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Standing for Justice: Why Courage Is Needed for Impact

By Nat Chioke Williams

I want to congratulate all of the amazing foundations that have been chosen to receive 2015 NCRP Impact Awards. I am particularly delighted that the New York Foundation was chosen this year. I began my career in philanthropy as a program officer there and I know first-hand that they are one of the most exemplary foundations in the country.

During my acceptance speech last April for our 2014 NCRP Impact Award, I noted that the Hill-Snowdon Foundation accepted the award on behalf of the organizations and people who have the courage to be leaders, to not look away from injustice, but rather run toward it to confront it. Since last April, we have witnessed a historic and courageous movement to make Black Lives Matter in this country and to confront the structural racism that confronts the Black community. The sustained, impassioned and strategic grassroots organizing that has occurred has largely been led by a new cadre of young leaders that have reshaped the dimensions of Black-led social justice organizing in the U.S. This movement has been tragically fueled by a bloody wave of killings of Black men, women, children, and trans men and women at the hands of the police. However, leaders of the Movement for Black Lives understand that police killings of Black people are perhaps the sharpest point of a very long blade that inflicts daily wounds on the collective body of the Black community. This systemic state violence or death by a thousand cuts spreads across all quarters including housing, education, criminal justice, health, jobs, economic security, environment, reproductive rights, media, social regard, etc.

As I write this post, the six officers that were involved in the murder of Freddie Gray in Baltimore have been indicted on charges including 2nd degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and false imprisonment. This is a laudable and rare sign of accountability in the history of police violence in the Black community. But let’s be clear – this would not have happened without the courageous, persistent, impassioned sacrifice of the organizers and residents who stood up for justice over the last year all across the country. This is the type of courage that I referenced in my acceptance speech. And it is a courage that needs to be better evidenced within philanthropy.

While there are some notable examples of foundations stepping up to support police accountability organizing in the Black community over the last eight months, the level of investment is paltry compared to the need and the opportunity of the moment. Institutional philanthropy has under-resourced and neglected the infrastructure for Black-led institutional and political power for decades. We need to do more than express interest, or postulate whether this is “a movement or a moment” or be satisfied with moving short-term discretionary funds to support the long-term need to build power in the Black community. In this once-in-a-generation moment, we need to be bold, creative and demonstrate leadership in order to make Black lives matter as a matter of public policy, institutional practice and social regard.

I’m glad that the NCRP Impact Awards recognizes grantmakers that lift up and give power to the communities they serve, one of the best ways to effect real change. For our part, the Hill-Snowdon Foundation has been working to raise awareness about the need for significant, long-term commitment of philanthropic financial and social capital to strengthen the infrastructure for Black-led institutional and political power. We have included strengthening the infrastructure for Black organizing as one of our leveraging priorities. I recently released an article called Making Black Lives Matter that argues we need a robust and strong infrastructure for Black institutional and political power for Black lives to matter more in this country. In writing this piece, I met and conferred with Black organizers from across the country to better understand the needs and opportunities of the current moment. In particular, groups such as BOLDBlackLivesMatterthe Organization for Black StruggleFerguson ActionDream Defenders, the Baltimore United for Change coalition and many others have been inspirational. We have partnered with funders through the Neighborhood Funders Group’s Funders for Justice initiative and the Association of Black Funding Executives (ABFE) to engage our colleagues in the need to build the infrastructure for Black organizing. ABFE in particular has been an important resource and they have put out a call to invest in Black Organizing and recently dedicated a major part of their annual conference to this topic.

We will continue to work with our partners, both practitioners and funders, to push for greater investment and commitment to strengthening the infrastructure for Black-led organizing. We will also continue our related and equally important work to increase investment in structural change work in the American South through Grantmakers for Southern Progress. Overall, we look forward to helping to bend the arc towards a more just and fair country where we can all thrive.

Congratulations again to the winners of the 2015 NCRP Impact Awards – and thank you for having the courage to confront injustice in this country by supporting the communities and organizations in the best position to effect lasting change.

Nat Chioke Williams is executive director of Hill-Snowdon Foundation.