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Living Cities has learned that to do racial equity work with authenticity, we have to embrace a new way of working. It has to start with us, at the level of individual staff and project teams. As we set about creating a new network to advance anti-racist practices in local government, we are seeking to intentionally defy the norms set by white supremacy culture through our process. Through a series of resources, we are sharing the ways we are practicing antidotes to white supremacy culture so that we can continue to learn as we support your capacity to also design work in defiance of white supremacy culture.
Over the years, Living Cities has documented various practices on community engagement, from community engagement in cross-sector partnerships, to what it takes to engage community in cities’ racial equity plans. The lessons uplifted in these resources were learned from the cities we have funded, whereas Living Cities has long thought that the “community” we serve as an intermediary is public sector practitioners working inside governments.
As we evolve our work, we are also reckoning with our relationship and accountability to community by practicing the value, When we say community, we name what we mean. This demands that we acknowledge if we are working to close racial wealth gaps, our accountability must be to low-income communities of color.
In the last few months, we had a series of internal conversations on community accountability so that we can begin to understand the different relationships communities may have with the city governments we work with, and to acknowledge that many people working in city government are part of the communities they are working to serve. We do this to understand where and with whom we will be working, which is foundational to mapping power dynamics and truly shifting power to communities of color.
Some of the questions and reflections that guided our process are below. We hope to share our accountability strategy with you in the coming months.
Guiding questions to understand our institution’s history and role with community:
- What is your understanding of your organizational history with communities? Has the organization harmed people and/or communities in ways that are important to name?
- What shifts do we need to do internally, individually FIRST, so that we can undo and repair past harms? And how can we show up the way we want to show up for community?
- What do we mean by community now, in this moment of our work?
Guiding questions to move towards our vision of community accountability:
- What have you learned (as a person, in your community, in your organizing, in your work at Living Cities, etc.) from recent events (COVID-19/racialized experiences of the pandemic, growing Black Lives Matter movement/institutional responses, or lack thereof) and Living Cities’ role that you would like the organization to grapple with as we develop strategies and work plans?
- Consider the “critical friend” role that Living Cities has played with local government. What have we learned from that role about accountability? How might we think about accountability when it comes to CTG? To whom are we as a team accountable?
- How might we think about communities of color holding us accountable/playing a “critical friend” role to us?
- When we say “community organizer” who are we envisioning? What kinds of groups are we talking about? How might we move toward a shared understanding of what groups we want to partner with and why?
Our reflections on moving towards accountability:
We have built competencies around community engagement through our cohort work, but we haven’t really practiced community engagement. There has been internal resistance in the past about Living Cities directly working with community because of our role as an intermediary. As we reckon with our past as a race-neutral organization, we also know that our lack of accountability to community likely contributed to decisions that have harmed communities of color. It will take more than a reckoning to be able to repair past harms, but our accountability must go beyond acknowledgement of harm. As an institution, we don’t know yet what that will look like but it is part of our commitment to anti-racism work.
As we evolve our work, we hold these tensions, learn from them, and feel genuine gratitude to folks like The Integration Initiative leaders who had deep community connections and pushed Living Cities to center community in our work. We are grateful for our partner and teacher, People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, for constantly pushing us on how we might create accountable relationships with community.
As a team, here are some shifts we are committed to:
We are working towards an aspirational goal and a different way of being and doing in partnership with community. This work is ongoing, and we want to make sure that our measurement and evaluation work reflect that. We must be clear on what metrics we are pushing for and why. As we undertake this new work, how do we use metrics as a way to support our growth and learning, not to name success or failure?
Our role is not to create the solution. The reality is that finding a solution is not creating a solution, but this reframing can evoke fear because people’s livelihoods have rested in creating solutions. We have to be vigilant in recognizing the sense of urgency to move towards solutions, and we have to understand whose urgency we are privileging.
We cannot assume that work isn’t happening or that the work happening on the ground is not strategic. We need to be actually challenging the ways we have worked and the results we’re used to seeking. If the result is to deeply partner towards transformation in systems, there needs to be an openness to being challenged.
Respect the fact that grassroots organizations may not want to work with institutions like ours. We want to go beyond the usual suspects like big non-profits that already have relationships with city governments, but smaller grassroots organizations may not want to work with city governments. To do this, we need to reflect deeply on the impact of the nonprofit industrial complex on nonprofits, community organizations and movements. What are ways that we can learn from grassroots organizations and movements without co-opting or disorganizing?
Depth over breadth. Values should be the driver of our choices and decisions. There’s a lot to learn from those who might say no to us. What are the sets of questions we can use to interrogate whether or not our values align with community organizations that we want to work with?
We have to center Queer, Trans People of Color, young people, and those who have long been at the margins. Our accountability must include the people within communities who sit at the intersections of many systems of oppression. We believe this will make it more possible for us to untangle the roots of the interwoven systems we’re trying to dismantle.
For some of us, it is hard to reconcile our role in our community and being part of an institution that has harmed the communities we are part of. Yet, we cannot deflect our accountability because we are still part of this institution.
We reflected on what we might want to shift in our individual practice:
- Intentionally build trust and infrastructure to hold a community engagement process internally
- Get comfortable with power sharing and be okay with negative feedback, knowing that we will make mistakes
- Acknowledge our own role as being part of an institution, and how individually we can make the space for trust building that we want to bring
- Create spaces where we can push the boundaries of what is strategically possible
- Balance carrying bold vision and deep listening
- Get out of our head and stop over-intellectualizing things
- Come from a place of building real relationships
- Reflect on our tendency to take over spaces where our presence can be harmful
Image Credit: Dave Lowenstein, accessed from JustSeeds
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As cities continue to fight against COVID-19, citizens are changing their commuting preferences to adjust to a new way of life. Cities across the globe have experienced significant increases in the number of pedestrians, cyclists, and private cars on the roads as a result of public transport restrictions and social distancing requirements. This has created many new challenges, as cities previously dependent on public transport must now adapt to accommodate more vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists.
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Business ownership in Minneapolis is uneven by race. The City of Minneapolis has a total population of 411,500, of which 19% percent are Black, 10% Latinx, 6% Pan Asian, and 1% Native American. While Whites comprise 63.9% of the population, they own ~80% of the businesses. This implies that entrepreneurship amongst people of color is disproportionally lower.
In collaboration with the Minneapolis Innovation Team, a group of city employees that serves as in-house public sector innovation consultants to the City of Minneapolis, the City has uncovered key challenges facing entrepreneurs of color, including lack of intergenerational wealth, absence of affordable commercial space, confusing city processes, and poor access to advisor and investor networks. In addition, their exploration has laid bare that the Minneapolis’ capital ecosystem does not always work for entrepreneurs of color.
Research shows that entrepreneurs of color have lower levels of access to “friends and family money”, which can help to capitalize businesses, particularly at the early stages. Similarly, the underwriting criteria for debt products used by both traditional and alternative lenders does not meet the needs of entrepreneurs of color who lack wealth and have few fixed assets. Lastly, entrepreneurs of color do not have access to the informal sources of financial, knowledge, and social capital that are crucial in the start-up and early-stages of the business lifecycle.
“Supporting small businesses owned by people of color is a critical part of any strategy to meaningfully address racial disparities in any community.”
To address the city’s long-standing racial wealth disparities and with the goal of shifting how the local capital ecosystem works, the City of Minneapolis and Living Cities’ Blended Catalyst Fund (BCF) made an inaugural investment in Fortis Capital and its Participation Loan Program. As a non-profit organization, with 501c(3) status, Fortis Capital aims to increase access to debt on reasonable terms for small and growing businesses owned by entrepreneurs of color.
“Living Cities has worked in Minneapolis/Saint Paul for over a decade through projects like The Integration Initiative and the Catalyst Fund, and we are excited to build on our existing partnerships and investments by working with the City of Minneapolis and Fortis Capital on their efforts to close the racial income and wealth gaps.”, said Demetric Duckett, Managing Director for Living Cities. “Supporting small businesses owned by people of color is a critical part of any strategy to meaningfully address racial disparities in any community.”
“Increasing access to financial, knowledge and social capital is and has been a driving force in the creation of Fortis Capital.”, said Jim Terrell, President and COO of Fortis. “We are positioned to use a proven lending model as well as key partnerships to reach borrowers and to serve communities that otherwise are not being adequately helped.”
By incorporating lending criteria that does not rely on strict credit/collateral guidelines but includes a review of business readiness; prioritizing borrowers who are unlikely to qualify for traditional bank financing, and offering terms and loan amounts that meet the needs of entrepreneurs of color, Fortis Capital leverages lessons from past local loan programs to bridge gaps in access to capital and increase jobs created or retained by people of color.
For the years 2014, 2015, and 2017, small business loan programs provided an average of $1.92MM of capital from the City and leveraged an average of $11.24MM from private lending partners. Borrowers estimated that these loans helped create an average of 256 jobs and retain an average of 340 jobs in the years 2014, 2015, and 2017. The Fortis Capital Participation Loan Program was designed to fill a number of gaps in the Minneapolis capital ecosystem. The program offers loan amounts and loan terms that address borrowers’ capital needs and, most importantly, it deliberately targets entrepreneurs of color.
Racial Equity Focus
Fortis Capital’s vision to provide flexible capital to entrepreneurs of color, innovate existing local loan structures to better meet the needs of disproportionally undercapitalized communities, and increase jobs and business ownership for Black and brown people, is not only appropriate for the current context, but aligned with BCF’s impact focus.
This alignment is manifested in the efforts that the City is doing to work with banks and nonprofits providing technical assistance to incentivize transformations within the local financial ecosystem. The aspiration is that as bank underwriters gain experience understanding the specific barriers faced by entrepreneurs of color, they will provide credit reference points to expand the bank’s underwriting approach.
The BCF’s inaugural investment in Fortis Capital is the result of Living Cities’ intentional focus on increasing investments in founders and capital decision-makers of color to achieve better outcomes in a country undergoing a rapid demographic shift. This investment is also an opportunity for the impact investing field to gain clarity around the structures and underwriting processes necessary to scale efforts to close racial wealth gaps.
To learn more about Fortis Capital contact Jim Terrell, from the Community Planning & Economic Development department, and Brian K. Smith, from the City of Minneapolis Innovation Team at email@example.com. For more information on Living Cities’ Capital for the New Majority Strategy, contact Thaddeus Fair, the Senior Investment Associate for this transaction, and Demetric Duckett, Managing Director at Living Cities at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Living Cities works to create systemic change grounded in the understanding that systems and institutions are made up of people. Whether operating on the inside of institutions, or demanding change from the outside, the work of advancing racial equity is all about mobilizing people.
Throughout our work we have seen the impact of people organizing to shift power from a variety of platforms. We recently had the opportunity to talk to two women of color, Maya Wallace and Giovania Tiarachristie, about what it looks like to serve as organizers working both inside and outside of government institutions with the shared focus on advancing racial equity. Maya Wallace currently serves as a Performance Manager for the California Department of Justice and Giovania Tiarachristie, currently a Senior Consultant at Daniel Lim Consulting, previously served as Deputy Director of Neighborhood Planning at New York City Housing Preservation and Development. Below are key lessons that emerged from our conversations.
Lesson 1: Ground your work in history.
Both Maya and Giovania emphasized the importance of grounding in their personal histories to inform how they show up in rebuilding the future. After growing up across many cities and countries around the world, Giovania spent many of their early years of life in Pennsylvania. It was there that they became an organizer. Because they had experienced so many ways of living, they showed up to organizing with a recognition that it was important—and possible—to work “differently than a lot of white-led organizations working in communities of color who did not meaningfully engage residents.”
Whether operating on the inside of institutions, or demanding change from the outside, the work of advancing racial equity is all about mobilizing people.
Maya also came to organizing work from a place of deep reflection on her personal history. Growing up as a biracial kid in a conservative-leaning California county that was experiencing demographic shifts, she can recount many personal experiences of racism. Rather than responding with spite, she “learned to focus on trying to build alliances, friendships and relationships with people across the board, and trying to see beyond [the racism].” This tactic has enabled her to be a very effective organizer today.
Lesson 2: Covid-19 is an opportunity for action.
As Maya and Giovania reflected on the impacts of the Covid-19 crisis in their communities, both emphasized the ways that the voices of low income communities of color are ever critical in public sector decision making. In the case of Sacramento, Maya is seeing the city engage communities in ways she hoped they would for some time, but the pandemic elevated it as a priority. Giovania’s experience in New York City suggests that this is an opportune moment for communities of color and allies in government to push elected officials to be more accountable and develop transformative, anti-racist policies and practices.
Lesson 3: Relationships are the currency of change.
Across all aspects of their work, Maya and Giovania recognize the essential nature of building relationships at all levels of the systems they are trying to change. “It’s about understanding the entire network system that you’re working in and maintaining good relationships with as many elements of that network as you can,” Maya said. And that requires organizers spanning government and community “to work on both the systemic and interpersonal levels,” Giovania reflected. While this relationship building work can be complex, Maya and Giovania reminded me that it is also what makes it all worth it.
As they have moved this work forward, both leaders have evolved their understanding of success. “I’m happy if at the end of a process I look around and there are different people at the table than there were when I started,” said Maya. By partnering with folks both inside and outside of the public sector they are working towards a shared vision of government working on behalf of all people. Giovania reflected in conclusion that they have intentionally decided to work in the public sector in order to “transform the way government works with communities of color, in a way that allows them to identify their vision, support them in achieving collective goals, and co-develop policies and practices that work towards equity and justice.” Our hope is that our network of public servants can emulate these approaches to advance policy and practice that shifts power and creates more racially equitable communities.
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If you’ve been reading our blog for awhile, you may already be familiar with the concept of “open sourcing social change.” It’s a decentralized, collaborative way of learning; sharing lessons; and communicating about our work. At its core, open sourcing social change is about solving complex, multidisciplinary, and seemingly intractable issues at scale by sharing knowledge and lessons with our partners and the broader field in real time. The hope is that by sharing what we are learning, we can help others do their work better by not making the same mistakes we made.
We’ve been operating under the open sourcing social change model for about a decade now, and we have learned a lot about the approach. One thing we have learned and invested in recently is the tight connection required between learning, communications, and our performance management processes. In most places, these functions would be separate entities, but we have intentionally created a unified team that serves these functions. We saw that by bringing together our learning work with our communications team, we can make sure our content meets the immediate needs of our network. And overlaying performance management with these functions helps ensure that our initiatives are contributing to the results we wish to see, through their content strategy and learning processes.
The combination of these functions has been challenging at times, as most people do not have all of these competencies at once. Typically, organizations are really good at data analysis or really good at storytelling, but not usually both. But we have seen the value in this combination and want to share our lessons on the process in a true open-sourced fashion.
Marrying Functions for Stronger Results
We call our unified team “Learning, Storytelling and Results.” We believe that marrying the learning function with our storytelling as well as performance and results work produces stronger results in the real world. With the support of a singular LSR team, Living Cities initiatives take the time they need to discuss what they’re learning, evaluate their programs, and codify and make meaning of those lessons. With those lessons codified, LSR can then help package those lessons into content that’s compelling and accessible to an audience of practitioners working to close racial gaps. We have created infographics, guides, and interactive timelines based on these learnings. And through that content and storytelling, Living Cities can see what resonates with the field, gather additional interesting practices from others, and feed that information back into our learning process.
Ensuring a Strong Feedback Loop
Fine-tuning those processes and ensuring a strong feedback loop took an entirely new approach to how these formerly separate teams worked. We had to start with a team vision, as well as norms and values that would guide how we work together and how we collaborate within the organization. We set up regular reflection sessions across teams to ensure that everyone understood what each team was learning, and why. We developed new tools and resources for teams, like quarterly data dashboards and a list of learning-oriented check-in questions for meetings, plus the processes to go with them.
Central to this process was also an internal culture-building plan. We created a new “Learning, Storytelling and Results” internal newsletter that highlights major learnings each month, and we established templates that would allow teams to plan both their learning agendas and their related content strategies. Additionally, we have regular open office hours that give staff an opportunity to pose relevant questions to LSR team members and find support. Finally, we deeply support our “learning liaisons,” a unique role within the organization.
Supporting Our Learning Liaisons
Essential to all of this work is the role of “learning liaisons” – point people to the learning process on each Living Cities initiative. Learning liaisons are deployed strategically across our initiatives to “hold” the connection between communications, learning and performance management and ensure their teams are upholding the procedures and processes that more tightly connect the functions. They also make connections across teams. If one team learns something that is relevant to another, the right people can benefit from that learning.
Without the learning liaisons, we couldn’t produce more than 150 discrete pieces of content each year. While we do have core communications staff to issue organizational-level guidance, support our digital platforms, and share best practices, it’s the learning liaisons that support the distributed learning, results and communications model.
Centering Racial Equity in the Process
In addition to supporting the learning liaisons in their work, LSR considers itself a crucial operational partner when it comes to racial equity and inclusion. From the sample agendas we create for teams and our creative briefs to our regular racial equity pause points and special campaigns, LSR is constantly looking for ways to infuse racial equity into learning, storytelling and results processes so that teams do not need to treat racial equity as an add-on but rather a central value and driving force in these important bodies of work.
In the coming weeks, we will follow up this introductory blog on LSR with more specific posts that dig into storytelling with a racial equity lens, racial equity-centered emergent learning tools and strategies, our learning liaison role and processes, and our theory of change and performance measurement procedures. All are designed to help our network more tightly connect their learning, monitoring and evaluation, and communications work for maximum impact.
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We’re at a turning point in American history. More people are waking up and understanding that we have never had a fair and just system that served everyone. People of color, especially Black people, have always been left out. Now more than ever, we need to all have frank discussions on how we can continue supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.
At Living Cities, one way we do this is through our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), where staff can come together across self-identified categories to reflect on their collective history and support each other to be anti-racist. Our Asian ERG has had multiple gut-wrenching discussions on how we’ve internalized white supremacy in our culture and how we have to actively fight against anti-Blackness within our communities. We believe that in these extraordinary times, a racist system that has tricked a large percentage of the Asian community into complacency, has finally been exposed. Now is the time to come together with other historically disenfranchised groups to combat white supremacist culture.
The complacency began around the 80’s when it seemed like racism against Asians disappeared and the group became the “model minority.” The community as a whole was being praised for keeping their head down, working hard and studying hard– it was the “Asian success story.” However, this sudden change in the system was for a nefarious purpose. That term was coined in 1966, at the height of the civil rights movement, to drive a wedge between Asians and Blacks who were fighting for equal rights. Specifically, the term suggested that Asians were succeeding because of their strong cultural and education values without the help of the system, even though they experienced discrimination as well such as the Japanese internment camps. In actuality, Brown University economist Nathaniel Hilger said in his 2016 research paper that “Asians used to be paid like Blacks but between 1940 and 1970, they started to get paid like whites.” Because white people were a little less racist against Asians, they gave Asians more opportunity in the workplace.
While some touted the pandemic as a “great equalizer,” it is readily apparent that all is not equal, and that uprooting an inequitable system must be our mutual struggle.
Fast forward to today. From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Asian community has been reliving the past when they were considered the “yellow peril”. The community became a target for our President, who incited discrimination and xenophobia by calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” and “Kung-flu”. The “model minority” was no more, and a rapid rise in hate crimes targeted the entire Asian community. However, as the COVID-19 death toll rose, we saw even more the entrenched impact of systematic racism, as non-white communities were shown to be especially hard hit. As of June 24, APM Research Lab found that the COVID-19 mortality rate for Black Americans is 2.3 times as high as the rate for Whites, and 2.2 times as high as the Latinx rate. When we disaggregate the data for Asians, we see that the Filipino community, as a result of American imperialism during the 1900s, has a high percentage of healthcare workers and in some states medical personnel account for as many as 20% of known coronavirus cases. So while some touted the pandemic as a “great equalizer,” it is readily apparent that all is not equal, and that uprooting an inequitable system must be our mutual struggle.
Being in true solidarity is an ongoing practice, not just during moments of crisis.
Solidarity is a verb. It means taking action and being in daily practice. Building solidarity must first begin with building relationships. Being in true solidarity is an ongoing practice, not just during moments of crisis. However, when you are in a relationship with each other, during moments of crisis, you can mobilize quicker because there is already the trust. We both live in Queens and have seen mutual aid networks established quickly in response to the pandemic, in part because communities have been building relationships prior to this crisis. When the uprising happened in response to George Floyd’s brutal murder, the same networks and community organizations were able to come together and do ongoing political education, jail support and mobilizing people to be out in the streets. For Asian communities, witnessing the Hmong officer standing silently as George Floyd was murdered by a fellow officer, we are reminded of the very real violence of aligning with whiteness instead of our mutual struggle for liberation.
Our ERG hosted a space for our non-Black POC colleagues to continue talking about how we might stand in solidarity with Black people in this moment. We discussed the questions laid out in this post and reflected on how an allyship model takes away from being in solidarity towards our mutual struggle. What came out of the conversation underscored the importance of building transformative and trusted relationships.
We want to share two models of solidarity that resonated with us:
- Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM)’s model of transformative solidarity asks us to think about what power we want to actually shift when thinking about solidarity.
- The BIPOC Project’s Principles of Building Solidarity lays out concrete actions that we can start doing: decolonize stories, develop a power analysis, uplift Native and Black humanity, organize your people, build intergroup connections and relationships and commit to personal and collective healing.
This is the time to come together, understanding that the struggles we all face is rooted in white supremacy and a racist system that targets us all. Rather than giving in to the hateful rhetoric that is meant to divide us and pit us against each other, let us lift up each other and continue on this journey together. There are many ways to be involved:
- Organize, organize, organize! Talk to your family and friends about how white supremacy and anti-Blackness shows up in your community.
- Interrogate the networks and circles you are part of and build transformative relationships with your co-strugglers
- Learn more about the history of indigenous people and Black people in this country
- Support Black owned businesses
- Share stories uplifting Black and Asian solidarity.
- Challenge hateful rhetoric between our communities.
We all need to do our part. Just like anti-racism is a daily practice, solidarity is a practice too.
- Washington Post: The Real Secret to Asian American Success Was Not Education
- Why We Must Talk About the Asian American Story Too
- Asian American Racial Justice Toolkit
- Asian American Feminist Antibodies: Care In the Time of Coronavirus
- “Similar to Times of War”: The Staggering Toll of COVID-19 on Filipino Health Care Workers
Title art by Landon Sheely, from Just Seeds
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This year’s Juneteenth was one of the most anticipated and celebratory in recent history. For the first time, Juneeteenth was honored on a national scale. Organizations nationwide edited their handbooks to recognize the day as a company holiday; philanthropists such as Netflix’s CEO Reed Hastings, donated to historically Black colleges and offered funds and resources to Black causes and businesses. City officials like San Francisco Mayor London Breed redesigned policing policies that center the San Francisco community and in D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser unabashedly proclaimed Black Lives Matter, paying homage to the movement with a colossal mural artfully painted in a prominent city space and renaming the former 16th Street NW, Black Lives Matter Plaza. Several cities would follow this act of leadership.
Juneteenth 2020 was perhaps the first time in our nation’s recent history where Black people will remember a national effort to recognize Black humanity beyond our pain and adversities – a practice that has long been absent from philanthropy and the public sector. Philanthropy often celebrates the stories of Black people, but only in a self serving way that convinces donors that their plight can be overcome through grants and donations. This toxic practice relegates an already marginalized person to a box outlined by that single experience. Black people deserve to have stories told about the Black experience in a humane and holistic way. The coverage of Hurricane Katrina, where Black people were called looters and others were finding resources for survival, is one example.
Black people deserve to have stories told about the Black experience in a humane and holistic way.
As the digital strategist for Living Cities, I am intentional about capturing the plight and resilience of Black people in our work while also sharing stories of Black self-preservation, achievement, and joy. As a Black woman, I well-understand how Black narrative is multi-dimensional. Unfortunately, most strategic communicators who do not share this identity generally lack this understanding, showcasing perpetual stories of Black trauma with imagery reflecting the Black experience to the likes of a Great Depression – as if moments of happiness are fleeting.
While supporting the storytelling of more than a dozen major U.S. cities through our City Accelerator initiative, I noticed that some cities could not even name Black, and therefore failed at capturing the fullness of the Black experience. The cities’ narrative about Black people used limited terminology such as ‘diverse’ and ‘minorities’ in their messaging. This practice has precedent in the public sector. In 1989, the J.A. Croson v. City of Richmond decision required that government procurement programs establish a compelling interest to enact race-conscious programs. This Supreme Court decision was designed to stop the wave of local governments’ preference for Black people receiving state and city contracts in the 1980s and language of that era is still widely used today.
Philanthropists and public sector communicators must practice storytelling that is a humane representation of the Black experience. One way I have practiced holistic storytelling is with a campaign I self-asserted as ‘Black Joy Week’ that preceded June 19, 2020. That week, I posted stories on social media that were a reflection of Black resilience, progression and of course joy. View the Twitter thread here.
High-production storytelling efforts are great, however there are everyday tactics to implement that share Blackness authentically and fully. If you want to make a shift in your communications, here are four ways you can reflect Black joy when sharing stories related to the Black experience:
Publish Photos of Black People Smiling…and celebrating…in confidence…in peace…in joy.
Black people are humans, like anyone else, who experience a range of emotions beyond just sadness, seriousness and anger. Digital storytelling in philanthropy and the public sector should embrace diverse images representing the range of emotions experienced by Black people, inclusive of happy and empowering emotions.
And, your stories should exhibit variations of Blackness in hair texture and styles, eye and skin colors and abilities. My suggestion to combat the form of erasure that Croson laws enforced, is to show the faces of the group you speak of through photos.
Progress is a significant part of the Black narrative and is far too often omitted from stories of economic development centering Black people.
Incorporate Positive Statistics in Economic Development Stories
We get it. Racism has caused a deficit in Black wealth–and yet–the Black community has prevailed against all odds. Progress is a significant part of the Black narrative and is far too often omitted from stories of economic development centering Black people.
When talking about Black economy, it is imperative to source stories of advancement to accompany the statistics that highlight the disparities Black people face. Philanthropists and the public sector communicators might emphasize how:
- Black women hold the most associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in the United States
- Black entrepreneurship is soaring and so are their profits
- And how at least $7.4 million was spent with Black businesses through the 15-day national #MyBlackReceipt campaign, an initiative founded by a Black woman.
Support Black People in Sharing Their Own Stories.
Black voices are necessary. It is imperative that philanthropists and the public sector empower members of the Black community to narrate their own stories. For example, orgs might produce a video through the lens of the person. Black people are the experts of their own experiences. By providing a platform to elevate Black voices, Black storytelling is made more equitable and resonates with the audience in a more compelling way. To support a Black narrator, you can prompt them with a question like “What brought you joy this week?”
Encourage Authenticity in Stories.
Check your biases and times when you are attempting to censor a story to fit your organizational voice/brand/goal/intentions. It is common for a Black person to understand the necessity of code-switching when integrating in groups of non-Black people. There is an understanding that acting less Black, white people are disarmed thereby making the Black person safer to be around. This action can create/surface internalized ideals about Black people that white people come to subconsciously subscribe to.
While Juneteenth inevitably highlights some of this country’s egregious mistakes it is nicknamed “Jubilee Day” to center the resilience, aspirations, and joy of the Black experience. Just as there have been calls over the last few decades to recognize Black history and futures beyond Black History Month in February, Juneteenth 2020 has brought awareness to bringing humanity into these stories and uplifting Blackness.
Philanthropy and the public sector take heed.
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The fourth industrial revolution is upon us, and it is characterized by the modern technology and internet-enabled business. Similar to the previous industrial eras, the financial sector will be largely responsible for backing the iconic companies that define this century’s wealth distribution – whether that is equitable or otherwise. This flywheel of entrepreneurship and the financial backers that enable them are the keys to achieving racial equity in our lifetimes.
However, Black, Indigenous and other People of Color (BIPOC) are underrepresented on both accounts: receiving funding and managing funds throughout the entire capital stack of the US financial system. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in venture capital, which is specifically designed to back founders that will build the companies of the future. Yet Black founders and funders alike receive less than 1% of capital. Worst still, the racist financial system is costing America money. This continued underinvestment deprives our society of the superior financial returns BIPOC fund managers yield and the potential racial equity obtained through wealth generation for the founders and early employees. These disparities mirror the other racial injustices that have been laid bare in 2020: the documented effects of the pandemic on the lives of people of color, the heightened mainstream attention to police violence against Black people, and the mass demonstrations that were sparked in response to these crises.
The Ally Continuum: Welcome To The Party
Moving beyond knee-jerk solidarity gestures and social media posts, some institutions have taken an encouraging anti-racist stance, committing to fund BIPOC fund managers and recognizing the pivotal role they play in achieving economic racial equity. Even without equitable funding, the median net worth of Black founders not only exceeds that of Black non-business owners by 12 times, but is generated faster than the employment income of their peers. As technology journalist, Web Smith, founder of 2pm, coined, “Make the Hire, Send the Wire” – today’s call to action for those with a platform to make anti-racist, active choices and reshape who is empowered to build the future.
The recent announcements by PayPal – with its $500M Economic Opportunity Fund commitment to Black VC GPs – and Google, via its $150M commitment, are welcome additions to the fight for economic justice and steps in the right direction. Google’s move serves as a model for doubling down on an existing commitment to the alpha-driven “fund of funds” that Plexo Capital, which has an established pipeline of BIPOC fund managers, built through long-standing relationships.
These new entrants to the party fighting for racial equality have two vital components:
- Some of the most meaningful work will be done without fanfare or broad recognition but based on a true long-term commitment to the flywheel created by investing in BIPOC fund managers.
- There is a need to work through existing channels to adequately manage relationships and speed up distribution of the capital.
Double Down: Amplify Those Already Doing The Work
The work is not new; the concepts are not novel. Many organizations have pioneered the work of channeling capital to BIPOC fund managers, like JoAnn Price of Fairview Capital or Mona Williams of Progress Investment Management or Renae Griffin of GCM Consortium, which largely serves corporate and public pensions. There exists no shortage of tireless champions of emerging BIPOC fund managers:
- Tiffany Moore at the Consumer Technology Association spearheaded their $10M commitment to BIPOC fund managers investing with a diversity lens
- Agnes Dasewicz at the Kauffman Foundation’s Capital Access Lab supporting funding managers using unconventional early stage financing, like revenue based lending similar to Jewel Burks at Collab Capital
- Jack Knellinger at Capria VC backing internationally focused fund managers
- Demetric Duckett at Living Cities’ Capital for the New Majority, catalyzing GP financing for BIPOC fund managers
- Rodney Sampson’s ambitious 100 Black Angels that has been an LP in several BIPOC funds
- Several national networks supporting fund managers, such as Bob Greene of NAIC, Bahiyah Yasmeen Robinson of VC Include, Sydney Sykes of BLK VC, Sergio Marrero of LTX VC and Betty Salanic of Accelerate Investors
As your corporations, foundations, family offices and other institutions consider how to align your capital with your anti-racist aspirations, I urge you to practice radical collaboration with the economic justice warriors around you. This is the time to double down and super charge these existing efforts to the scale of the challenge faced. While there is certainly room for new models and partnerships to achieve strategic objectives, this is a call to action to partner with those already well versed in betting on Black. There isn’t a moment to waste on relationship building or process formulation – it’s that part of the dance where you select your partner and simply just “Make the Hire or Send the Wire.”
Chinedu Enekwe is the General Partner at Aux21 Capital and a member of the Builders & Benefactors network, a community of principally Black fund managers and investors using their power to shift how the capital systems work. In the Context of the Capital for the New Majority strategy, this community of innovators informs our exploration into new ways of using capital for addressing the country’s racial wealth gaps.
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