Category: A Voice from Philanthropy

Time Flies

By Tamara Lucas Copeland
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

At one of our Annual Meetings a few years ago, WRAG gave each attendee a button that read either “Influence,” “Innovate,” or “Inspire.” We felt those words captured our purpose. Our mission is to improve the lives of people who live, work, and play in our region. We can’t do that directly – our job is to promote philanthropy that improves lives – but, indirectly, we can have an impact if we influence, innovate and inspire WRAG members and partners. Looking back after 12 years, I believe that WRAG – the core organization and our membership — has lived up to those terms.

I now sit in an almost empty office. Purging 12 years of files and memorabilia has reminded me of so much:

Eight Neighbors, and other groundbreaking regional partnerships;
• the flash mob at the 2010 Annual Meeting and our ongoing commitment to using the arts to underscore messages;
• the growth of The Daily (and sometimes “Almost Daily”) WRAG into a must-read publication for the local social sector;
• the Thought Leaders series that led to Brightest Minds and the Cafritz Lecture on Philanthropy;
• the ebbs and flows over the years of our various working and affinity groups;
• the planning and launch of the Institute for Corporate Social Responsibility;
• the evolution of our work on housing affordability (and its future trajectory); and, of course,
WRAG’s work on race and racism.

I am proud of this work.

WRAG has been fortunate to have a complement of staff throughout the years who were dedicated, creative, smart, and fun. As I leave, WRAG is financially stable. The organization is in the incredibly capable hands of a great staff and board, and a new leader is coming on April 15th.

It is interesting how “retirement” has come to mean so many different things. I don’t know yet what form my retirement will take. I welcome your insights on where you think I might fit. I am committed to working for and with strong organizations within what I still want to call the social profit sector. I know that affordable housing has to mean homes to buy, not just rental opportunities. Child welfare has to find a place at the issue table. And, I fully believe that the fight for racial equity and justice is a relay race with no end in sight. Give me a few months to get my second wind and I will pick up on another leg of that race. I am not certain what my formal platform will be, but I know my work and voice will continue.

I have made so many wonderful friends and connected with amazing colleagues. I hope we will stay in touch. On social media, you can follow my monthly blog at and soon I will launch a new Twitter account @DgtsOfTheDream. You can always reach me at cozybaycottage(at) Maybe you will even find a warm summer day to join me at the cottage or time to take an urban hike through my beautiful city. Wishing all of you the very, very best.

Giving Beyond the Federal Shutdown Emergency

By Tamara Lucas Copeland

Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

It’s over. After 35 days, the federal government is reopening, for at least three weeks. Furloughed government employees will receive backpay. To the extent possible, as the saying goes, they will be “made whole.” That is good.

There is an unacknowledged group that won’t go back to normal without help. It’s not the federal contractors, or the restaurants and shops that serve them. I am not minimizing the impact of the shutdown on those communities; it’s just that the ripple effect on them has been widely acknowledged by the media. The unacknowledged are the nonprofit organizations that have rallied to respond.

They are the heroes in this story. Whether the emergency is a natural disaster or a manmade one, the nonprofit community is always the go-to resource. You immediately heard about food banks working to meet the most basic of needs, and then programs helping renters to negotiate with their landlords or mortgage holders to negotiate with banks. Most of those wanting to help furloughed workers didn’t do so without the intervention of a nonprofit. Businesses made contributions to nonprofits, local governments too – all wanting to help those suffering from the shutdown. They saw working with nonprofit organizations – those that regularly serve people in need – as the most effective way to help.

Many of the foundations and corporate giving programs in the WRAG membership immediately jumped in to provide quick and increased financial help to their nonprofit grantees. There’s a challenge, however. Now that the shutdown is over, the news coverage will stop. Our focus will shift as we breathe a collective sigh of relief. Perhaps without consciously thinking about it, we will return to “normal” until the next disaster occurs. But, that’s not what will happen to all of those nonprofits that rallied to support our neighbors. There is no built-in mechanism for them to get back the resources expended supporting federal employees. That is the problem.

While it is best practice for a nonprofit to have six months of operating capital in reserve, a report from the Nonprofit Finance Fund discovered that most of their survey respondents had less than three months of capital in reserve and about 10 percent had less than 30 days – that’s less time than the shutdown lasted. The role that the nonprofit sector has played in helping to keep furloughed employees’ families fed, housed, and clothed – just the basics – cannot be minimized. Now those organizations are likely to be financially depleted, or close to it. And the reality for our region is that there are many families who require these safety net services throughout the year.

This is a call to all of those who have helped during the crisis to help now that it is over as well. It may not be as emotionally compelling to give when the situation is not dire, but we must. We know that another emergency will come. They always do. We have to do all we can to keep the nonprofit sector strong and ready. Nonprofits are the true safety net – always there, even when the government fails to support its citizens.

My Top Three Insights on Philanthropy in 2019

By Tamara Lucas Copeland
President, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

On New Year’s Day, I saw a news segment about 2019 diet trends. The key takeaway: there really isn’t anything new. To lose weight, exercise more and eat less. That’s it.

This made me think about philanthropy. What is new in philanthropy for 2019? Anything? Or is the formula for investing in communities still pretty much the same?

For me, the answer is “yes, but no.” The underlying desire to invest responsibly in communities for the social good seems to be fundamental, long-standing, and shared by most corporate giving programs and foundations. The question is, what does “responsibly” mean? That’s the “no” part. I think the definition of responsible investing has changed, a change that shapes how I see philanthropy moving forward. That said, here are my top three insights for 2019 on how philanthropy’s traditional approaches are shifting, at least here in the Greater Washington region.

1. Just the facts

OLD: In order to solve community challenges, we must examine what the research says about different interventions. Data-driven philanthropy has been a hallmark of what is considered effective philanthropy for some time now. No grant application would be successful without the obligatory inclusion of information on what research the suggested intervention was based.

NEW: Having gone through three years of a rigorous focus on structural racism, funders in Greater Washington are increasingly aware that often even the most highly regarded sociological and economic research has minimized, or not even considered, the role that structural racism and implicit bias play in society. “Back-mapping” is the tool that ABFE encourages philanthropic leaders to use to delve deeply into the root causes of racial disparities, a critical first step in determining the most effective intervention for a given issue. Sometimes “the facts” simply don’t portray the whole picture.

This leads me to….

2. Work with communities

OLD: Communities with high concentrations of low-income people often were thought of as powerless, disenfranchised, and needy — communities where people needed to be empowered, by some outside entity, to act on their own behalf.

NEW: This paternalistic way of understanding communities is shifting. Increasingly, the knowledge, and therefore power, that exists in all communities is being recognized. Communities are seen as partners in changing the status quo. Philanthropy has the financial resources to enable the needed intervention and community leaders know what interventions have, and can, make a lasting difference. Equal partners for change.

And lastly,

3. Grow the corpus

OLD: In order to continue to invest in communities, the stewards of foundations must prioritize growing their wealth. To do that, philanthropy must invest in products and services that will bring a handsome return on that investment. There must be a cushion in place in case of financial downturn, so ensuring a solid financial return must always be the goal.

NEW: The practice of impact investing, looking for vehicles that provide a financial return while also benefiting society, continues to grow among foundations. In WRAG’s latest edition of Our Region, Our Giving, we reported that almost 60 percent of WRAG members surveyed are currently engaged in impact investing, or are actively seeking to become engaged. For most of those members, their impact investing started in the last five years. But, there is something on the horizon that reflects even bolder thinking: connecting the financial arm of the foundation to the programmatic arm. It’s not enough for a foundation to set some money aside for impact investments while the bulk of their assets are traditionally invested – especially if those investments might be perpetuating the very challenges that the foundation aims to address through its grantmaking.

Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” From my first day at WRAG, I saw this as a community focused on learning. There is a keen desire to learn and to use that knowledge wisely to impact our region. That learning has deepened and the focus has shifted over time. This philanthropic community will undoubtedly “do better” in 2019.

Putting Racism on the Table

Tamara Copeland’s article is the latest in Successes of Philanthropy, a sponsored project of the Washington Monthly magazine.  To learn more about the series, please contact Alice J. Gallin-Dwyer at

By Tamara Lucas Copeland
WRAG President

It started soon after the death of Freddie Gray.

Not the civil unrest that ensued in neighborhoods in Baltimore, Maryland, but the elevated racial consciousness that emerged within the philanthropic community in Washington, DC.

Philanthropic leaders here wondered if they should support neighboring Baltimore or work to lessen the likelihood of such an event occurring in their own community. It was 2015. Cell phone videos of other police-involved incidents across the country were the backdrop. Everyone knew that it wasn’t just Freddie Gray, but also Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, and other African American victims. As foundation leaders began to dissect the situation in Baltimore within the context of these other deaths, topics of race, racism, and bias emerged side-by-side with issues of poor housing, poor schools, and poor health care.

What was new to the conversation, surprisingly, was the overlay of race. This was a significantly different conversation for the members of the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers(WRAG), and a bit of a treacherous one. Those who attended the first meeting to discuss a response and possible next steps were comfortable talking about affordable housing, teacher preparation, and gang violence. They had discussed these topics and many others innumerable times, but race itself had been taboo. Now, these philanthropists—black and white, mostly women—were acknowledging that race and racism may have been a major factor in the death of Freddie Gray and the unrest that followed in his city.

The conversation stopped when one participant acknowledged a true lack of knowledge, not just about how racism and bias may have played a part in these events, but about racism and bias—period. The group members didn’t know much about what they were trying to discuss. They had a sense of it, but at no time in their professional lives or academic training had they sought to learn deeply or been taught about race and racism. A quote from John Gardner, the founder of Common Cause and the Independent Sector, was mentioned casually by one participant. It resonated and became the framing for everything that followed:

“The first step in leadership is not action, it’s understanding.”

Seeking Understanding Together

From that comment was born a year-long initiative boldly labeled “Putting Racism on the Table.” Organized and hosted by WRAG, it started as a series of six learning opportunities for philanthropic CEOs and trustees, once a month, for six months. The first three sessions focused on topics: structural racism, white privilege, and implicit bias. The next meeting explored a case study to show how those factors presented in one system (mass incarceration), followed by a review of the racial mosaic of America. The series ended with a session on the role of philanthropy in addressing racism and racial inequity. Each three-hour session began with a lecture by a nationally-known expert on the topic, followed by a conversation, all facilitated by the same person chosen for her adeptness at leading deep conversations on race.

After the learning series, there were five more training sessions: on grantmaking with a racial equity lens, on communicating about race; and a concluding session asking what this philanthropic community would do because of what they had learned over an exceptionally focused year. Participants called the initiative “transformational,” “thought-provoking,” and “eye-opening.”

Exactly what had been revealed? What in the thinking of these philanthropists, individuals committed to addressing the needs of their community, had been transformed? And, how had their approach to grantmaking been altered by their learning experience?

I offer two examples. Together, we learned that mass incarceration is the result of structural racism, white privilege and implicit bias in the criminal justice system. We started with a historical perspective, considering the consequences of slavery, followed by a host of racialized laws and practices that criminalized everyday behaviors and prevented African Americans from obtaining the skills and opportunities to rise, continuing their subservience to the prevailing white, economic system. Combine that historical reality with an understanding that some crimes have been penalized differently (possession of cocaine vs. crack is a classic example), and that prisons have developed into economic engines for small, rural communities, and you may begin to see mass incarceration differently. With this insight, what explains the disproportionate number of African Americans in the U.S. criminal justice system? Are they inherently more criminal or are they victims of a system that has criminalized them?
Or, consider the education system.

We explored how starting as early as preschool, black children, particularly boys, are disciplined for “acting out.” At the same time, black girls are disciplined for being “disrespectful” and perceived as “less innocent” than their white counterparts. Even at this young age, black children are suspended disproportionately from school. Is bias at play? Are teachers perceiving, perhaps unconsciously, normal behavior on the part of black children as being negative, even violent? Studies suggest that this is the case. Unless you have been made aware of this possibility, your focus as a funder remains on “fixing” these boys and girls when the true need is to “fix” the biases and prejudices held by teachers and school administrators.

Making Equity a Grantmaking Priority

Without the formal, structured learning series offered by “Putting Racism on the Table,” the local philanthropic community would not have looked deeply into the historical, psychological, and policy realities that contribute to the social ills they are trying to address. Many participants acknowledged that without this deep dive into structural racism and implicit bias, they would have continued to focus on symptoms without understanding causality. Learning together as a philanthropic community gave the experience a credibility and offered participants a critical support network.

Over the past two years, funders have continued to develop a deeper appreciation for the pervasiveness and impact of racial bias. In WRAG’s annual check-in with members, one year after the series, roughly a third reported that they were applying a racial equity lens to their grantmaking, and thirty percent were seeking additional learning and training opportunities for their staff and leadership around racial equity. Two years after the program, the progress continues: More than half of the funders are talking with their grantees about racial equity. Many more are seeking additional learning opportunities or changing their grantmaking priorities and practices—including, for example, setting aside dedicated funding to support this portfolio—based on a greater understanding of how they can work for racial equity. The importance of the collective learning experience remains, as a third of the WRAG membership are participating in learning and action via WRAG’s Racial Equity Working Group.

This progress now extends beyond the local philanthropy community. Leadership Greater Washington (LGW), a well-respected association of high-level, cross-sector leaders in the region, reached out to WRAG to broaden their understanding of this issue. Together, in 2018, WRAG and LGW hosted another six-month learning initiative. This time called “Expanding the Table for Racial Equity,” it culminated in September in a trip to Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama, locales at the core of the civil rights movement. This experience strengthened participants’ understanding of the history of racial struggles and their connection to current racial reality in our country.

Today, in the Greater Washington region, there is a growing group of philanthropists that have been joined by elected officials, nonprofit, and business leaders in recognizing the depth, breadth, and impact of racism. They acknowledge the legacy of slavery, of Jim Crow policies, of the unfulfilled promise of the 1954 Supreme Court decision that separate was indeed not equal. They know that as a society, we have not legislated or mandated our way to equity, nor taken the time to understand how we got here. Until that occurs the path to equity remains unclear. But, they have taken important first steps. By putting racism on the table, they have acknowledged a wound and a reality. Now, they are working toward necessary policy change and racial healing.

What might be the future of WRAG?

By Tamara Lucas Copeland
President, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

It was a bittersweet moment last week when I attended my last WRAG Annual Meeting.  It has been twelve years since I joined the WRAG team.  One of my most valuable lessons during this time has been the importance of using my voice and recognizing the incredible platform that WRAG offers.

So, for one more time, I used my voice and that platform to urge the WRAG membership to focus on four areas:

  • Seeing the 5% IRS nonprofit payout requirement as a minimum, not a maximum. I asked whether foundations make conscious decisions about the 5% floor, or whether, like many of us, they were simply acting on automatic. Then I asked that they think more about their other 95% of assets and consider impact investing, thereby increasing their ability to be change agents.
  • Child welfare – One of my earliest professional positions was as a foster care caseworker. That position opened my eyes to so much that is needed to change in the child welfare system. Many years later, I fear that change is still needed. When these children are taken from dangerous situations and placed in foster care, there is then a societal belief, I think, that the situation is now righted and no intervention is needed. Just being in a non-violent environment does not necessarily mean that the child is being nurtured. We need to place child welfare back on our priority list.
  • I urged the WRAG membership to see affordable housing as more than rental units. Certainly they are needed. I want us to think about the need for affordable for-sale housing to people across multiple income brackets. I asked the WRAG community to see this as a Big Hairy Audacious Goal and one that they have the ability to tackle.
  • Race and racism – I urged our members to keep racism on the table. Issues often become labeled the “flavor of the month,” something to be focused on for a minute and then quickly forgotten for the next important issue. As I shared at our Annual Meeting, 335 years have passed between 1619, when Africans were brought to Jamestown in chains, to 1954, the year of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision. Then roughly another 65 years of silence. We have to peel back the onion of racism, understand the roots of structural racism and bias, and work toward racial justice. This is the work of our lifetimes.

My hope for the WRAG community is that they fully embrace their ability to be change agents, that they stop to look at what they’ve always done and consider if they always have to do it that way, and that they continue to be bold and fearless.

If you would like to read Tamara’s full speech, click here.

Reflections on my recent civil rights tour: My eyes were opened

By Tamara Copeland
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

Last week, I spent four days in the Deep South. WRAG and Leadership Greater Washington sponsored a civil rights learning journey that spanned Memphis, Tennessee; several locations in the Mississippi Delta; Jackson, Mississippi; and Selma, Montgomery, and Birmingham, Alabama. Over the years, I have learned a lot about the Civil Rights Movement and I thought I understood. I didn’t. My version was sanitized. My knowledge was incomplete. I had focused on the structural side of racism. This trip revealed the power of personal hatred combined with government sanctions.

It wasn’t until I was immersed in the historical morass of this trip that I began to understand. I sat in the Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Philadelphia, Mississippi, population 7,361, listening to two women in their sixties. They described how, in 1964, their parents were beaten by the Ku Klux Klan and left at night on the side of a dark, country road, seriously injured, but afraid to seek medical care. The Klan was looking for civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, chasing down church members to locate them. Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner were caught another night and killed. It wasn’t until I heard from Jerry Mitchell, an investigative reporter, whose efforts led to the arrest and conviction of one of their murderers 41 years later that I began to understand.

It wasn’t until the docent at Medgar Evers’s home in Jackson, Mississippi, described that he had his children sleep on mattresses on the floor, and asked the builder to place the windows higher than normal to lessen the possibility of bullets shot through the windows hitting them. Also at his request, his house was built with a side entrance, under a carport, rather than with a front door. He trained his children to always exit under the carport, on the passenger side of the car, closest to the entrance to their home to lessen the likelihood of being a target, a practice that he didn’t follow on the night he was shot and killed. I saw his blood stain on the driveway. Then, I began to understand.

It wasn’t until I went to the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, saw where the bomb was placed right outside the church under a stairwell and learned that the police arrived immediately following the bomb blast that killed four young girls – too immediately, some thought, for them to be responding to a call. Again, I began to understand.

At the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum, I saw a haunting photo of a black, imprisoned teenager in 1932 Georgia with his hands and feet bound, lying on the ground curled around an iron post. He looked like a lassoed animal going to slaughter. It was then that I remembered seeing the massive, privately-run, maximum-security prison as we drove through the Mississippi Delta the day before, on our way to the courthouse where Emmett Till’s murderers were acquitted. Then everything truly fell into place. In this huge complex, with only slits for windows to let in some light, encircled with barbed wire, human beings were confined.  Not only did I recognize that African-Americans have formed the basis of our country’s economic advancement for centuries, I also recognized their treatment like animals – some would say worse than animals – for centuries. 1619, 1850, 1964, or 2018, the form that the oppression may take is different, but oppression it still is.  Raw violence has evolved, to some degree, into more subtle, nuanced actions, but racially-motivated violence still occurs.

African-American parents still have to try to protect their children, just like Medgar Evers did. While African-Americans can’t be legally turned away from a hospital, health care access and health status still vary considerably by race. And, we still wonder if the government, be that in the form of a police officer, a governor, or a US senator, represents the interests of all Americans.

The depth and insidiousness of the maltreatment of black people in America is far more entrenched than perhaps I understood or believed before I went on this learning journey.  The racism – no, let’s call it what it is – the terrorism that existed with slavery simply evolved into Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan. It still evolves today, with the continued advancement of public policies that advantage and disadvantage based on race, and a political and cultural climate that is fostering a more visible white supremacist movement. This combination is toxic and powerful. We must be vigilant, active, and courageous advocates for racial equity and justice.

When will philanthropy focus on child welfare?

By Tamara Copeland
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers 

Soon WRAG will release our annual giving report, Our Region, Our Giving.* When you see the data, you will note that giving in education tops the lists of areas in which the local philanthropic community invested in 2017. No surprise there. Health and education have jockeyed back and forth for the top two categories for many years. This year 80% of the respondents reported giving in the area of “children, youth and families.”

When WRAG members describe their “children, youth and families” giving, we typically hear about summer and out-of-school time programs, mentoring, youth employment, efforts to develop youth into contributing members of our community – that kind of work. For me, there is always a significant area of need missing: child welfare.

Between college and grad school, I worked for the Richmond Department of Welfare, first determining eligibility for food stamps (a story for another time, perhaps) and then as a foster care caseworker. At the time, the Department only required a college degree. Mine was in sociology, but it could just as well have been in math or in geology. I had no training in interpersonal relations, child development, familial patterns, or anything that would truly prepare me to serve the 30 children on my caseload, their biological parents, and their foster parents. I was also not much older than these kids, being barely out of my teen years myself. So, no academic education, no professional training, and no real life experiences, but I was expected to provide quality care, to determine when reunification was appropriate (how would I know?), and to ensure that the foster home environment was meeting these children’s needs.

Today, the qualifications for social workers and caseworkers in child welfare are far more rigorous, calling for knowledge of principles and practices of social work, basic knowledge of child welfare, knowledge of related psychiatric and psychological practices, and an array of skill sets that would suggest a much-heightened ability to meet the needs of the children. That is good. But even with these skills, we are still seeing outcomes that I find disturbing. According to multiple sources, both academic and government, there are currently close to 450,000 children in foster care in the U.S. The number has increased every year since 2012, some say due to the opioid epidemic.

There is good news for some kids in foster care. They return to their biological families after their situations have stabilized, or they are adopted. But for those who age out of foster care (at 18 or 21, depending on the state), the outcomes aren’t as positive. According to the Chapin Hall Center on Children at the University of Chicago, within one year of aging out of foster care, 24 percent are homeless and 50 percent are in prison within two years. An ABC News story from a few years ago noted that 25 percent of the then-imprisoned population had been in foster care. And, think about it, when was the last time that you heard the term “foster care,” read an article about it, or had it brought up in a professional setting?

Children in foster care are essentially invisible to many in the philanthropic world. There are, of course, exceptions, but largely philanthropy does not focus on meeting the needs of these young people, nor do they investigate the systems that serve them, or focus on their outcomes once they leave the system. At the most important stages of their development, for these children who have experienced some type of trauma, we are blind to them and their needs. Our eyes only open once they become homeless, unemployed, or are in prison.

A few years ago, WRAG started talking about a topic that was invisible to many – race and equity. Child welfare is another such topic, invisible, but fully undergirded by the systemic realities of race and racism. Fifty-six percent of children in foster care in the US are either children of color or children whose race or ethnicity is unknown. That basic statistic only opens the door. What are the cultural or systemic issues that have led to their entrance into the system or led to the conditions encountered  by their families? Who decides what circumstances lead to foster care? Who decides how adoption is promoted and who is allowed to adopt what children? Like every system and structure in our country, race is a factor. Child welfare is just another one of those systems. Who will elevate that conversation?

The Giving Report will be available on November 6th at WRAG’s Annual Meeting.

Sharing my past to inspire a racially just future

By Tamara Copeland
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

Last September, I introduced you to a personal project I have been working on for several years, a book entitled Daughters of the Dream. I am pleased that my book has been published and was released today on, and at other bookseller’s websites.

The death of Trayvon Martin may have been the catalyst. It seemed to elicit shock among many in the white community. In the black community, it elicited deep sadness – not shock.

When I wrote a post for this blog about how I had experienced this tragic event, large numbers of my white colleagues expressed surprise that I talked with my son about ‘shopping while black, driving while black, walking while black.’

“You still have to do that?” they asked.

I thought about how different our worlds were and that while I had to comprehend the white world to succeed, white people have not had to understand mine.

I started writing the book the same month that Trayvon was killed. The idea for it, however, had been percolating among a group of my childhood friends for several years. Originally, it was to be about our decades-long friendship, but it evolved once I began writing. Daughters of the Dream is a series of vignettes woven into a story recounting our lives. The story is told against a backdrop of segregation, integration, civil rights, and the long journey toward racial justice with what I hope is just the right sprinkling of history that you may not know.

Some black people believe it is the responsibility of white Americans to learn and understand the black experience. But learning how it feels to walk in someone else’s shoes is difficult. Even with sincere empathy and desire, without a guide to point out and explain the nuances, the level of understanding can be superficial.

In hindsight, I think that being one of those guides is part of my calling, my psychic price for occupying a place on Earth. I am not a historian or a sociologist, nor am I a researcher or a journalist. But I am black and have a specific perspective. Just as I hope WRAG’s Putting Racism on the Table initiative has opened people’s eyes to the truths of structural racism and implicit bias, I also hope that Daughters of the Dream will give a glimpse into the experience of one black American and her friends.

This book is not about THE black American experience. I do not speak for an entire race. This is a recounting of the life’s experience of someone with whom, I think, many can relate. On paper, we—some white and black Americans—may share many demographic similarities. This fact might lead you to think we walk the same path. We do not. Daughters of the Dream will reveal just how different our lives have been and how different they continue to be. My America is not yours, at least not yet. I hope that Daughters of the Dream can bring us closer together as more Americans recognize the racial injustice in our country and work for the change that is needed.

Professor Copeland?

Participants in Georgetown Seminar, “Philanthropists’ Response to Racial Inequity in America”

By Tamara Lucas Copeland
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers 

Last year, I was named the Waldemar Nielsen Visiting Fellow, Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University. Quite a mouthful. Quite an honor. And, quite a challenge.

Dr. Kathy Kretman, the Nielsen Chair, had chosen the nexus of philanthropy and race as the focus for the 2017-2018 academic year. Having worked for the last few years on just that juncture, I thought I was prepared to partner with her in both teaching a course and on overseeing a research project, for which many WRAG members and others across the country were interviewed, to examine the impact of our Putting Racism on the Table work. Most importantly, I knew I could not pass up an opportunity to introduce Georgetown public policy graduate students to the roles that they might play both as philanthropists and as policymakers adept at understanding racial equity.

It didn’t take long for my appreciation of educators to grow exponentially. What I imagined as the rigor and intentionality necessary to develop a comprehensive and well thought out syllabus only marginally reflected what reality looked like. And, the notion of orchestrating the 2 ½ hour class sessions with reviews of the assigned texts, exercises to prompt reflection, and in-person speakers to share lived experiences was a new, and difficult, experience. This teaching stuff is hard, really hard, if you want to do it well and I did. I wanted the students to leave the class with a clear understanding of racial equity and inequity. I wanted to play a part in preparing them to use their voice, their emerging clout and power, and their financial resources for racial equity.

Well, it may be a decade before I’ll know if that happened. Will the student who talked about running for an elected position in Atlanta, Georgia actually do that? What will his platform be? Will LISC be the launching pad for another into the realm of addressing gentrification and the racial wealth gap? And, will the Department of the Army never be quite the same because two soldiers took this course? Maybe for the other students their work toward racial justice will occur quietly with their family, friends and neighbors. That’s important, too, but I don’t think these students’ roles will be small or go unnoticed.

Midway through the Nielsen experience, I realized that we were evolving into a true learning community. The students were teaching me how to effectively transmit information as I worked with them to question some of the assumptions they had made and the “truths” they thought they knew. Professor Copeland? No, but I am proud to have played a small part in their evolution as racially aware, public policy leaders.

NOTE: As a part of the Nielsen work, the Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership examined what the local nonprofit community wants and needs in order to pursue a racial equity agenda.

College is not the only road to success

By Tamara Lucas Copeland
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

A few weeks ago, I attended a panel conversation on civil rights milestones. One of the presenters focused on the importance of a college education. A college degree has always been a hallmark of rising for communities of color. I was taught that all of my life. But, this time I questioned the premise. What about careers that don’t require college – master carpenters, plumbers, brick masons, mechanics, hairstylists?  A college degree has become the baseline for success in the way that a high school diploma was decades ago.  Should every person in America have as their goal to go to college?

At a time when income inequality is increasing and the price of a four-year degree may require a lifetime of student debt, I contend that we need to shift the “college or bust” culture we immerse kids in from the day they start kindergarten. I’m not saying we shouldn’t encourage kids to go to college – and work to make college far more accessible than it is today – but we simultaneously need to raise up other alternatives as equally viable and valuable options for young people. Programs that offer career training in non-degree-requiring fields need to be elevated and celebrated along with college prep programs. We need to remember that it is not only policy analysts and attorneys and CPAs that are fundamental to a well-functioning society.

Of course, creating non-college pathways that lead to family-sustaining incomes require public policy and philanthropic interventions outside of the classroom, too. It would mean scaling up strategies like cooperative businesses that create wealth-building opportunities. It would mean examining excessive credentialing and licensing requirements that make it harder for individuals to get jobs or start their own businesses. It would mean raising the minimum wage, fighting corporate practices like just-in-time scheduling, and supporting labor organizing.

And, all of us, regardless of sector or industry, should examine our hiring practices. It has become automatic to call for a college degree when seeking to fill a vacancy. What talent and life experiences are we missing out on when that is our primary filter?

The stats about college are screaming out for us to act differently. For example, according to the Postsecondary National Policy Institute, first-generation college students are comprised of 42% Black, 48% Hispanic and 28% of white students. Certainly we should celebrate the number of young people going to college for the first times in their families, but this also means that they may not have the support in applying for college nor in mastering that first year, in particular, from someone who truly understands because they have been through the experience. Then when you consider that the average cost of tuition for public universities is $25,620, plus a college application cost that can be as much as $90 for just one school, against the average household income for Black and Hispanic families at $36,898 and $45,148 respectively, it is clear to see that students of color face extreme barriers to enter and finish college. Pushing all students along a path that has many challenges isn’t working. As professionals, we have always known that one size doesn’t fit all. Why do we accept that reality in so many other arenas, but not as far as education? Being real about this, and raising up alternative pathways to success, is critical if we are to create the equitable society we envision.