Learn more about innovative city leaders who are working to build more inclusive, equitable, and cooperative economies, and catalyzing conversations about how municipal policy can be best used to build community wealth. Join a livestream conference Friday 01/29 at 1:00 p.m. (EST).
The conference has been organized by the Democracy Collaborative in partnership with the Surdna Foundation and hosted by the CUNY School of Law Community and Economic Development Clinic. Surdna President Phillip Henderson will offer introductory remarks.
The conference follows the publication of the Surdna-funded report Cities Building Community Wealth which profiles cities that have taken an alternative approach to traditional development practices in which economic development professionals and mayors are working in partnership with foundations, anchor institutions, unions, community organizations, progressive business networks, workers, and community residents.
What's emerging is a systems approach to creating an inclusive, sustainable economy where all can thrive. The work is place-based, fed by the power of anchor institutions, and built on locally rooted and broadly held ownership. It's about building community wealth.
In December, Phillip Henderson, President of the Surdna Foundation, shared a captivating travelogue as part of the Cleveland Foundation's FRED Talks series. The event marked the 10th anniversary of theGreater University Circle Initiative, a collaboration among the city's leading anchor institutions, philanthropies, financial institutions. The essay that follows is a condensed version of the December event.
This past summer was an unusual one in the Henderson household. In early August, my older son Archie was heading off to his first year of college. Among other things, this meant that my wife, Liz, and I would share an entire month with just our younger son, Peter, until he started his junior year of high school in early September. Like lots of families, we typically take a vacation sometime in August, which is often the focus of protracted negotiation. But this summer we decided to leave it to Peter to choose where we might like to go.
When given this chance, Peter thought a bit and then said that he might like to take a road trip to see what he called the "iconic cities of the Midwest." To which we responded: "what the heck are the 'iconic cities of the Midwest.'" Peter said, "Well, you know, like Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit...those places."
Liz and I thought about it a bit, and to my ears it sounded more like work than pleasure. But, as it turned out, neither Peter nor Liz had ever been to any of these cities. So we decided to take the leap. We pulled out of our Northern New Jersey driveway in mid-August for a two week swing through the Upper Midwest, stopping for a day or two in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, my hometown of Lansing, and Chicago. It was an amazing trip!
What We, No, What THEY Saw
Of course, I had visited all of these cities many, many times. Mostly on work trips and inevitably with a packed schedule of meetings. But experiencing these places at a more enjoyable pace-as a tourist-with two people who'd never visited them, was a completely different experience. And what they saw in these places, helped me see them differently.
These cities are, simply put, beautiful. The riverfronts in Pittsburgh and Detroit. The lakeshores of Cleveland and Chicago. The beautiful Art Deco architecture throughout the region. The funky neighborhoods. These are cities with much to show-and much to show off. And, given that the imagery we have of these places all too often focuses on rust and decline, this beauty was something of a surprise for Peter and Liz.
Culture was everywhere we went. It's present in what foods you're supposed to eat while you visit. In Detroit, you've got to order aConey. It was a culinary tour of all manners of hot dogs, sausages, heaping mountains of French fries and not a green vegetable to be seen. But it's also culture in the more traditional sense-museums, public gardens, libraries, churches, synagogues, mosques, galleries, and other cultural institutions. Culture was such a strong feeling throughout our trip.
And added to culture was a deep sense of history. These are cities of neighborhoods, with very clear, and often delicious, evidence everywhere you go of successive waves of immigration. The economic history of the United States is just as evident. Practically every block in these cities somehow marks the rise and decline of the industrial economy. You can see retail space and offices of high tech companies that had earlier lives as factories; churches converted to museums; and other evidence of the future in structures from the past. This is just a fundamentally different experience than what you see in other parts of the U.S.
Finally, what they saw, what they felt, was a surprising-to them at least-feeling of optimism and opportunity. Stuff was happening in these places. These seemed like places to be, and not places to flee.
What I Know
Seen through the eyes of first timers, these cities were a revelation. And I know that what Peter and Liz saw was not an accident of some sort. Particularly that ever-present sense of optimism and possibility, an almost tangible product of decades' of work. Some of these cities have been blessed by strong and effective mayors and other city
officials. In other cases that leadership has been lacking. But in all cases, community-based groups and nonprofit organizations have been hard at work for decades to arrest the decline of these cities and lay the groundwork for growth and renewal. And, if there's one thing that the cities of the Midwest have in surprising abundance, it's philanthropy. The impressive number of foundations dedicated to the long-term health and well-being of their communities are a legacy of the great industrial might of the Midwest in the early 20th century.
In recent years, community leaders have observed that so-called "anchor" institutions were an untapped asset in these cities and communities. Anchor institutions-colleges and universities, hospitals and medical institutions-are of the community, aren't relocating, and yet were not fully embracing the connection between their own success and the success of the communities in which they are based. With the help and commitment of foundations and other partners, over the past decade or so, these anchors have been innovators. They realize that by strategically leveraging their economic and political heft they can help re-imagine the future of their cities.
One of the things that makes anchors unique-and this is especially true of educational and medical institutions-is that they are about more than just the bottom line. Most are not profit-seeking, but rather they are mission-driven institutions. Over the long term, they understand that their success is synonymous with the success of the broader community. Without a thriving community around them, universities can't attract students, or top notch talent. And hospitals must be considered failures if they cannot fulfill their ultimate mission of helping to create a healthier populous.
And if anchors are mission-driven, this means that the kinds of leaders that are attracted to and ultimately succeed in these institutions are people who think more holistically about success. And the most successful anchor leaders leverage their positions to advocate in the policy world, among their fellow leaders, and within their institutions to further the momentum for equitable economic growth and change within their communities.
At the heart of the anchor movement, is a commitment to move communities out of poverty-especially ridding cities of entrenched, multi-generational poverty. This is because morally it's the right thing to do, but it's also because these institutions have come to understand that real progress is about providing opportunities for upward economic mobility and improving livability of communities. It's a about addressing poverty. And it's critically important to face the fact that in the cities I visited this summer, but really in American cities more generally, poverty and race are deeply connected. And so by identifying poverty as the central focus for our work, we are also naming race and equity as central challenges we are trying to solve.
We will face a number of challenges in the next ten or 20 years, and anchor institutions will be required to evolve if they are to remain fundamental to solving the problems of poverty and opportunity in our cities. So that they continue to create positive change, there are three areas that deserve the attention and thought of anchors: culture, jobs, and demographics.
A visitor's experience to these "iconic cities of the Midwest" is deeply cultural. But all too often, when we are trying to solve big problems, we shunt culture aside and think of it as a "nice to have" and not a "have to have." Culture is the fabric of communities, and it's what transforms places from points on a map where we just so happen to live, into flourishing communities that are great places to live a life. I would challenge us to always include leaders of major cultural institutions in the various conversations where urban problems are being addressed. Culture needs to be at the core of how we think about our communities' future.
Of course, one of the critical tools for solving poverty is job growth. And the economic might of these institutions makes job creation a key element of their interventions. But I would challenge us to extend our thinking beyond simply creating more jobs to focus on creating more good jobs. This means working to raise wages and benefits, both directly within anchor institutions and through influencing the anchors' vendors and business partners, and by using the civic- minded leadership of the anchors to influence jobs policy more broadly. But job quality is also about changing our assumptions about ownership, and considering cooperative business models-like what's being done in Cleveland through the Evergreen Cooperative-to increase not only wages but wealth in communities. Anchors have the power to change markets, and improve job quality through using that power.
Finally, demographics. We have all heard that the United States is going to become a majority minority country in 25 or 30 years. And many American cities have already reached that milestone. By acknowledging this reality as a source of strength and embracing a more inclusive model of economic growth, we will be better positioned to produce more and better jobs. However, if we are unsuccessful in dealing with entrenched poverty, if we can't help to spread prosperity throughout our communities, we will not see the kind of dynamic future we all want. The demographic destiny of the United States is real, and we must embrace that reality.
It was a weird decision, this trip to "iconic cities of the Midwest." But it was eye opening in so many ways. We got to glimpse the America of the past and the America of the future-almost simultaneously. We came away energized and hopeful about what's before us in this country, and, perhaps most importantly, my spouse and younger son became fans of those iconic cities. Maybe next summer we'll be back with friends!
The Surdna Foundation seeks a dynamic and thoughtful Executive Assistant to support the President and provide select support to the Human Resources and Administrative Manager at its Midtown Manhattan office.
The Executive Assistant provides support to the President’s office and, as appropriate, to the Human Resources and Administrative Manager, and serves as the point person for administrative matters related to the Board of Directors. S/he works closely and actively with the President, managing schedules and communications, and event planning with internal and external meetings.
Now online is a June webinar from the National Endowment for the Arts’ Social Impact Design Now series titled ‘Beyond Design School: Supporting the Next Generation of Practitioners.”
Led by Surdna’s Jessica Garz of the foundation’s thriving Cultures program, the webinar examines the existing structures of support for designers working with social impact and social justice goals. Garz leads a panel of speakers who run university-based training programs, organizations with fellowship opportunities for emerging leaders, and groups that provide funding to design-based organizations. The conversation covered the current landscape and future opportunities for field-wide growth.
The three-part webinar series, Social Impact Design NOW, explores how the field of Social Impact Design (or Public Interest Design or Human Centered Design) has changed since the NEA hosted a summit on the topic in 2012, in partnership with the Lemelson Foundation and the Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum. That gathering asked three primary questions: Where are the gaps in the field? What organizational models are successful? and How can we educate the next generation of designers to do this work? Since 2012, there have been both subtle and dramatic changes in the field, with new approaches to academic and public education, a broadening awareness of Social Impact Design in general, and notable change in who is doing the work and how they do it.
State Tax Notes magazine today honored Good Jobs First, a Surdna Foundation grantee, as one of two notable organizations of the year for 2015.
Citing last winter’s proposed new disclosure rule on economic development tax breaks from the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), STN wrote that “…Good Jobs First took the lead in pushing for the rules to be strengthened and approved. It rallied its supporters and like-minded organizations, coordinating a massive letter-writing campaign in support of the new standards.” Almost 300 comments were filed, STN noted, “far more than any other project launched in the last five years.” GASB Statement No. 77 takes effect on public budgets starting December 16 and later.
An essay in theChronicle of Philanthropyby Shawn Escoffery of the Surdna Foundation and Good Jobs First executive director Greg LeRoy helped to catalyze funders in support of the proposed changes.
STN also cited GASB Statement No. 77 as one of the most meaningful tax issues of 2015. “Although the final rules don’t do everything Good Jobs First and others had hoped, the effort was successful, and GASB approved the new rules in August, setting the stage for a wealth of new reporting and analysis on how expenditures
will affect state and local budgets when the reports begin including the new information in 2017,” it reported.
“We are deeply honored to be recognized by the publication of record on state tax policy,” said LeRoy. “STN’s opinions matter a great deal to everyone who cares about sound tax policies, including economic development tax expenditures.”
Two-thousand fifteen was the third year in a row that Good Jobs First has been recognized for its contributions to United States public policy.
In 2014, GIS Planning, Inc. and fDI Intelligence (a division of the Financial Times in London) gave LeRoy an Economic Development Leadership Award as “a recognized and committed leader in educating and informing decision makers and communities on the ‘truth’ of incentives based on in-depth research, case studies and white papers.”
In 2013, the U.S. Library of Congress notified Good Jobs First that the Library would begin permanently archiving the content of Good Jobs First’s website as a historically important public policy record.
This is the second time State Tax Notes has honored Good Jobs First: In 1999, it interviewed LeRoy as part of a series on people who had an impact on state tax policy during the 20th century.
The Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) and Jobs to Move America, a national coalition uniting more than 50 community, faith, labor, and civil rights organizations, released a new report about opportunities for American job creation through transportation procurement policies, called “Strengthening U.S. Manufacturing Through Public Procurement Policies.” The report was funded in part by the Surdna Foundation.
The report comes after Congress approved the first long-term transportation bill in 10 years, Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, on Friday, December 4. The FAST Act included the Buy America provision, which sets domestic content standards for the transportation purchases by Department of Transportation grantees to ensure that American tax dollars support U.S. manufacturing jobs.
The report was unveiled at a briefing on Capitol Hill Tuesday, December 8, at the Rayburn House Office Building’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Hearing Room. Reps. Dave Joyce (OH-14) and Dan Lipinski (IL-3), co-chairs of the Congressional Buy American Caucus, provided introductory remarks.
Robert Pollin, Distinguished Professor of Economics, Co-Director, Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), and co-author of the study, discussed key findings including how significant reforms of the “Buy America” program of the Department of Transportation can strengthen domestic railcar manufacturers and workers in this sector.
“Promoting manufacturing is a way to build jobs; we have lost five million manufacturing jobs in recent years,” said Pollin. “Strengthening monitoring and enforcement of Buy America provisions is crucial to ensure the creation of more manufacturing jobs.”
“Buying American is one of the fastest and most effective ways to create jobs and give the overall economy a boost. This legislation will help ensure that we are supporting American workers, especially the hard-working middle class,” said Rep. Lipinski (see statement).
To connect policy implications to personal impact for American workers, 11 workers from six states shared testimonies of their experiences working in transportation manufacturing. These included:
About The Political Economy Research Institute
Established in 1998,The Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) is an independent unit of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, with close ties to the Department of Economics. PERI promotes human and ecological well-being through our original research. Our approach is to translate what we learn into workable policy proposals that are capable of improving life on our planet today and in the future. In the words of the late Professor Robert Heilbroner, we at PERI “strive to make a workable science out of morality.”
About Jobs to Move America
Jobs to Move Americais a national coalition uniting more than 50 community, faith, labor, and civil rights organizations to maximize the value of U.S. tax dollars spent on public transit investments. Jobs to Move America is bringing a delegation of 11 transit workers from six states to Washington, D.C. to share their stories of how good jobs in transportation manufacturing are impacting their lives, their families, and their communities.
Join us for a free event organized by the Democracy Collaborative, the CUNY School of Law Community and Economic Development Clinic, and the Surdna Foundation. We'll be highlighting the work of innovative city leaders working to build more inclusive, equitable, and cooperative economies, and catalyzing conversations about how municipal policy can be best used to build community wealth.
January 29th, 2016 * 1-5 PM
Confirmed speakers, panelists, and moderators include:
A reception from 5-7 will follow the panel discussions.
Not in NYC in January? We'll be making a livestream available for a nationwide audience.
This article is reprinted from the original which was published by the Foundation Center on its blog PhilanTopic: a blog of opinion and commentary
President, Surdna Foundation
December 4, 2015
When I came to Surdna Foundation in 2007, I spent several months just talking with people about the foundation and what they knew of it. Thanks in large measure to the extraordinary family and executive leadership up to that point, Surdna had a stellar reputation for creative, impactful grantmaking. But as I dug deeper, I realized that Surdna staff and board didn't have the language to explain why we funded the things we were funding. We couldn't articulate why some things felt right, while others simply didn't make the grade. I helped us get started on a process to carefully examine what we'd been doing for the previous twenty years - and to think together about what it was that was the glue that held that work together. Most of us could feel it and even identify which grants were bull's eyes, and which weren't.
Several concepts emerged from that examination, concepts that formed the basis of our new mission statement: family, community, sustainability, and social justice. These core concepts felt both broadly consistent with the values that had been set forth by our founder, John E. Andrus, nearly one hundred years ago, and relevant to the work we wanted to do going forward.
Our story suggests that sometimes it only takes the simple step of naming what it is that you care about to begin the journey toward more effective, responsive philanthropy. Since adopting our new mission statement, social justice has become the key to understanding who we are as a family foundation and what work we want to do to help communities thrive across the United States. We're proud to have this process featured in a new report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy: Families Funding Change: How Social Justice Giving Honors Our Roots and Empowers Communities (16 pages, PDF).
We share with NCRP the view that empowering communities to solve the problems of poverty, injustice, and inequity should become more prominent in the work of foundations, especially family foundations. We have long supported the work of NCRP and the principles they stand for. We have done so even as we have been on our own journey as a funder working towards those principles. We have always believed that learning is a key part of who we are and, really, core to what makes good philanthropy. I encourage you to read the Families Funding Change report and consider how Surdna's experience with social justice philanthropy, and the experiences of other featured funders, can inform your own work.
By choosing to frame our mission as one "grounded in principles of social justice," the board made explicit their understanding that equity and social justice must be a frame of reference for all of our work. Indeed, this framework reflects the values of the family today. Of course, a mission statement is merely words on a page unless it is put at the center of the work. And with our board's leadership, we have kept that mission in mind as we have built grantmaking programs and revamped the foundation strategies and staff. It has been a remarkable thing to see how our explicit naming of social justice has shaped the foundation from the bottom to the top.
Social justice helped us clarify our work - both our strategies and who benefits from those strategies. But social justice is so much more than a term; it is at the center of how we foster sustainable communities. Each social justice funder must define the term in a way that is consistent with their philanthropic intentions. Family funders especially have to find that expression of social justice most comfortable for them. At Surdna, when we speak about our work, we start by acknowledging that inequity exists in many forms, including country of origin, class, race, immigration status, sexual orientation and ability, among other group identities. And our grant strategies explicitly focus on restoring a fundamental sense of fairness; confronting structural barriers and systemic inequities; and changing power relations. This approach not only gets results; it's in keeping with the Andrus family values that motivate all Surdna does.
As we built new programs and strategies that were consistent with the new mission, something remarkable began to happen. Not only did this process force us to reflect on what changes we needed to make in our work, but it also illustrated the urgency of bringing on staff members and new philanthropic partners and grantees that were committed to this work. It encouraged us to bring our now clearly stated principles into conversations about art, economic opportunity, and environmental work. This clarity about our social justice orientation also reshaped our board, attracting remarkable new members both from the Andrus family and beyond who brought with them fresh new perspectives.
I am optimistic that if more family funders take a step back to closely examine the role they want their philanthropic assets to play in the long-term accomplishment of their goals - whatever they may be - they will see the enormous potential for impact with more grants for nonprofit advocacy, community organizing, and civic engagement.
Surdna Foundation has a social justice grantmaking story to tell, and not because we have it all figured out or because we have done something unprecedented. Our journey over the past several decades has not been heroic or extraordinary, but there are experiences we've had and lessons we've learned that might be helpful to other family foundations considering a shift toward social justice grantmaking.
To some, dedicating ourselves to fundamentally combating systemic injustice may sound too bold or even misaligned with some family foundations' missions. But if progress toward the type of broad societal change many family donors envision is ever to be achieved, almost by necessity social justice must be an animating value in their giving.
Phillip Henderson is president of the Surdna Foundation.
Governors and state legislators routinely praise small businesses for their contributions to economic growth and job creation, but states actually give big businesses the dominant share of their economic development incentive awards.
An analysis of more than 4,200 economic development incentive awards in 14 states finds that large companies receive dominant shares: 70 percent of the deals and 90 percent of the dollars. The deals, worth more than $3.2 billion, were granted by programs that are facially accessible to both small and large companies. More than 500 other state incentive programs were disqualified for analysis because they have barriers to entry that exclude small businesses and favor big businesses.
That is the key finding of Shortchanging Small Business, a study released today by Good Jobs First. It was funded by the Surdna Foundation and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. All findings and policy conclusions are solely those of Good Jobs First.
“State economic development spending is profoundly biased against small, local and entrepreneurial businesses,” said Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First and lead author of the study. “Our findings definitively confirm what many small businesspeople have long believed.”
The 14 states where the awards were analyzed are Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.
There is slight variation in the degree of big-business dominance among the states (80 to 96 percent of the dollars) but that is meaningless, since the programs vary as do the industrial profiles of the states. The key finding is how consistently the programs grossly favor big businesses.
The study, based on a close examination of the recipient companies, designates businesses as large or small based on their employment size as well as their total number of establishments and whether they are locally or independently owned.
“As a policy solution, we do not recommend simply reallocating deals and dollars,” said LeRoy. “These tax-break deals often mean little to small businesses. Instead, states should reform their incentive rules by tightening eligibility to exclude large recipients. The resulting savings could better fund public goods that benefit all employers and help small businesses with the persistent credit crunch.”
Short of excluding big businesses, the report recommends states spend much less on large companies by using safeguards such as dollar caps per deal, dollar caps per job, and dollar caps per company.
Good Jobs First is a non-profit, non-partisan resource center promoting accountability in economic development. Founded in 1998, it is based in Washington DC
Elizabeth Mendez Berry
Program Officer, Thriving Cultures
Access to arts and culture is a fundamental human right, according to the United Nations’ Universal Declaration. But like so many human rights, the ideal does not always translate to the reality, and too often, the arts are only available to the lucky few.
Disparities in access were a recurring theme at the National Guild for Community Arts Education Conference, held from November 11-13 in Philadelphia, which I attended on behalf of the Surdna Foundation. The conference kicked off at the Philadelphia Clef Club, the headquarters of the local Black musicians’ union, founded in 1935 when African American musicians were not allowed entry into the segregated musicians union.
The evening began with a rollicking jazz performance by the Philadelphia Clef Club Youth Ensemble. Then the panel began; in his presentation, Mark Stern of the University of Pennsylvania’s Social Impact of the Arts project talked about how unequally philanthropic dollars are distributed to arts organizations. According to Stern, analyzing Philadelphia arts funding between 2003 and 2013, 96 percent of dollars went to advantaged neighborhoods, while only one percent went to disadvantaged ones (as defined by his social wellbeing index).
Guild Executive Director Jonathan Herman added data that demonstrated how access to arts education among young people of color has plummeted over the last 30 years. In 1982, 51% of African American students and 47% of Latino students received some arts education. 26 years later, in 2008, 26% of African American and 28% of Latino youth did. Meanwhile the rates of arts education for white students went from 59% in 1982 to 58% in 2008. So access for African-American and Latino students dropped by almost half, while access for white students remained steady.
These statistics provided the backdrop for the 78th annual conference of the Guild, which, according to its website, “supports and advances lifelong learning opportunities in the arts.” But while the conference addressed pedagogical questions, and provided arts organizations the opportunity to share resources and strategies, it also offered another focus. Like all educators, the members of the Guild confront the contexts their students find themselves in. And so this conference had a strong social justice flavor to it, with two of the major plenaries focusing on cultural equity and several of the sessions dealing with racial justice, criminal justice and working with students who are survivors of trauma.
In addition to these social questions, the conference addressed the sector’s own challenges. The Guild hosted its first ever people of color (POC) only session, on POCs in arts education leadership, a session which launched the Guild’s new ALAANA (African, Latin, Asian, Arabic, Native American) Network, “which will convene people of color in community arts education to name and prioritize goals that address structural barriers and advance POC leadership in the arts.”
For organizations that are grappling with internal racial issues, Tynesha McHarris of the New York-based NoVo Foundation and Elizabeth Whitford of Seattle’s Arts Corps led a session called “The Journey of Becoming an Anti-Racist Organization.” Whitford talked about the process of transforming Arts Corps—which offers teens arts training— from an organization that worked predominantly in communities of color, but was largely staffed by white people, to one that is representative of the communities it serves. The shift began when some of the organization’s staff pushed for an internal racial justice process, and the staff went through an “Undoing Racism” training with the Peoples’ Institute for Survival and Beyond. “We started making racial justice more of a focus of our professional development,” she said. “It was pretty messy at the beginning but that was an indicator of how needed it was.”
The process wasn’t easy. “When we did the organizational assessment, that was probably the tensest moment we had,” she said.But the organization forged ahead, and has since made a competency in and commitment to racial justice issues one of its priorities, both in hiring staff and when pursuing new board members. “It’s taken eight years or so, but now the board is really driving the race and social justice agenda for the organization,” said Whitford. “Our programming has changed. We now do more race and social justice focused programming than we used to and we invest more in the leadership of youth of color.” The organization now has 10 people of color and 5 white people on staff, and the board is now half people of color.
McHarris focused on philanthropic issues. “When everything is directed to help white people be less racist, there’s not enough room for people of color,” said McHarris, who previously worked at the Brooklyn Community Foundation (BCF), where she led an internal anti-racism process. “All the white people would say, ‘I’m learning a ton,’ but the people of color weren’t. We were upholding privilege in our anti-racist work.”
The BCF process began two years ago. “After talking with 1,000 residents across Brooklyn about the borough's greatest challenges and opportunities, the board and staff realized it needed to better reflect the communities it served in the organization's decision making,” she said. “It also needed to be more courageous in the priorities set in order to be more responsive to their needs.
According to McHarris, the most challenging parts of the process were developing a shared definition of racial justice, one that was about structural change and building power for communities of color. “Not just changing what white people think,” she said. BCF developed a Racial Justice Advisory Council to guide the process and hold the foundation accountable. As a result, the Brooklyn Community Foundation adopted a racial justice lens “at the core” of their work. When the process began, just two members of the board were people of color; at its conclusion, there were six.
McHarris and Whitford shared the nuts and bolts of how organizations can embody principles of racial justice. In his moving keynote, “A Love Note to Justice: Building Hope and Healing in Urban America,” San Francisco State professor Shawn Ginwright offered a stirring argument for why it’s important. Ginwright talked about the assault by a police officer on a teenaged girl at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, SC and the “social toxicity” that young people in low income communities face. These dynamics can foster hopelessness, which can in turn create violent behavior, fatalism and depression.
The appropriate response, according to Ginwright, is to foster what he calls “radical healing and well-being.” He argued that “youth development and civic engagement strategies designed to engage America’s most disconnected young people will only be successful to the extent that they address hopelessness and create opportunities to heal from socially toxic environments and structural violence.”
As examples of that hope, he offered an anti-violence program in Richmond, California that he said cut the city's homicide rate by two thirds and student organizing against harsh high school discipline policies in Los Angeles that challenged the city's zero tolerance approach and won significant victories. Ginwright stated that “addressing forms of injustice can contribute to a sense of well-being and to improved mental health among African American youth.” He also noted that “a strong and positive racial identity acts as a protective factor for youth of color.”
According to Ginwright, “oppression limits our ability to imagine,” and arts education is a pathway towards justice. Arts programs like those represented at the conference expand the imagination. As Greg Corbin, the founder and executive director of the Philly Youth Poetry Movement said, “We teach young people to dream again.” So despite the toxicity and trauma that so many young people contend with, the arts can provide a sanctuary. The conference was a reminder of how much that matters.
Fostering sustainable communities in the United States — communities guided by principles of social justice and distinguished by healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures.