Thursday, January 22, 2009

Yes We Did; Now Are We Done?

Ah, yes. It is done. Change has finally come to The White House.

For millions of Americans, our country's shameful legacy of racism and inequality was effectively muted at 12pm on January 20, 2009, when a man with a name like Barack Hussein Obama was elected to the highest post in the land. As President Obama so eloquently stated in his inaugural address, "This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed...and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served in a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.” Yet, while significant progress has been made in reforming the face of our political system, the work is far from over in ensuring equality for all.

African American and Hispanic students still lag behind their white counterparts in obtaining their high school diploma. The foreclosure crisis and environmental pollution continues to disproportionately impact communities of color. Subtle bias in hiring decisions effectively limits minority populations from attaining meaningful employment. Unfortunately, the list continues.

These are all issues that President Obama's administration is undoubtedly aware of. Various nonprofit civil rights groups have already reached out to him, highlighting the work that still must be done to improve the lives of disenfranchised communities. For social justice funders, now (more than ever) is the time to stand firm with these groups to fight for equality.

We all know the scale of the current economic crisis, enhanced for many by the Madoff scandal. Several foundations and community organizations have had to close their doors as a result.

Yet, the philanthropic community must stay the course in supporting social justice programs.

As changes are occurring at the national level, we must continue to mirror these changes on the ground. And let's not look at the solution to this problem as simply a monetary one. Funders have various levels of capacity. Below are my thoughts on how philanthropy is uniquely situated to continue addressing civil rights issues in the Age of Obama.

1) Funder Collaboratives. Many grantmakers have realized the power of pooling their money in addressing social ills. This format not only allows likeminded funders to share strategies with each other but it reduces the amount of time that nonprofits spend approaching these grantmakers for support.

2) Knowledge Management. Grantmakers have done an excellent job of sharing best practices. Whether it’s online through a foundation's Web site or convening grantees, funders are already highlighting the wealth found in peer learning circles.

3) Harnessing the Power of Peer Pressure. Funders that support social justice and advocacy efforts are already aware of the importance of using their resources to address inequity. However, there are others that do not for a variety of reasons. Through organizations like EPIP, grantmakers can continue to highlight the need for social justice funding within the philanthropic community.

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