Racial Equity, Grantmaking & Chandeliers

Javier tim Roberto
F. Javier Torres, Tim Dorsey and Roberto Bedoya

Have you ever sat at the edge of the pool with a bunch of friends waiting to see who would jump in first?


“Is this the gayest chandelier you ever saw?”

Tim had everyone in the Pavilion Room looking up at a  verpitzt lighting fixture hovering heavily above us.


Welcome to Grantmaking with a Racial Equity Lens, a salon session organized by Justin Laing of the Heinz Foundation.

No question, racial equity is a highly charged topic that brings people together with complex emotions simmering beneath their conference badges.  No question, we work in a dominant society that is managing our system of race and culture.  It is structured racialism, poverty and colonization, all the time.

“We must commit to rootwork.  To constantly question powerbrokering.”  said Tim.  I like that word rootwork.  In my mind I imagine deep questioning and determined fistfuls of newer ideas.

Lynn Stern of Surdna described her foundation’s working challenges in supporting “artistic training for young artists, building a training pipeline through college and investing in art colleges committed to outreach and scholarships to targeted populations.  There is currently no conversation where a racial equity lens is used.  Another question is how to fund small community based organizations.  Surdna’s grantmaking mechanism with a budget of $7.5 million has 3 staff members.  How can we become familiar with the field?  Should we be working with intermediaries?”



Justin Laing


Justin spoke of a racial framework of “your people and you”.  This is why culture doesn’t work.  He sent a survey that explored whiteness to colleagues and family.  There was no response.  OK, so I am thinking that whiteness, another highly charged and potentially polarizing topic, cannot be something you ask people to examine without setting up a little context. Blacks have had way more time discussing racial identity.

As Gary Vaynerchuk of VaynerMedia says, “Content is king.  Marketing is queen and she rules the house.  But context is the heir apparent.”

Clearly we all know the current context and challenges racial equity and social justice pose in our field.  Michelle Coffey of the Lambent Foundation suggests “working with critical research partners to help us in our challenge facing race.”  She says, “Our concept of race is still dated.  We need stronger partners. We are flawed.”

Justin describes a capacity building initiative that identifies young leaders of color by asking the following questions:

  1. Who are they and what are they doing?
  2. What is the logic model, the scorecard, the projected impact?
  3. What resources do they need?
  4. What about people with disabilities?
  5. What is their branding, messaging, communications plan?
  6. Is there a dashboard with quarterly benchmarks for assessment?
  7. Do they have a strong board?
  8. What is their fundraising plan?

Huong Vu of Boeing raised the question of individual strategy.

“Don’t you get tired of being the one who has to be indignant about racism just because you are the person of color on staff?”

There is always the spectre of consequences and repercussions – financial, emotional, psychological – when you challenge an unacceptable statement or action, when we summon up personal courage to own our actions.

Perhaps there are other ways to work with colleagues and board members such as challenging imagery that portray white people as donors and privileged, and people of color as receivers and less fortunate.

We need to speak as a group more often, more knowledgeably.

So come on in, the water’s fine.

About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer writes about how to be a nimble nonprofit, make life creative and make a difference at www.hoongyee.com.

She is also the Executive Director of the Queens Council on the Arts. Hoong Yee can be found surfing in the Rockaways whenever there are waves.

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