What We're Learning: Bringing Racial Equity to the Forefront

In the ongoing series “What We’re Learning,” Sabrina Slade, Social Innovation Director with John Rex Endowment, shares her views on racial equity as a Black woman, as a Southern funder, and her hopes for the philanthropic sector.

Q: You are charged with shaping the design, implementation and management of initiatives and programs. This is a particularly challenging time for all foundations as the national attention has grappled with not only COVID-19 but also increased scrutiny of racial inequity impacts upon families and children. What has this meant to your role with the Endowment?

A: Centering racial equity is an individual journey as well as an organizational one. As a Black, Southern, female funder, I’ve been on my own racial equity journey for the past eight years. I’m continuously sharpening my own racial equity lens and understanding ways in which racism and internalized oppression impacts me personally.  I also feel that my lived experience has allowed me to help shape the Endowment’s future towards making systems more equitable for others, including people who look like me. 

Q: Why is it important to factor in the South when tackling systemic issues as a funder?

A: I believe it’s important to recognize that several policies and laws had the intention of protecting the rights of disenfranchised individuals, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  It’s equally important to note that the very next year, in 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed in direct response to southern lawmakers who continued to implement inequitable policies and laws, called Jim Crow laws, that enforced racial segregation and voter suppression.  Unfortunately, some Southern lawmakers continue to find ways to marginalize people of color, such as voter-suppression tactics that are still practiced in North Carolina.

As Southern funders working towards creating more equitable systems, we must acknowledge this part of our history and understand its impact in the South, especially its effect on Black and Brown communities. As W. E. B. Dubois stated, “As the South goes, so goes the nation.”

Q: What are some things that foundations all over the country can do now to impact policy change

A: I think one way that foundations can impact policy change is to examine some of their own internal policies and procedures. The Endowment’s staff and board took this approach recently and decided to implement several principles of Trust-based Philanthropy.  Like other foundations during the pandemic, we also loosened grant reporting guidelines and allocated funding specifically to help our grant-funded nonprofit partners strategize with consultants around next steps towards capacity building.

The most important step foundations can take now is to invest in their own capacity to develop a racial equity framework for grantmaking and investments.  This is more than simply participating in a two-day racial equity training session.  This involves committing to questioning all current internal and external practices, policies, and procedures and implementing or revising processes that serve all people in equitable ways. As staff, it includes the individual racial equity journey we must take.  Funders are better equipped to see the parts of the system that are inequitable and understand the origins of these inequities by investing in building their racial equity capacity.  In turn, this leads to more informed and impactful funding and investment decisions.