A Voice from Philanthropy: Uniting to address challenges facing boys and men of color

By Tamara Copeland
President, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

At the Council on Foundations conference earlier this month, 26 foundations pledged to address issues facing boys and men of color in the United States. To my knowledge, this is an unprecedented recognition of the disparities facing this community, and of the need for a visible, coordinated, and focused plan of action.

When I heard of it, I immediately wondered how this might affect our local community and what local leaders might think. Two in particular came to mind.

Nat Williams, executive director of the Hill-Snowdon Foundation, has been emphasizing a social justice lens for some time. I also wondered what his thoughts might be as an African-American man leading a national foundation with local roots. He writes:

It is both encouraging and significant that 26 major foundations have joined forces on behalf of African American men and boys. In the public discourse, working class and low income African American men and boys are all too often vilified, objectified or ignored. They are hardly ever viewed as critical assets for the civic, economic and political future of this country, as the statement from the foundation leaders suggests. The idea and reality of working class youth of color serving as key civic and community leaders is what energizes the Hill-Snowdon Foundation’s commitment to supporting youth organizing with low income youth of color, including African American youth.

We see the amazing transformation for individuals and communities that is borne from African American youth being given the skills and opportunities to lead and organize for positive change in their communities. So while we applaud this important effort by philanthropic leaders to improve the life chances and opportunities for African American men and boys, we challenge these leaders to support efforts that do more than advocate on behalf of African American men and youth – but that nurtures their leadership and civic participation and enlists them as leaders and partners in improving conditions for themselves, their communities and the nation as a whole.

And Nicky Goren, head of the Washington Area Women’s Foundation, knows what a difference a gender focused lens can make. In her words:

I’m gratified to see so many national funders pledging to tackle these very critical issues. Their willingness to view problems and solutions through a gender lens is exemplary and recognizes the unique circumstances and barriers that boys and men of color face. As president of the Washington Area Women’s Foundation, I’ve seen first-hand the effectiveness of targeted, gender-focused investments in our community.

For 15 years, The Women’s Foundation has supported efforts that give women the resources they need to overcome gender-specific barriers to success. We’ve seen their accomplishments have a ripple effect on our community, transforming lives, families and neighborhoods. The pledge to support boys and men of color and engage them as community assets is another step forward in creating communities where everyone has a stake and the opportunity to succeed. We need more funders to recognize that gender-specific approaches are needed to create lasting change.

There is no need to repeat the statistics about school dropouts, incarceration, and under/unemployment. You know what they are. You also know the difference that philanthropy can make when you raise your voice, leverage your resources and bring together leaders to focus on a problem.

I know what Nicky and Nat think about this pledge to act. What about others in our region? Please share your thoughts.