Residents came together in September 2020 for a special unveiling of the Bloomfield Black Lives Matter mural with artist stipends funded by the Hartford Foundation. Photo by Maza Rey Photography.

By Deborah Rothstein, JD
Vice President for Development
Hartford Foundation for Public Giving

Philanthropy has evolved significantly over the past twenty years.  The traditional approach of donating funds to an endowment is giving way to donors putting dollars into the community for immediate use and seeking to solve long-standing issues through creative collaborations with other key stakeholders.  Philanthropy is now using its knowledge and influence to change systems and processes that have left millions of people behind for generations in order to increase social and economic progress in our country.

The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving is evolving as well.  We have become more nimble and bolder, leaning in and listening to the voices of our community, partnering with philanthropic allies and nonprofit organizations, and creating innovative strategies to address the systemic issues that exclude many residents in our community from full participation in the systems that shape their lives.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit our region hard, and the Foundation and our donors responded quickly – by creating a fund to provide immediate support to nonprofits serving our residents and by deploying funds to meet the community’s most pressing needs.  We saw firsthand how COVID amplified inequities in healthcare access and outcomes for Connecticut’s Black and Latinx communities.

A group of excited students pose with their new backpacks containing school supplies, thermometers and new masks at the Hartford Public Schools and Hartford Foundation Back to School Drive. Photo by Defining Studios. Photo by Defining Studios.

The Foundation has identified dismantling systemic racism as an organizing feature of our work, an expansion of our longstanding commitment to racial equity.  We are partnering with nonprofits, other community foundations, state and local government, and the business community to bring down barriers to education, health, housing, community safety, and employment.  As we have shared in previous articles in this series, the Foundation has been supporting both short-term and long-term efforts to respond to the structural barriers that far too many of our neighbors face.

Housing Investment in Hartford

While policymakers must make changes to our state’s zoning laws to help deconcentrate poverty in cities, we simultaneously must examine strategies to improve stability and opportunity in Hartford and other urban areas. The Foundation is working to develop and advocate for revitalization strategies that provide Black and Latinx residents of the Capital City with meaningful housing opportunities so that they can be the benefactors of neighborhood growth and vitality.

Community artists joined together to paint the Black Lives Matter street mural in Downtown Hartford with stipends funded by the Hartford Foundation. Photo by Defining Studios.

Community/Police Relations

The disparate treatment of black and brown Americans by police has fueled generations of conflict between local law enforcement and communities of color.  The Hartford Foundation supports proving enhanced education and training delivered to police officers, informed by community perspectives, to build the skills needed to balance the demands of public safety and the best interests of youth and diverse communities of color.

Community Voice and Leadership

Supporting civic efforts like voting is just a small piece of a broader need to support resident engagement, leadership, and participation. This is particularly important for people who have long been excluded from decision making, including Black and Latinx residents, immigrants, non-English-speaking residents, and youth. That is why the Foundation supports efforts to promote power building among residents most impacted, yet underrepresented in decisions that directly impact their lives.

Students from low-income households attending Windsor Public Schools received new devices for remote learning from a grant partnership with the LEGO Foundation and Hartford Foundation. Photo by Defining Studios.

Community College Completion

Many low-income, first-generation community college students struggle with housing instability, food insecurity and a lack of mentoring or coaching. These challenges make meeting college’s academic requirements feel almost insurmountable. During the pandemic we have worked with our partners to provide direct supports to students, including laptops, Wi-Fi hotspots, books and learning materials, micro-grants for emergency expenses, student stipends and stipends to peer mentors.

The national reckoning on race that emerged last year at this time has galvanized and unified people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, ages and geographies around this effort. One year later, it is time to act. We are launching the Action Fund for Racial Justice to engage our donors in supporting local organizations on the front lines of advancing racial justice.

We believe that RACIAL JUSTICE STARTS WITH EACH OF US.  We are asking members of our community to contribute to the Action Fund and partner with the Foundation to create equitable communities and systems that will allow all of our region’s residents to lead safe, secure and fulfilling lives.