Chicago philanthropies urged to sign pledge to ‘rectify racial inequity’ in their giving

Demand for services is increasing exponentially in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods that have borne the brunt of COVID-19 and violent crime.

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The Chicago skyline, viewed from the inbound Eisenhower Expressway.

The Chicago skyline, seen from the city’s West Side, along the inbound Eisenhower Expressway.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Chicago philanthropies were urged Monday to “rectify the racial inequity” that activists say is starving grassroots community-based organizations on the South and West sides.

The Goldin Institute and the Chicago Peace Fellows’ Mutual Aid Collaborative chose the anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X to turn up the heat on big money philanthropies to sign their “Funder’s Pledge.”

It’s a promise to acknowledge “current funding practices reinforce disparities” — particularly for Black organizations where, they say, revenues are 24% smaller than their white counterparts.

At the same time, demand for services is increasing exponentially in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods that have borne the brunt of what they call Chicago’s “twin pandemic” — COVID-19 and violent crime.

La’Keisha Gray-Sewell, who founded the “Girls Like Me Project,” kicked off the virtual news conference by paraphrasing Malcolm X: “You’re not to be so blind by patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it,” she said.

“What we have witnessed historically in Chicago philanthropy,” Gray-Sewell continued, “is gross inequity of funds and resources where community organizations or organizations founded by community members ... have been dismissed and devalued, especially if they pushed to dismantle systemic racism.”

Many people, she added, want to do the right thing but “are bound to a system that, by its very nature, is ingrained with oppressive practices. That is why we offer this pledge as a new way forward, a call of reckoning to right the wrongs.”

Gloria Jackson Smith serves as executive director of the Black Star Project founded by her late brother, former Chicago Housing Authority CEO Phillip Jackson.

Smith said the most recent sign of strain in her educational non-profit dedicated to bridging the “racial academic achievement gap” in AfricanAmerican and Latino neighborhoods occurred over the weekend, when the Black Star Project took 40 young people to the NBA All-Star Game in Cleveland.

“We didn’t have it in our budget. But we found a way to make it happen. The young people had an amazing time. [But], it was really, really a strain” on the budget, Smith said.

“We shouldn’t have to not be able to do things like this for our children. We were able to bring young people from the South Side and the West Side together — Black and Brown — together to spend an amazing weekend together to build community. That’s what this is about.”

David Gonzalez, executive director of Port Ministries in Back of the Yards, stressed the need to support grassroots organizations started by “mamas that see the beauties of the hood” or “understand the importance of fathers reading to children without having to spend 20 hours networking to figure out how to get funding for supplies.”

“We really want to support work that shows small acts of love. We want those people to be on the front,” Gonzalez said.

“With the funder’s pledge, we want this to support all of the little bit of love that’s out there. Not just the ones that are always screaming. Not the ones that we always know firsthand. Not the ones that make it easy for us, that have a room of people that write elegantly to make sure they’re getting that funding. It’s for the little person that’s doing the most beauty in their neighborhood that we may not see.”

Annamaria Leon co-founded Love Blooms Here, which teaches gardening skills to inner-city kids.

“A lot of times on the South and West sides, we get studied a lot by universities who get these huge grants. By the time they get to us, we’re happy to get $15,000. [We say to ourselves], ‘Whoa, that’s really great.’ Then we find out that the grant was actually half-a-million dollars or $300,000 to the university,” Leon said.

“Maybe in the grants given to the universities, they can state, ‘30% has to go community, versus 2%.’”

Gray-Sewell encouraged funders to “challenge themselves to do better” and find a “new model for philanthropy.”

She promised to hold them accountable by launching a report card that “not only says how much you’re funding [and] who you’re funding, but what percentage overall of your entire budget goes to funding.”

“Not that you’ve given $300,000 — but $300,000 of how much is pulled to community organizations,” she said.

“With that, we hope that encourages and provides a way to help foundations measure themselves in terms of the desire and intention and the actual practice.”

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