When Aria Florant, cofounder of Liberation Ventures, told her audience at the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations’ 2022 national conference that “[the project of] reparations needs to shock the system, needs to disrupt White supremacist narratives, close the racial wealth gap, and build a culture of repair,” a question that arose for us was: How can we bring the insight and promise of the reparations movement to philanthropy, and how do we best use philanthropy to support the work of reparations?

“The American dream,” a term coined by writer and historian James Truslow Adams in 1931, promises that all Americans can obtain the wealth and societal advantages that will allow us to thrive “regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.” In the decades since, the American dream as we know it has become a “rags to riches” promise of wealth and fame, if we choose to work hard enough, and the ability to earn more and have more than the generation who came before. It is a dream that has no grounding in our economic reality of growing inequality, and it is a promise that has never extended to Black Americans and Indigenous peoples, who have systemically been denied opportunities through the United States government’s own decrees and legislation. America’s economy—and its White residents specifically—have benefited from and been fueled by the institution of slavery and the stealing of Native land.

Philanthropies like ours—the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation and the Brooklyn Community Foundation—that are funding work to address social, economic, and racial injustice must reckon with this contradiction and support the work of reparations.

We believe that we are working in a liminal time and space. We have made some progress toward leaving behind the charity mindset and exclusively White-held decision-making power, and have begun listening to new sources of wisdom beyond the traditional White male philanthropist. But we are not yet living in a liberated world where capital is distributed evenly and the leaders of our society reflect this country’s full spectrum of humanity.

We start with the conviction that philanthropy should not be about individual outcomes or individual generosity but rather about our collective future and our collective responsibility to one another. We believe that we must fundamentally change how philanthropy both conceptualizes and implements its work, and we are cognizant that it will take time, strategic thinking, and perseverance to make these changes. We have to get this right.

Read the full article about reparations by Jocelynne Rainey and Lisa Pilar Cowan at Nonprofit Quarterly.