In the US, momentum for reparations is building as the nation grapples with a history of policies that created and sustained racial inequity. Currently, reparations and racial repair activities are happening across all 50 states. In 2021, Evanston, Illinois, became the first city in the US to create a reparations plan for its Black residents in the form of housing grants targeting some of the population affected by housing discrimination. A consortium of more than 90 universities across the United States, United Kingdom and Canada are investigating their own institutions’ ties to slavery and the legacies of racism in their histories.

As momentum grows, there is a massive opportunity for philanthropy to fund US organisations that see reparations for Black people and building a culture of racial repair as the missing pieces to a more equitable future for everyone. ‘This work aims to heal our past so that we can fully experience our thriving future,’ says Vanessa Masson, principal at Omidyar Network, who leads a new repair portfolio. ‘By cultivating the soil for repair, we can all benefit from the holistic range of remedies taking root.’

Because of that opportunity, The Bridgespan Group, a global non-profit that advises philanthropy, NGOs and impact investors, and Liberation Ventures, an intermediary organisation and donor committed to reparations, collaborated on a report on the role that philanthropy could play in the movement for reparations and building a culture of racial repair. The research included interviews with more than 45 movement leaders, scholars, and funders, a literature review, and a survey of senior philanthropic leaders representing more than $12 billion in assets.

Many funders come to reparations from a desire to shrink the US racial wealth gap. If the current wealth of white US households remained stagnant, it would take Black families 228 years, more than 10 generations, to catch up.

Because of the size of the gap and the race-based policies that created and sustained it, some, like economist William Darity at Duke University, argue that a federal reparations programme is the only way to close it. ‘My response to philanthropists who resist this idea [of reparations] is, whatever else is proposed, by indirect or universal strategies, is not going to do it,’ says Darity.

The Bridgespan/Liberation Ventures research highlights three key roles for philanthropy:

Reckoning: This may include understanding the roots of the inequities your philanthropy seeks to address as well as reckoning with your personal or institutional wealth origin or the context in which your endowment was created.

Acknowledgement: Acknowledge wealth origin and past mistakes to key stakeholders. For instance, the Bush Foundation, a regional private foundation that was founded in 1953, talks openly about the harms done to Native American and Black communities from broken treaties, slavery and Jim Crow laws and the connection of these race-based policies to the racial wealth gaps in its region of investment. That acknowledgment paved the way in 2021 for its board to approve a new $100 million initiative for Black and Native American communities across the region, recognising that these communities have experienced the most longstanding harm.

Accountability: Shift approaches in governance and decision-making to be accountable to movement leaders and communities you aim to support. For their initiative’s design phase, the Bush Foundation reached out to a few dozen community and philanthropy leaders for feedback rather than making decisions behind closed doors. A panel of community leaders from across the region interviewed finalists and advised the foundation on which organisations to select. Black-led Nexus Community Partners and Indigenous-led NDN Collective were chosen to steward the new funds for their respective communities.

Read the full article about reparations by Tonyel Edwards, Aria Florant,and Ivy Nyayieka at Alliance Magazine.