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Brooklyn is home to the largest Black community in North America. Nearly 70 percent of the borough’s residents are non-white. For our staff at the Brooklyn Community Foundation, the events of the past year have revealed in the starkest terms that systemic racism is the greatest threat to the health and well-being of our communities.
As we approach one year of COVID-19 in America, and as we reflect on the record grantmaking we’ve done and the countless changes we’ve made to how we support our grantee partners, we can’t stop asking: “What more can we do?”
Nearly 8,000 Brooklynites — the majority of whom are Black and Latinx — have lost their lives from COVID-19.
Yet, the greatest sadness is just how predictable these events were. In February 2020, as the first cases were reported in New York City, our staff and Board came together to begin plans for our Brooklyn COVID-19 Response Fund. In alignment with our commitment to racial justice, we prioritized communities of color who exist at the margins of power and access, and who had been systematically denied the material resources to buffer them from the pandemic’s threats.
In 16 weeks from March through July, we raised and distributed $3.3 million for frontline nonprofit organizations serving the hardest hit communities of color across our borough.
We also prioritized funding and supporting organizations that may otherwise not be able to access philanthropic support.
In an effort to reduce the burden on organizations requesting funds, we asked just two questions on our grant application.
And when experts began predicting that as many as one-third of all nonprofits may be forced to close within a year, we deployed an additional $873,000 in unsolicited general operating support to grantees in our discretionary grantmaking portfolios, using a newly developed Equity Filter tool.
Early on, we knew that our response would also need to address long-term structural change to get at the root causes of the pandemic’s inequitable and unjust impacts. And as the first wave of the virus subsided in New York City, the entire country erupted in mass protests for racial justice in response to the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
These combined events challenged us — like so many other institutions, as detailed in CEP’s recent report, Foundations Respond to Crisis: Toward Equity? — to confront our power and complicity in systemic racism. None of us could afford to fall into the trap of planning for rebuilding or a return to normal. It was long past time to push the conversation to reckoning, repairing, and reimagining.
To start, our Board of Directors increased our annual drawdown for the fiscal year 2021 to 7 percent — not a comfortable decision for a young foundation with assets under $90 million. Next, we began to rethink the potential of these assets in the work towards racial justice.
Read the full article about doing more by Cecilia Clarke and Marcella Tillett at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.