Weeping may last for the night but rejoicing comes in the morning.
As we emerge from the collective trauma of these past 19 months and assess the post-apocalyptic world and our own lives, it is clear healing and rebuilding will take time. Over a two-day visit to Fresno and Raisin City, California — in the most rural parts of the Valley — conversations with Latino families and community leaders were laced with stories of husbands committing suicide because they lost their jobs, best friends overdosing because they had lost someone to COVID, and a young man who, thankfully, failed his last attempt to end a life riddled with hopelessness.
Yet, there are rays of light shining through as we emerge from this dark tunnel we have been forced to walk through. Change is coming, hope rising again — it is palpable. The response by the Biden administration to infuse resources to accelerate vaccinations, reboot the economy, and invest in the rebuilding of our cities and states through the American Rescue Plan and infrastructure package is promising. Communities of color have mobilized for a more just and equitable future and their efforts are yielding results. In mid-2021, California Governor Gavin Newsom committed a $6 billion investment to expand broadband access, augmented small business relief to $5 billion, and sent out state-based stimulus checks to low-income workers regardless of immigration status. These are the type of bold investments needed to transform the life of communities of color and immigrant families.
Repeatedly, the message to political leaders and policy and decision makers from our Black, Latino, Indigenous, Asian, and other community leaders of color has been consistent: a return to “the way things were” pre-COVID is unacceptable. The call to action is being heeded. The question for the philanthropic community is how these potentially transformative resources will be leveraged with the speed and urgency the moment requires. It must be said (repeatedly!), this is certainly not the time for the drawn-out strategic planning processes that so many of us get caught up in. We simply cannot afford to wait to do our part to ensure these once-in-a-generation public investments reach communities of color.
Here are just a few opportunities for philanthropy to fast-track results that can potentially yield the social change we all long to see in our lifetime:
1. Invest Boldly in Black- and Latino-Led Organizations.
Between the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan and the $2.6 trillion infrastructure and jobs package, we have a palpable opportunity to make things right for our communities of color. These investments are intended to level the playing field with billion-dollar investments in housing, education, broadband, public transit — among other major sectors. But for these federal resources — our tax dollars — to reach the communities that have been underfunded and under-resourced for decades, we must break the mold in philanthropy and act boldly with our own investments in organizations led by people of color.
If we learned anything from COVID relief programs during the pandemic, like the Paycheck Protection Program, channeling these resources through the so-called “well-established” institutions will only serve to perpetuate the inequities already in place. It is time to change up the distribution channels and create more equitable pathways for these federal resources to reach the people and communities they are intended to help.
Foundations have a real opportunity to speed up the growth, size, and bandwidth of less established organizations led by people of color so they can absorb federal and state contracts and become the new “well-established” institutions in their communities. These Black- and Latino-led organizations already serve as the trusted, go-to resource of families that are often locked out of accessing capital to grow their businesses, buy their homes, or send their kids to college. Whether its climate related disasters or census outreach or hubs for vaccination campaigns, foundations already turn to these organizations because they reach people with credibility and speed. Well, this is the moment for us to act with the same level of urgency and invest in the infrastructure of these organizations.
Foundations can equip leaders of color and the organizations they lead with the resources to serve as the advocates, connectors, and distributors of these timely federal resources. To do this, foundations should invest in these organizations with core support grants to: 1) allow them to show up at county or city council meetings to demand the equitable distribution of these federal dollars; 2) help them hire staff and pay them above-livable-wages so they can keep up with the demand for their services; 3) increase their budget so they can compete for and secure federal and state contracts to distribute funds to small businesses, families, and workers; 4) help them become Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and economic change agents for local small businesses owned by people of color; and 5) support them to hold government accountable for the equitable distribution of our tax dollars.
These investments in the infrastructure of Black- and Latino-led grassroots organizations may not seem so sexy, but they will pay off. It’s time to reimagine a new normal — and work together to achieve it.
2. Invest in Increasing the Civic and Economic Power in Communities of Color
Almost exactly a year ago, we witnessed our nation’s fragile democracy crack. A violent stampede of hate and anger — fueled by disinformation and divisiveness — stormed through the walls of our Capitol, a visual reminder that trust in government has been eroding. Preserving and strengthening our delicate democracy will require we not only repair the cracks but deliver on the promise of opportunity and equity — especially to communities of color who have been marginalized and disenfranchised for generations. At this critical inflection point, foundations can play a central role by investing in the civic leadership and economic mobility of Black and Latino communities by:
- Investing core support grants in grassroots organizations that are building the pipeline of young civic leaders grounded in values of justice. Funding these organizations to build their own endowments, buy their property to sustain the waves of gentrification, create retirement plans for their employees, and build wealth for their families is a first step toward building a stronger, more representative democracy. The sustainability and economic security of civic institutions created or led by people of color matters to the health of our democracy.
- Whether or not we agree with big or small government, the evidence that people are losing faith in government should concern all of us. We stand at a crossroads right now where our tax dollars can be put to work and differences can be seen and felt — and we can restore the trust that’s been shaken. This can be the new deal and social contract to fortify democracy and build a just, inclusive economy.
- Foundations can help shift the narrative of the “Great American Resignation” to the “Great American Promotion.” There is a painfully familiar story running through the underbelly of our news media about how “those people just don’t want to work.” Well, maybe “those” people have been working two to three jobs and they still cannot make ends meet. Maybe they are going to training programs to gain more skills and re-enter the workforce in jobs that will guarantee food on the table and a roof over their heads. Maybe they are moving to states where the cost of living is more affordable, and they can finally open the business they dreamed of. So why not search for these “maybe” scenarios and invest in them? Invest in training workers to upskill them, invest in opportunities that will help families build generational wealth by tapping into federal resources to buy homes and start businesses. There are organizations led by people of color working to that end; and we must double down on our investments in them quickly and boldly.
3. Invest in Healing as a Form of Long-Term Sustainability
The pain and loss experienced by communities of color these past months is indescribable — and it’s been compounded by decades of unresolved trauma caused by racism. The pandemic only magnified the scale of the mental health toll carried by Black and Brown families. Investments that support the physical and mental well-being of our leaders is crucial. Whether that is supporting sabbaticals for leaders of color and their staff or providing multi-year grants for these leaders to build wellness opportunities into their institutions, foundations can play a central role to help community leaders rest, heal, and renew their strengths.
As the visit in Fresno drew to a close, we ended the evening with a community dinner in the front yard of the home of local farmworkers. Temperature cooling. Sun setting. Sounds of laughter and joy echoing through the open fields. A father and son interpreted classic Mexican songs on their violins. The “generations of medicine” transcended through our shared space. “I can’t imagine what my ancestors did,” Maestro Jerry Tello, the founder of La Cultura Cura often says. “What they had to sacrifice through, what pains they had to carry, and that they didn’t give up. They continued praying, they continued singing, they continued dancing, they continued forward…”
As we pass from night to morning in the days and years ahead, we challenge the philanthropic community to go beyond the words of commitment to equity and justice. Invest. Not just a marginal portion of your grantmaking portfolio — but most of it. And then tap into your endowments.
Jacqueline Martinez Garcel is the CEO of the Latino Community Foundation. You can follow her on Twitter @JMGarcel.
Dr. Robert Ross is the CEO of the California Endowment, which seeks to expand affordable, equitable access to healthcare for Californians.