The Hidden Truth about Funding Black Led Organizations

By Anne Price, President

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Originally published in Insight Center’s March 2017 Newsletter.

Last month, I spoke about how powerful narratives, like the story of Chiron in the film Moonlight, serve as a critical component of reimagining economic inclusion and liberation by uncovering the deeper truth of how alienation, struggle, hope, and resilience are all part of the reality we must address when thinking about economic justice. These stories help us consider the compounding obstacles to economic liberation and push us to create transformative solutions that take into account the whole experience of people.

The best way to dream up these solutions is to have people who come from economically untapped communities lead the cause. However, a new report by philanthropic leaders Susan Taylor Batten of the Association for Black Foundation Executives (ABFE) and Nat Chioke Williams of the Hill-Snowden Foundation sheds light on the lack of sustained philanthropic investment in the infrastructure of Black-led organizations working to build political, social, and economic power in Black communities. They contend that anti-Black racism is the foundational architecture of the strategies and rules that maintain racial oppression, and without an explicit and intentional focus on dismantling this racism and funding Black-led social change, broader progressive movements cannot achieve their most ambitious aims.

Taylor Batten and Williams are putting a spotlight on an often unspoken and hidden reality about Blacks working toward transformative change in their communities. Black people who exhibit an explicit and unapologetic focus on Black economic liberation face an incredibly difficult endeavor that can easily result in marginalization or, even worse, career suicide. This intention often leads to a false dichotomy that speaking affirmatively about the Black lived experience means you don’t care about the well-being of other communities. Far too often, Black people who show an intentional focus on the Black community are met with indifference, intense scrutiny, and even derision, as it is a threat to the status quo. There is a fear of appearing “too Black.” For the overwhelmingly majority of my 25 years in public service, I have had to walk a very careful line, often times conducting analyses and putting forward ideas that were focused on Black people from the shadows.

At Insight, we concur that building a powerful Black-led infrastructure for social change is needed to create healthy, thriving Black communities. We know that the real life needs of Black people have been historically overlooked and undervalued in the creation of economic policies. Harmful narratives about Black Americans have contributed to man-made policies that result in disproportionately high levels of incarceration, joblessness and poverty, and prevent us from enacting transformative policies that help all Americans succeed.

We must begin to implement solutions to address the intentional disinvestment, dehumanization, and exclusion of Blacks from economic policy. We can’t win at progressive change unless there is greater investment in leadership development and pipelines for Black people working toward social change. We must go beyond one-off leadership programs and begin investing in organizations that intentionally invest in and build the expertise of Black people as part of their core functions. Organizations must begin to serve as incubators for Black leaders to grow and develop their pioneering ideas and projects.

We at Insight take this charge seriously and have committed to ensuring that those most affected by our work play a significant role in the shaping of it. Our latest Hidden Truths podcast highlights the challenges many people of color face in advancing their careers and gaining leadership positions in the expanded learning field, and how that directly impacts the strength of the programming offered. Our guest, Aleah Rosario, speaks truth to power about the lack of investment in leaders of color in a field that predominantly serves young people of color, and why that is problematic.

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