The last several years have thrust racial injustice against Black people not only into the media spotlight, but also into our emerging public consciousness about the continued consequences of our nation’s legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation.

The realities of racial injustice are not new, yet what does feel new and promising is the growing national movement commonly known as Black Lives Matter. We cannot achieve true democracy, liberty for all, or truly equitable and vibrant communities until the humanity of Black people is fully recognized, protected and uplifted in every area of our society and culture, every day.

We, the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund, recently released a press release announcing our commitment to funding the Movement for Black Lives. We, a relatively small family foundation, have committed to a grant for $1 million to be paid in equal installments over the next five years. We made this commitment because we believe unequivocally that Black Lives Matter.

Lisa Graustein, Chair for the Board of Trustees, describes the commitment even more deeply: “Our economic system is built on the exploitation of Black and brown labor; white-gained wealth must be put in service of Black and brown-led movement building and change. I am grateful for the work of the Movement for Black Lives and our partner-grantees in Connecticut.”

How does our grant to the M4BL align with our mission?

Our mission is to achieve equity in education by working with those affected and inspiring all to end racism and poverty. We adopted this mission in 2015 after spending two decades focused on early childhood issues. The shift in our mission reflects a growing understanding on our part about how the impacts of racism and poverty are intersectional to so many issues, such as our previous focus on early childhood and our newer focus on equity in education.

Our decision to more explicitly address racism and poverty is also part of a larger national and global awakening to the realities of generations of injustice that have created not only an inequitable education system, but also disparate impacts for Black people across every other aspect of our lives such jobs, housing, health, legal and political representation, and access to opportunity. Further, we understand that anti-Black racism is one of the foundations of oppressive systems in the United States, along with the genocide of Native/Indigenous people and also patriarchy.

Why are we supporting a national movement when we historically have focused our work in Connecticut?

The growing national coalition that comprises the Movement for Black Lives represents a socio-cultural and political shift away from rote acceptance of the white supremacist, anti-Black status quo and toward a more inclusive and just society that is beginning to believe that Black lives matter and to act on that belief.

We understand that Connecticut does not exist in a vacuum. What happens here is a reflection of our country’s cultural values and political practices. We currently support numerous grantees lead by Black people and other people of color who are organizing their communities to fight for equity, justice and liberation in Connecticut. Supporting the national Movement for Black Lives also helps to support their work locally by ensuring that the equity ecosystem we are trying to build in Connecticut is part of a larger, sustained national shift toward centering equity and justice for the most impacted communities.

Why $1 million in multi-year funding?

Our grant of $1 million to M4BL to support Black liberation work, to be paid in equal installments over five years, represents our strong commitment to a justice and reparations orientation as the proper use of our monetary resources. This commitment is not only aspirational, because we are trying to help build a new future that we have only been able to imagine so far, but also practical because M4BL is positioned to be able to move strategically and unapologetically in pursuit of five key pillars that influence social change:

  • mass engagement of the people most impacted and their allies,
  • building local power in communities,
  • creating connections between movements in different issue areas by using a multiracial strategy,
  • leadership development that focuses on feminist leadership and the leadership of poor and working class Black people, and
  • electoral strategy with a strong focus on policy work.

The coalition of Black organizations and activists represented by M4BL needs investments of money and social capital in order to sustain the changes that are being won right now and to ensure resources to keep fighting for the bigger changes still at stake. M4BL launched a national campaign to raise $50 million dollars to fund this work and reached out to philanthropy to open our purses. It must be noted that the $50 million ask is the floor, the minimum, and is actually a modest ask after decades of nonexistent to inadequate philanthropic funding for racial justice issues.

Funding inequity has always been present within the national field of philanthropy: only 7.4 percent of funding has been awarded historically to organizations led by all people of color, with the share from that 7.4 percent for Black organizations falling from 21.8 percent in 2005 to 17.5 percent in 2014. Less than one percent, 0.6 percent to be precise, of foundation giving was for all women of color in 2016.

In Connecticut, grants made to support ethnic and racial minorities decreased almost 45% between 2015 and 2016. We made our pledge of $1 million as a recognition that we may have been complicit, even if unknowingly, in this history of inadequate funding for the first 20 years of our existence before we began about five years ago to focus our grantmaking portfolio explicitly on the needs of communities of color and communities living with poverty.

This $1 million grant is one of the largest, multiyear grants ever made by our foundation, so it was also a dollar amount and time commitment that provoked our staff and board of trustees into having meaningful and difficult conversations about the best ways to leverage our assets for the pursuit of justice and equity and what truly committing to the cause for the long run looked like beyond one traditional funding cycle.

We’ll admit that “$1 milion” made us uncomfortable, but we know now that discomfort is the place where we must sit and reckon with how we understand our role in the change process as a white family foundation in a wealthy, highly segregated state in a country that is witnessing a resurgence of white supremacy as a successful political strategy and teetered dangerously close to fascism as the new national norm.

How can other individuals and organizations join the Movement for Black Lives?

We encourage you to visit the Movement for Black Lives website to learn more about their policy platforms and to sign up for calls to action. If you are a fellow philanthropic organization or nonprofit organization, we encourage you to read the Call to Action that we issued this past summer about the urgency in acting swiftly and consistently to put racial justice at the center of everything that we do and to please reach out to us if you need a thought partner or have a question.

We are not experts but we remain committed to staying on this equity journey and sharing what we have learned and what we still grapple with. We hope you will join us. Black Lives Matter.

The William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund (www.wcgmf.org) is located in Hamden. 

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