Message from Matt Leatherman, Board Chair: A New Racial-Equity View into Our Organization

The board of directors and staff of the John Rex Endowment are here for the children and families in Wake County.  We are accountable to them: The John Rex Endowment supports an environment where all children and families in greater Wake County live healthy lives. Only by challenging ourselves on matters of race and by intentionally – and constantly – striving for equity in our work can we fulfill our mission.

To do this work, we have to acknowledge and address the generational inequities that our systems – health, philanthropy, and finance included – have forced onto black and brown families.  We make this commitment, gladly and enthusiastically.

The work begins with ourselves and will always involve critical introspection. CounterPart Consulting is supporting our efforts, including conducting a just-completed racial equity assessment of our organization, and being transparent about that assessment is one way we can be accountable. The assessment resulted in themes that are most significant at this stage in the life of the Endowment.

Strengths to Leverage: The Endowment has a 21-year history in Wake County as a partner in the nonprofit community. Building on that, the foundation’s primary strengths center around our local governance which allows for flexibility in how financial assets are used and the influence we have with funders, policymakers, and institutions. Our staff is respected and viewed as a credible partner who is committed to continuing taking steps to address racial inequality.

Opportunities for Change: Four themes emerged for the Endowment to be better.

  • Build relationships with community partners and fund grassroots organizations.
  • Bring more clarity and then transparency to the function and purpose of capacity building and methods of evaluation.
  • Gain more clarity about the Endowment’s role as a driver of systemic change in the sector and in the intersections with public and political systems.
  • Determine to whom you are accountable, and be explicit, consistent and transparent in your accountability.

Our Path Forward: Our Equity Leadership Team, comprised of board members and staff, will create an organizational workplan using recommendations from CounterPart Consulting.

  • Infuse racial equity goals into the Strategic Roadmap.
  • Review internal and external communications.
  • Develop an accountability culture with the community.
  • Build relationships that compel the Endowment to go beyond grantmaking and invest in convening, organizing, and advocating.
  • Review application and reporting mechanisms.

Taken together, these steps will move the Endowment toward internal systems that are more equitable, systems which will then position us to influence systems beyond our own, especially public health and education.

We are humbled by these challenges and energized tremendously by this opportunity. As Counterpart Consulting observed, we are a wealthy, powerful, and strong institution. To the children and families and the nonprofits who provide valuable services, expect us to use wealth, power, and this strength to advance equity. Hold us accountable for it. Some of our changes will be visible to you while others are internal – in both cases, we will keep you informed.

I will conclude with a personal reflection. I am a white man, truly privileged to govern this organization, and the job of critical introspection is mine foremost. The time will come for me to step aside and make space for more directors of color and its Executive Committee. I think of my responsibility and, for my time in this role, will participate in governing this organization in terms of a charge that James Baldwin set in The Fire Next Time:

Most people guard and keep: they suppose that it is they themselves that they are guarding and keeping, whereas what they are actually guarding and keeping is their system of reality and what they assume themselves to be. One can give nothing whatever without giving oneself – that is to say, risking oneself. If one cannot risk oneself, then one is simply incapable of giving.

Thank you for your interest and partnership as together we work toward justice. I invite you to contact our president, Kellan, or me, Matt Leatherman, if you would like to talk at any time – we will welcome and appreciate the conversation.

Method Note

The Racial Equity Assessment is a point-in-time tool to aid us in creating and prioritizing our work so that all who work for the foundation and who are served by the organization can thrive and do justice to our mission of ensuring all children and families in Wake County live healthy lives. To capture the racial equity picture of our culture, practices, and external interactions, a variety of data gathering methods were used including observations, interviews, focus groups and document review. Voices represented included grant-funded partners, nonprofits who were unsuccessful in receiving grant awards, peer funders, community leaders, health and education leaders, consultants, Endowment board members and staff.  Participants were white and people of color.