California Foundations Drop $100 Million in “Black Freedom Fund”

100 MILLION word hanging on Chain. 3d illustration

Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media

Last week, philanthropic organizations and other funders joined hands to launch the California Black Freedom Fund (CBFF), a new $100 million initiative that will provide resources to Black-led organizations in the state of California over the next five years.

Co-created with Black leaders and organizers, the first-of-its-kind fund will ensure that California’s growing ecosystem of local grassroots, Black-led organizing groups have sustained investments that equip them with the resources they need to push back against entrenched forces of systemic and institutionalized racism.

“Over the past year, we’ve seen Black communities across the country step up boldly as the conscience of our nation to challenge the status quo,” said Cathy Cha, president and chief executive officer of the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, a Bay Area philanthropic organization that tackles a broad range of social issues. “The California Black Freedom Fund represents a great opportunity to build on that momentum and support Black-led organizations and a movement that can keep racial justice front and center and reimagine a better future for all of us.”

According to participating organizations, the fund intends to correct philanthropy’s history of underinvestment in Black-led organizations and “power-building” in African American communities. For example, across the United States, only about 1% of community foundation support was specifically designated for Black communities in recent years, according to the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.

“To make racial justice and equity real in California, philanthropy needs to elevate its investments in Black organizers that are focused on advocacy, organizing and holding our institutions accountable — something that we call power-building,” said Lateefah Simon, who is the president of Akonadi Foundation, an Oakland-based organization that fights against the criminalization of Black youth. “The vision of the California Black Freedom Fund is to bring justice to our communities by making sure Black-led organizations are sufficiently supported and strong, and their leaders are galvanized.”

Simon says the fund’s focus on “power-building” prioritizes mobilizing Black Californians to become engaged in their communities and effect systemic change through “advocacy, direct action, voter organizing and mobilization.”

“It is commendable that the funders are focused on equity. It has a positive ring to it. It’s encouraging,” says Paul Cobb, publisher of the Post News Group, a Black-owned newspaper publishing house based in Oakland. “But it is important that they follow these high-minded words with meaningful action – backed with a strategic plan of action to even the playing field.”

Robert K. Ross, president and CEO of The California Endowment, a statewide foundation headquartered in Los Angeles that is focused on improving the health of all Californians, says the initiative is a strong effort that addresses longstanding equity issues that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and amplified.

“But we know it will take bold moves such as this in order to reimagine institutions that are more inclusive and racially equitable for all Californians,” Ross stated. “The pandemic and the racial divide in this country have exposed the anti-Black systems that are in place. These resources will make sure we build and sustain an ecosystem of Black-led organizations and networks that can move racial equity work forward, while leading California towards healing and structural change.”

With an initial investment of $32.4 million, CBFF will raise additional dollars over the next five years through a mix of foundation, corporate and individual donor support to reach its $100 million goal.

Regina Wilson, executive director of California Black Media, says she applauds California’s largest foundations making a significant initial investment in community-based organizations, adding that she is hopeful multi-year funding will be expanded to include Black media.

“I’m optimistic funders will consider supporting Black newspapers and other African American-owned media outlets in the future because of the vital public service role they play in our state. The Black press watches and breaks down government policy, while keeping our community informed, connected and engaged,” Wilson said.

The funders currently participating in CBFF include Akonadi Foundation, Annenberg Foundation, Bishop Ranch, Blue Shield of California Foundation, The California Endowment, The California Wellness Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Crankstart, Emerson Collective, and Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund.

In addition, the roster of funders extends to Farella Braun + Martel LLP, Friedman Family Foundation, Hellman Foundation, JPMorgan Chase, Liberty Hill Foundation, Libra Foundation, Rob McKay, Rosenberg Foundation, San Francisco Foundation, Sierra Health Foundation, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Stuart Foundation, Tundra Glacier Fund and Weingart Foundation.

The Silicon Valley Community Foundation will provide fiscal and administrative management of the fund.

“The (CBFF) sets forth a model that can be replicated across the nation, potentially bringing significant resources to movement-building networks and organizations that are fighting racial injustice on behalf of marginalized groups,” said Nicole Taylor, president and CEO, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, a philanthropic organization based in Mountain View. “Silicon Valley Community Foundation is proud to support the California Black Freedom Fund, as it aligns with our aspirations of advancing equity and opportunity for all members of our communities.”

Over the next five years, the CBFF says it will strategically increase the resources available to Black-led organizations throughout California, prioritizing the courageous and visionary grassroots advocates and organizers leading California as a whole toward systemic transformation.

In its first round of grantmaking, CBFF is investing over $6 million to support three established Black networks that have proven, long-term working relationships with more than 50 Black-led organizations across the state.

The first of the three networks is the Black Census and Redistricting Hub, a network of over 30 Black-led and Black-serving organizations that focuses on maximizing participation in the census and redistricting process among hard-to-count Black communities.

Second is the Black Equity Collective, a community-public-private partnership dedicated to strengthening the long-term capacity and infrastructure of Black-led and Black-empowering social justice organizations in Southern California (Los Angeles County and the Inland Empire).

Third is PICO California: Live Free/ Bring the HEAT. This organization centers its work on intervention to protect the basic health, safety, and well-being of all people by demanding a series of immediate and sweeping changes to the current policing system in the United States.

“Black-led organizations have been leading the work to advance racial justice and dismantle anti-Black racism,” said Miguel A. Santana, president and CEO of the Los Angeles-based Weingart Foundation. “We are proud to join our colleagues in investing at greater scale to support these movement leaders and stand shoulder to shoulder with them in the work to eradicate systemic racism.”

CBFF’s next round of grantmaking is anticipated in late February 2021.

In addition to grantmaking, the fund will also provide capacity-building support through technical assistance in communications, narrative change, and policy; research and data; and convening and learning opportunities.

“Building a better future for everyone starts with centering those who have been politically, socially, and economically marginalized,” said Priscilla Chan, Co-founder and Co-CEO of the Redwood City-based Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Chan is Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s wife.

“We support the California Black Freedom Fund and its work to ensure that Black-led organizations and movements have the power, resources, and recognition to continue their missions and make racial equity a reality in California,” Chan emphasized.

To learn more about the California Black Freedom Fund visit CABlackFreedomFund.org.

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