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What now, what next: Investing in anti-racism

We must invest in dismantling systemic racism and build new systems — through approaches that move away from a medical model of diagnosing social ills and imposing cures toward an anthropological one built on listening to and learning from the community.

Two young men raising their fists as they sit in front of a mural of George Floyd at the memorial site for Floyd in Minneapolis.
Two young men raising their fists as they sit in front of a mural of George Floyd at the memorial site for Floyd in Minneapolis.
REUTERS/Leah Millis

It was tempting, in the wake of the verdicts delivered by a Hennepin County jury in the trial of Derek Chauvin, to breathe a statewide sigh of relief. Justice was served. Black lives do indeed matter here.

But only days before that verdict was rendered, Daunte Wright, another unarmed Black man, was killed by police.

The killings of George Floyd and Daunte Wright and the protests that followed laid bare the race-based origins of disparities in education, opportunity, income, housing and health that continue to plague our state. In Greater Minnesota, immigrant communities comprising workers we belatedly recognized as essential and Native American communities saddled with limited health services, broken infrastructure and a disproportionate prevalence of the underlying conditions that make COVID-19 especially dangerous bore the heaviest burden of the pandemic and its economic consequences.

Distressing levels of racial inequality

Our state has been humbled, and deservedly so, by the juxtaposition of our vaunted quality of life against our poor performance on equity and inclusion. Data from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) show distressing levels of racial inequality in the Twin Cities and Minnesota in categories including household earnings, unemployment, home ownership, incarceration rate, poverty rate and educational achievement.

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To turn the corner, we must invest in dismantling systemic racism and build new systems that assure accountability and justice. Furthermore, we must do this through approaches that move away from a medical model of diagnosing social ills and imposing cures toward an anthropological one built on listening to and learning from the community.

At the St. Paul & Minnesota Foundation, this is the approach we take to redistribute power and enable communities to take charge of their futures. The served community sets the agenda, identifies critical issues and establishes priorities for action. We ask the community to identify and co-create required programs, healing solutions and interventions, to be backed with our support and, we hope, additional public and private commitments. We are convinced this approach makes communities more invested in and accountable for the benefits the solutions and interventions aim to deliver.

Varied problems, varied investments

Fortunately, we have in our midst a wide range of visionary nonprofit leaders who are already about the work of dismantling systemic racism. Working with these leaders and their organizations, we are finding that investments in anti-racism can be as varied as the problems systemic racism inflicts financially, emotionally, physically and cognitively.

Dr. Eric J. Jolly
Eric J. Jolly
For example, to help close race-based disparities in wealth and income, we invest in MicroGrants, a program that provides timely $1,000 grants to low-income people identified by other nonprofit organizations. The grants help prevent lasting damage from a short-term cash crunch, enabling recipients to continue their educations, sustain their businesses or acquire the car they need to get to a job. Similarly, we also invest in Family Housing Fund to support its work in eviction prevention and in helping community homebuyers build wealth as owner-occupant landlords in duplexes and smaller apartment buildings.

To help address emotional trauma in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, we supported the African American Leadership Forum in offering virtual therapy sessions to community members, hosting virtual town halls, supporting African-American owned businesses and convening people to share ideas for rebuilding their neighborhoods.

Given current anti-immigrant/refugee rhetoric and rapidly changing rules about immigration, we support the Coalition for Asian American Leaders in its work to create safe and welcoming communities and address inequities rooted in how systems and service providers have excluded Asian Minnesotans.

To help correct educational and cognitive disparities rooted in racism, we support organizations such as Young Women’s Wellness and Leadership Initiative and the Council for Black Male Success. The former trains young Somali women to take charge of their health and well-being and gain self-advocacy skills while providing ongoing mentorship. The latter works with young Black men on issues of self-pride, self-determination and cultural identity to foster academic success and achievement.

These are but a few of the nonprofits that are demonstrating the ability to quickly pivot their services to the needs in their communities. They are emblematic of the nonprofits that community foundations will continue to nurture, support and invest in to drive the social change that will deliver not just a new normal, but a more equal, inclusive and vibrant new normal.

Eric J. Jolly, Ph.D., is president and CEO of the St. Paul & Minnesota Foundation, which oversees 1.7 billion in charitable assets.

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