabe Leader-Rose, who co-founded a nonprofit hotline to make a lawyer readily-available at the point of arrest; and Collette Flanagan who has built a multi-racial, multi-ethnic coalition uniting mothers nationwide to fight for civil rights, police accountability, and police reform. These are just a few of the incredible social entrepreneurs working on these issues, and you can see and learn more about Fellows working on Racial Justice in the Fellow directory.
- Change the way you support Black-led organizations including your approach to capacity building. This might include quick wins you can achieve such as eliminating burdensome grant processes, removing arbitrary deadlines, and maintaining long timelines for decisions because injustice does not work on a schedule. Follow their lead. Treat them as true partners because those who are in their communities know best what solutions are needed and wanted.
- Support the collective mourning and healing justice work that are required to get us through this moment. Center and invest in well-being and anti-trauma support for those on the front lines of social change. As Echoing Green’s leader, Cheryl L. Dorsey, shared in a message to staff and Fellows, “We must be in communion with one another to share the burden and distribute the pain. Find someone to pick it up when you must lay it down.”
- Help create mechanisms for racial equity organizations to support one another, share resources, and build power. Provide opportunities to build, connect and sustain affinity groups and networks so that constituent members have the chance to gather in ways that make them feel safe and whole, share information and experiences, and strategize solutions to common problems.
- Connect the work to dismantle structural racism to larger, global movements and struggles. The threat of racism and the insidiousness of white supremacy is a threat to justice everywhere. In addition, the unrest and the experiences of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) in the U.S. is mirrored in communities around the world that also are fighting against oppressive forces. By connecting to global movements, leaders in the fight for racial equity can draw strength, share resources, and bear witness to shared struggles and trauma.
It is up to each of us to decide now if we want to be part of the problem or part of the solution for that better future. Are you ready to act?