I have only been a part of the nonprofit/philanthropic sector for a little over six months – so the opportunity to participate in PolicyLink’s Equity Summit as a member of the Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy’s (EPIP) People of Color Network (PCN) Delegation was a big deal for me. For one, I’d heard many great things about Angela Glover Blackwell and her colleagues over at PolicyLink. And secondly, after operating like a sponge for the past several months, absorbing and internalizing rhetoric, business practices and my own interactions within the sector, I very much looked forward to a discussion amongst my peers where we could compare and contrast our respective experiences.
The Equity Summit did not disappoint. The imagery of the closing plenary “Building a Multiracial, Multigenerational Equity Movement” will be forever engraved in my mind, with Carmen Perez, executive director of the Gathering for Justice, DeRay McKesson of We the Protestors, Geoffrey Canada, former president and CEO of Harlem Childen’s Zone, Linda Sarsour from Arab American Association of New York, Mary Kay Henry, international president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Nick Tilsen, executive director of Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation, Stewart Kwoh, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles and Robert Ross, president and CEO of The California Endowment, who served as moderator, all on stage. It was just a powerful, powerful moment where folks of various backgrounds and struggles embraced the intersectionality of this important work that they and the thousands of people in attendance, including myself, are all committed to. To me it was a statement that we’re all in this together and good enough is officially not good enough this year. Hallelujah!
I left the conference feeling inspired and even more connected with my brothers and sisters across the country who are engaged in social justice work. I now have a clear sense of how equity is paramount for all Americans, not just those in Ferguson, Baltimore, or my hometown of Chicago. I’m proud to have been a participant and so thankful for the stamina of my colleagues who have been in this fight much longer than I. I’m also thankful for folks like Manual Pastor, professor of sociology and American studies & ethnicity from the University of Southern California, Raj Chetty, Bloomberg professor of economics at Harvard University and Ezra Levin of the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), who are doing important academic and policy work to support efforts out on the ground.
But there was something Geoffrey Canada said during the closing plenary at this year’s Equity Summit that really resonated with me. He spoke about the importance of having a good support system in place, because in the face of the opposition, when the attacks that leave you questioning yourself come your way, your support network keeps you going, and quite frankly, reassures you that you haven’t in fact lost your mind. I have found that it’s tough to do this work we do, and even tougher trying to navigate this space while Black, while Native, while fill-in-the-blank. In the outward facing world, within the sector and sometimes even within our own organizations, we find ourselves seeking to overcome these obstacles in addition to fulfilling the roles we signed up for.
I remember a side comment from a previous conference where someone spoke about just how difficult it can be for the Blacks who get the seat at the table. “We sent them in there alone and we’re upset with their lack of progress, not realizing that they’re being beat up on all day.” ABFE produced a report in May of last year, The Exit Interview: Perceptions on Why Black Professionals Leave Grantmaking Institutions, which I found to be a pretty telling piece. According to their research, 40-45 percent of Blacks within these institutions indicated feeling:
- Isolated “due to politics, a complex organizational culture, lack of diverse staff and/or a glass ceiling that becomes apparent at an organization’s mid-level.”
- Frustrated by bureaucracy.
- Undervalued because “the depth and breadth of their own expertise is not trusted.”
- Weighed down by heavy scrutiny often having to “lift up external resources and authorities to make the case for their decision-making.”
Whether or not a person of color is dealing with all of these, or maybe just one or two once every blue moon, in some way, shape, or form, our experiences are often much different than our white peers. For this reason, I’m thankful that EPIP had the foresight, courage and wherewithal to provide a space where folks can shake off the things that tend to weigh us down as people of color operating within philanthropy. I hope that the PCN Delegation continues to be a safe haven, a solace and a much needed answer to Geoffrey’s warning. And I hope that my colleagues in the PCN Delegation have found in me, what I have so gratefully found in them. Support.
Janay Richmond is a field associate at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP). Follow @JanayRichmond1 and @NCRP on Twitter. She writes frequently for NCRP’s blog, and recently contributed an article, “Why We Must Divest from Mass Incarceration,” to NCRP’s quarterly journal, Responsive Philanthropy.
LM Strategies on behalf of ABFE (2014). The Exit Interview: Perceptions on. Retrieved from ABFE website: http://www.abfe.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/ABFE-The-Exit-Interview.pdf