A little over a year ago, Minnesota was catapulted onto the global stage as we all witnessed the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police. The immediate outcry demanding justice led to rallies, protests, and unrest not just in Minneapolis — where I live and work — but all over the world. George Floyd’s death laid out in front of us the pain, trauma, and injustice that Brown and Black communities have been enduring for centuries. It spurred collective action in ways our generation had never seen, sparking deep, difficult debates on racism and policing in America.
George Floyd’s murder and its aftermath also brought global attention to a problem known as “The Minnesota Paradox.” My home state has long been known as a fantastic place to live — unless you happen to be Black or Brown. In education, housing, employment and more, racial disparities in Minneapolis are so stark that the experience of Black and white communities is sometimes referred to as the “The Tale of Two Cities.” At the same time, our community is also known as exceptionally charitable and generous, with highly engaged donor and corporate partners.
How can all of these things be true? How did one of America’s most progressive, most generous cities become the epicenter of racial reckoning?
It was abundantly clear that our good intentions and good works were not enough. In Minneapolis and all over America, we need to dig deeper to close the gaps that divide our communities. But how? This question is particularly urgent for donors and philanthropic institutions like the Minneapolis Foundation, where I work. The short answer is that I believe change is possible — but only if we are brave enough to radically rethink the way we do business.
In 2020, the Minneapolis Foundation developed a new strategic framework to guide our work into the future. That framework boils down to a few core values that I believe we must all embrace, including these:
Change is personal. It's not enough to challenge others to do better. We must all challenge ourselves to do better, as institutions and as individuals. At the Minneapolis Foundation, our commitment to racial equity starts within the walls of our office with ongoing scrutiny and investment in our hiring practices, internal policies, and more. On a personal level, my commitment to continuous learning and self-improvement was a key reason that I launched the Minneapolis Foundation’s podcast, Conversations with Chanda, where I invite local and national experts to dive into tough discussion of our community’s grittiest, most vexing challenges.
Proximity is necessary. As philanthropists, we must get closer to issues and communities. We can do our best work when our choices are informed by the people who are most affected by our society’s challenges. If you’re a donor researching a grant, that could mean expanding your definition of “expert” to include people who have lived experience with the issue you’re trying to address. It could mean seeking out nonprofits that are led by people of color. It could mean doing the research to find a few local nonprofits with deep roots in the community — and then showing those organizations that you trust them by supporting them with multi-year funding, or grants for general operating support.
Equity is a responsibility. Perhaps the most important and, I hope, lasting consequence of the upheaval following George Floyd’s murder was that it brought new allies into the fight for justice and equality. We are not going to live in the society we dream of until we see and dismantle the systems and policies that have allowed racism to flourish. Passive support, bumper stickers, lip service are not enough; the challenges are too great. In the past year, I have seen donors and foundations sit up, pay attention, and get engaged in the struggle for racial justice in ways they never have before. Their commitment and willingness to invest gives me hope. Now we need to keep it going.
As philanthropists, each of us must push ourselves to learn and grow, and to press deeper into conversations, relationships, and issues that we may have avoided in the past. If we can do that, I believe we have a fighting chance to resolve “The Minnesota Paradox” — and to build a brighter future for our whole country.