More Than A Feelin’: Ways to Shift Power Towards Equity

I had the honor of participating in EPIP’s delegation to the Policy Link Equity Summit in Los Angeles at the end of October. In my role at The Solutions Project, I lead our policy strategy and grant-making, which seeks to accelerate the transition to 100% clean energy for all people and purposes. The Solutions Project activates an equity-focused lens to propel nontraditional voices into climate issues and facilitate a strong network of environmental justice organizations. With a background in driving change across a number of issues and constituencies, I approached the Policy Link Equity Summit excited to engage in these important conversations.

Throughout the three-day gathering, I met incredible leaders who are transforming the way we approach social change. One particular workshop stands out: on Thursday, October 29, Taj James of the Movement Strategy Center moderated a session on Community Resilience: How Local Groups Are Shaping the National Agenda, with panelists Dwayne Marsh, Colette Pichon-Battle, and Elizabeth Yeampierre. Elizabeth Yeampierre is the Executive Director of UPROSE, the oldest Latino community based organization in Brooklyn. She is a formidable force, advocating for justice, climate equity, and community-led climate “resistance” in Sunset Park Brooklyn. The dialogue in this session highlighted the importance of funders needing to support grassroots organizations on the frontlines. Residents of Sunset Park care about the fact that Hurricane Sandy damaged their neighborhood and are concerned about the impending affects of climate. It’s that vital knowledge and nuance that funders have the opportunity to embrace, ensuring our collective mission is pushed forward.

Reflecting on the Equity Summit, I have been pondering the role of foundations and practitioners of philanthropy on issues of racial equity. Many individuals have “feelings” of equity; they acknowledge structural and systemic racism and their own privilege. As Dr. Manuel Pastor and Dr. john a. powell have continuously shown in their research, equitable growth benefits everyone. However, are white allies comfortable losing power in the distributed scenario for which true equity calls? What is the next step beyond this goodwill? How do we, as a sector, move to action? Ultimately, equitable growth requires innovative ways to distribute wealth and power. 

Here are two central themes I gleaned at the conference as potential ways to re-distribute power and resources in regard to racial equity:

o   Move Beyond ‘Dem Beans: To break it down simply, community is messy and the best organizing, which is needed for policy change, doesn’t always fit into a nice outcomes matrix. Partnerships are reciprocal relationships in which information, respect, and resources can flow in both directions. It is important to recognize the power and responsibility inherent in the funder relationship, and transparently acknowledge how this may impact work with grantees. The “how” we work with grantees is just as important as the “what.”

o   Understand Grassroots Organizations [and act accordingly]. The nonprofit sector is plagued with a paradigm of simultaneously being responsible for a large magnitude of work and outcomes while being powerless to align resources in the way that would be most impactful. It is with a great sense of urgency that we ought to listen to the community and seek their guidance.  Embrace humility in this regard and trust the organizations and communities in which you are working to self-determine what would be most effective.

|Tyler Nickerson