The Elephant in the Room: Racism


Philanthropy411 is currently covering the Fall Conference for Community Foundations conference with the help of a blog team.  This is a guest post by China Brotsky, Senior Vice-President at Tides.

By:  China Brotsky

The most compelling session I have attended so far was “Innovating to Make and Keep Equity and Diversity as a Priority,” organized by James Head from the San Francisco Foundation and the Race & Equity in Philanthropy Group. What moved me was the straight talk about the elephant of racism in so many rooms in communities and philanthropy itself. No empty platitudes.  We learned that we all need to understand our own context to be effective – whether it’s a reality where no one ever says the word racism or we’ve said so much and still haven’t solved the problem. There are so many roads to change.  Mary Thomas from the Spartanburg County Foundation spoke on learning to make change by asking questions about who isn’t in the room, no accusations, and building leadership training programs that create empowered community –  leaders who transform the environment and led this 65 year old foundation to add its first African-American trustee in 2009.

After 25 years of working at diversity and inclusiveness efforts, Gail Christopher articulated how the W.K. Kellogg Foundation is upping its commitment by allocating $75 million over five years for efforts to promote racial equity and fight racism.  Their efforts are aimed at eradicating both the belief system of racism – that some are inferior or superior to others based on physical characteristics alone, and the structural racism created by this belief system which creates disparities in housing, health, education and so many other aspects of our society. Visit for more on their approach.  In their first grant round they received over 1000 proposals from folks doing that work in 49 states and funded 119 in the first round.  They have posted all the proposals at in hopes that philanthropic colleagues will find groups to fund that fit their own initiatives in this area.

Those of us in the room from Los Angeles to North Carolina, Michigan to New Mexico dialogued in small groups and talked about the paths to change in our institutions.  We learned (again) how hard it is to model internally what you preach and that our leadership is strongest when we lead by building leadership in others.  And we shared lots of resources to help each other move this country towards true racial equity.  You can learn about the Race & Equity in Philanthropy group at or contact them at  The Kirwan Institute has great resources on structural racism at  Mary Virtue’s report, “Advancing Racial Equity in Communities: Lessons for Philanthropy” on forging racial equity strategies in place-based funding is available at  St Paul Foundation’s racial justice initiative is outlined with tools and information at

Kris is a sought after philanthropy advisor, expert and award-winning author. She has helped over 90 foundations and philanthropists strategically allocate and assess over half a billion dollars in grants and gifts.

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