Advocating for Racial Equity: The Long Journey Continues

Tim Delaney

For multiple reasons, everyone in America needs to read the powerful op-ed that Tamara Copeland, President of the Washington [D.C.] Regional Association of Grantmakers, recently wrote in The Chronicle of Philanthropy: “How Philanthropy Can Work to Give All Black Men an Opportunity to Succeed.

First, foremost, and above all else, it should be read for its content — the human cost of racism demands everyone’s attention. Tamara’s opening sentence provides access to additional important readings: the recent New York Times article, “Extensive Data Shows Punishing Reach of Racism for Black Boys,” and the executive summary of the study that the article discusses, titled Race and Economic Opportunity in the United States, released by the Equality of Opportunity Project just last month.

Beyond the content, those of us in the 501(c)(3) community reading Tamara’s piece should also consider how her op-ed uses research and analysis as an effective form of nonprofit advocacy. Deployed properly, research and analysis can be a powerful advocacy tool for substantiating an issue, translating it to relevancy, identifying solutions, and mobilizing action. Or, as we say at the National Council of Nonprofits, the organization I lead: “What’s the problem? What are the solutions? Let’s get it done.”

Substantiate a problem’s existence

Until a problem is documented, it can be dismissed too easily as being “just anecdotal” or simply someone’s beliefs or feelings. Reliable data make it difficult for thinking people to ignore the truth of facts. For instance, it’s impossible not to be startled when reading the research finding that 99 percent of black boys fare worse economically as adults than white boys, even when they grew up next to each other with parents who earn similar incomes. Similar gaps appear in high school completion rates, college attendance rates, and incarceration rates. The same is not true of black girls, however, showing something is happening to black boys/men that doesn’t apply to black girls/women. (The study also finds, among many other things, that “Hispanic Americans are moving up in the income distribution across generations, while Black Americans and American Indians are not.”)

Translate to relevancy

Data alone are not enough. Research data, so often dry and esoteric, usually need to be re-packaged. The first step is for a skillful advocate to translate the data and frame it in a way that is relevant to the intended audience. But even that usually is not enough to capture attention; eye-catching visuals and understandable words can help. Here, as Tamara notes, The New York Times piece helped the cause when it “distilled the findings in attention-grabbing graphics and words.”

Identify solutions

An advocate adds further value by identifying possible solutions. Importantly, identification of meaningful solutions usually requires insights from people who have real world experiences with the problem. Tamara’s op-ed brings to bear her experience as a leader supporting the grantmaking community who has focused on this issue by identifying corrective action steps that grantmakers can take.

Mobilize action

Most people associate “advocacy” with directly contacting government officials. Yet effective advocacy often targets others. In her op-ed, Tamara recognizes that neither philanthropy alone nor government alone can solve this societal problem. But instead of giving up or charging up to Capitol Hill, she turns to the power of the press, putting into action these words from Arthur Ashe that inspire so many nonprofit advocates: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” In so doing, Tamara expands awareness of the impossible-to-ignore research and increases the number of potential advocates who can join in pushing solutions — including you and me.

After reading the op-ed and the related research, we all need to follow Tamara’s lead by spreading these research findings and taking action to do what we can to level the playing field and solve this national crisis.

It doesn’t matter what motivates you. It could be because you are inspired by the self-evident truths expressed in our nation’s founding document, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Or perhaps you take action because you are frustrated that 55 years after Dr. King shared his immortal dream that one day people “will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” that day still has not arrived and that shared dream still has not been fulfilled. Or maybe you are embarrassed about the shocking research documenting that 99 percent of black boys will fare worse as adults than white boys in the same neighborhood.

What does matter is that we all must do our part in eradicating this injustice. Let’s all resolve to follow Tamara’s lead and apply Arthur’s wisdom: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

An earlier version of this piece ran in the April 2, 2018 edition of Nonprofit Advocacy Matters.

Tim Delaney is president & CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits, a trusted resource and proven advocate for America’s nonprofits operating with and through the nation’s largest network of nonprofits.

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