Wit and Wisdom: Reflections on EPIP's People of Color Gathering

In early February 2013, five members of EPIP Boston attended the EPIP National Professional Development Fund Conference held in San Francisco, below are their reflections. Those who attended were Jessica Baylor, EPIP Boston member; Nakisha Lewis, EPIP Boston Co-chair; Hehershe Busuego, EPIP Boston Steering Committee member; Andrea Forsht, EPIP Boston Steering Committee member; and Marie-Frances Rivera, EPIP Boston member

Q:  Can you give us an overview of the conference?

A:  Andrea Forsht, DentaQuest Foundation:

Annually, EPIP hosts a Professional Development Fund (PDF) convening to provide a space for emerging grantmakers of color to come together to explore the meaning of social justice and racial equity in philanthropy. The conference provides skills training, reflection on practice, inter-generational learning, and the opportunity to be a part of a peer network of other young people of color in the foundation field.

The conference began with a big question: What was your defining moment? This question provided us all with an opportunity to reflect on and share our own experiences with social justice (or in many cases, injustice) and grounded us in our work over our three days in San Francisco. Susan Batten from the Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE), built upon that foundation by deepening our understanding of equity and structural racism, and providing us with the Race Matters Toolkit to take back to our Foundations. Throughout the rest of the convening, we had the opportunity to engage in discussions and exercises with seasoned foundation and community leaders. My PDF experience not only sharpened my structural racism lens, but also helped me to think more intentionally about “how I show up” as an emerging grantmaker of color.

Q:  What did you find the most surprising during those three days? 

A:  Marie-Frances Rivera, Hyams Foundation:

What I found most surprising was everyone's candor during the entire experience; including the participants, guest speakers and our fearless leader, Dr. Rahsaan Harris.  As Andrea mentioned, everyone was refreshingly open and honest about their story/defining moments, what brings them to this work and how they approach supporting the great work of moving social justice forward.

In terms of one particular moment or piece of information that impacted me, was a site visit to a local community health center that we participated in.  The morning of the site visit consisted of listening to physicians and staff explaining their programming.  They described a program they created that supports former prisoners to successfully transition back into the community.  Through their story-telling, power points and thoughtful reflections; it was evident that the programming was a true labor of love; it was patient-centric and compassionate. They labeled that particular program as the "Cadillac service" which they felt all of their patients deserved.

The health center felt like a beacon of hope in a community that over decades was stripped of many of its assets.  Those at center were steeped in understanding the social determinants of health and understood that the circumstances these folks were living in were the biggest indicators of their health issues and used that knowledge to craft effective, wrap-around solutions.  It was truly inspirational!

Q:  What resonated with you most?

A:  Nakisha M. Lewis, The Schott Foundation for Public Education:

Throughout the conference, one of the resonant themes that stuck with me was that “Race Matters.” Often times as people of color, we skirt around the issue of race, never wanting to be the person to call it out. When describing our work, some of us even prefer the term “social justice” over “racial justice” believing that they are one and the same. But one of the things that was lifted up at the conference was that in order to combat racism, we must be intentional about calling out race – noting that by ignoring the existence of this monster, we give it power. So as emerging practitioners in philanthropy, those that will be the next generation of leaders and change agents in this field, it is our obligation to call out race and combat racism. As scary and as risky a career move as it is for people of color to name race in their grantmaking; when we do so we recognize the power of our identities and leverage said power for social change.

We have just what we need! I believe that as emerging people in the field, we often show up as the young biblical character, David when he was trying to slay the giant Goliath. We, like David often appear inexperienced and least likely to take on such a task. But as was proven true with David, sometimes bold leadership lies with the most unsuspected. Therefore, as emerging practitioners of color it is our obligation to fearlessly take on the task of slaying giants like racism and racial inequity. I like to think of this as exercising Davidic Leadership - to show up when we’re least expected, to use the tools with which we’re familiar (like the Race Matters Toolkit)  and to stand firm in our power.

Q: Lastly, what grantmaking practices will you improve upon, based on the information shared at the conference? How do you think these changes will impact the greater field now and into the future?

A: Hehershe Busuego, The Boston Foundation:

We all walked away from the conference with a better understanding of how to apply a racial equity lens to our philanthropy – both professionally and personally.  Ways I’d like to improve grant making practice include the following:


  • Analyzing institutional levels of diversity and inclusion and its connection to advancing equity
  • Collecting, analyzing, and using data disaggregated by race and ethnicity to plan, develop, and assess strategies and practices (and if the data is unavailable, helping to create it!)
  • Identifying disparities within the data and determining the likely causes of those disparities


  • Bringing individuals and groups impacted by a particular investment or strategy to the decision making table
  • Building the capacity of both grantmakers and grant seekers to talk about race and how race contributes to outcomes

Operational Strategies:

  • Identifying, developing, and supporting leaders of color
  • Identifying and investing in opportunities to close racial disparity gaps and thinking through what the potential impact of an investment will be on different communities of color

These are a few examples, but it all boils down to having a more intentional focus on race.  The more that individuals and institutions embrace practices like these, the closer we’ll get to the kind of society we’d all like to see – one that is more just, equitable, and sustainable.

Wit and  Wisdom is a blogging collaboration between EPIP and JAG. Featuring a monthly entry from individuals within our networks, it highlights thought leadership about philanthropy, racial/social equity, and multigenerational change. Its lightening-hot interviews, essays, and case studies aim to provoke insightful discussion.  We hope you will engage!