On a Saturday evening in late March, with our country blanketed with fear and uncertainty, I received an email from a dear friend, mentor, and long-time social justice organizer with the subject “interesting and sobering piece.” The body of the message contained only a link to Andrew Sullivan’s article, How to Survive a Plague. A few hours later, in bed and still reeling from Sullivan’s powerfully sobering and inspirational piece, my wife tapped me on the shoulder to share that her water broke. After a couple of calls to our midwife and the arrival of my mother-in-law, we were off to Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. Later that day, while my wife and newborn son rested, I scrolled through my social media feeds to learn Governor DeWine announced Ohio’s first COVID-19 related deaths and issued a “stay-at-home” order that was set to go into effect the following day. I didn’t have the words to describe it in the moment, but sitting in that hospital room, in the midst of a global pandemic, while celebrating our newborn son was like standing at the intersection of promise and peril.

Seven months later, I’m still standing at the metaphorical intersection of promise and peril, only this time I’m joined by what feels like the entire nation. On the road to peril, we’re confronted with the dire realization that our nation is in the midst of a triple pandemic: the COVID-19 virus, the resurgence of fundamentalist white supremacy, and the crisis of our American democracy. The confluence of which presents enormous challenges for anyone concerned with matters of racial equity, economic and environmental justice, public health and safety, and civil liberties. On the road to promise, our streets are filled with everyday people (wearing masks!) organizing, educating, and mobilizing to create a new world unlike anything we’ve seen in American history. Leading the charge are the Movement for Black Lives, Poor People’s Campaign, March for Our Lives, and the #MeToo movement to name a few. For the frontline leaders of these movements, anything short of a complete transformation of our relationships to self, others, and the environment will lead us to the perilous road’s final destination, self-destruction.

Within the funding community, there appears to be an openness, unlike anything I’ve seen in my lifetime, to align their priorities to the on-the-ground demands for racial and economic justice and wield their considerable influence to affect policy and politics which improve the quality of life for the majority of Americans. The question I have for the funding community is will you move from a mere openness to a full-fledged commitment to transforming your approach to giving?

If your answer is “VERY willing!” And, “Didn’t you read our statement in support of Black Lives and our COVID-19 relief fund?”, then I’m grateful for your decisive action, but I want to know what values and principles will guide your work in pursuit of justice and how will you hold yourself publicly accountable to striving to live out these values and principles each day. In my work supporting funders interested in a more community-centered and justice-oriented approach, the eagerness to sprint toward the creation and execution of solutions is inspiring, but without being firmly grounded in a set of values and principles their strategy is standing on a bed of quicksand. As more and more funders commit to supporting justice-centered work each day (YAY!), I’m sharing a non-exhaustive list of social justice principles that I’ve adapted for aspiring justice-centered funders. I included links within some of the principles for those interested in digging in a layer deeper. In reading through these principles, I challenge you to reflect on my question above.

  • Healthy water, healthy fish. This principle pushes philanthropy to confront how racist power defines the rules of the game. The system, not the people, need to be fixed.
  • Power over program. This principle calls on philanthropy to fully commit to building, combining, and wielding power for racial and economic justice
  • We move from isolation to interdependence when we act as neighbors and not competitors.
  • It’s okay to have a point of view – be clear with stakeholders on where you stand, ask for affirmative consent, and strive to build mutually beneficial partnerships. This principle challenges philanthropy to move beyond tokenism and placation of BIPOC communities and into partnership for systems transformation
  • Move at the speed of trust. This principle calls on individual leaders in philanthropy to adopt the practice of building relational power with the intended beneficiaries of their work

Now more than ever, how you approach your work is as important to what you choose to work toward. I believe our communities deserve funders willing to rise to the promise of this current moment.

Camelback Ventures’ Capital Collaborative works with white funders and social impact investors who want to deepen their individual and organizational commitment to racial and gender equity — but may not know how. Our unique approach brings together a community of white accomplices to engage in an introspective and concrete curriculum, to diversify their networks and make their grantmaking processes more equitable.

You can learn more and sign up for Camelback Ventures’ next Capital Collaborative Cohort which kicks off in January 2021, here.