When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies?  To surrender dreams, this may be madness.  Too much sanity may be madness!  But maddest of all is to see life as it is and not as it should be.  Don Quixote   (Lewis uses this quote at the end of some of his e-mails)

Shawn Lewis is an information referral specialist for Hennepin County library.  He is surrounded by knowledge and up-to-date news and resources that can be beneficial for marginalized communities.  He is also a Global Career Development Facilitator accredited by the Urban League. Graduating with honors from Washburn High School on the South Side of Minneapolis, Lewis went on to attend the University of Minnesota earning a degree in political science. 

As a volunteer for the United Way, Lewis has long been interested in the world of philanthropy. He questions whether the inequities of distribution linger even after the televised execution of George Floyd 17 months ago.  There was a global outcry that something had to be done to end this 400 plus year human atrocity. 

A root problem is that philanthropic foundation staff and board trustees are primarily white, male, wealthy, do not reside in underserved neighborhoods, and are heteronormative.  That means bias, whether conscious or unconscious, has long sat at the forefront of denials to Black led organizations getting the funding they need.  In the past, predominantly white reviewers tended to fund organizations they knew and that aligned with their cultural and language customs.  The reality is that the combination of unconscious biases, the capacity paradox, and unequal access to relationships with funders will make sure there is no possible way we can reach a state where all organizations, including ones led by people of underserved communities, can fairly compete for resources. 

For many philanthropic entities, the application process for grants and loans has been streamlined thanks to evolving social media and advanced technology allowing simultaneous reviews and the positing of other required documentation.  Unfortunately, even if reviewed on-line, the process still awards the best written grant applications while not supporting the issues and the grassroots organizations that need to be addressed the most.

It’s imperative to support leadership that seeks ways for disengaged communities to organize around issues impacting their neighborhoods, including primarily public safety and miseducation.   George Floyd’s murder sparked the call for a global racial reckoning. And since then, the state’s philanthropic sector has mobilized around racial equity by boosting funding, distributing grants more inclusively, and increasing diversity of staff and board members.  Lewis asks whether BIPOC communities have done all they can to prepare for opportunities that could help their organizations survive and thrive. Or are they competing against one another?  Have they created partnerships and coalitions?  Have they reached out to researchers and grant writers? 

This is especially important as major corporations like Ford and Comcast are expanding opportunities and investing more in community initiatives all around the world.  Lewis says what is needed today is that people in disparaged and highly impacted communities unify, step up, and continue to do the work by using research-driven data and analytics to demand seats at the decision-making table. Communities must define and execute best practices in creating solutions that are effective and sustainable. 

“African Americans must teach other African Americans how to do grant writing as well as how to navigate philanthropic institutions and their boards.  Lewis cites the recent Urban League of the Twin Cities Young Professionals’ presentation on “Bridging Intergenerational Leadership Gaps” discussion on competitive funding and grant writing. 

Lewis refers to the shifting balance of power.  “Bryan Stevenson, the civil rights icon who founded the Equal Justice Initiative talks often about ‘the power of proximity’ emphasizing how solutions for systemic injustice are most effective when designed by the communities who experience them.  These communities often need to fight to be recognized as agents of change and supported to lead the charge on equality.  We are looking at communities no longer letting others speak for them.  Black feminists are building a platform to fund their movements and indigenous peoples have taken their climate solutions from the forest floor to the world stage,” he said.  

Major corporations like Comcast and Ford have long been leaders in programming and funding for underserved communities.

 “Comcast is focused on advancing digital equity,” says Kalyn Hove, recently appointed Twin Cities Regional Senior Vice President for the company.  “There’s no question a racial divide still exists.  Our company is aiming to narrow that gap by providing underrepresented small business owners with digital access and the funding they need to sustain them for a little while.  We believe that investing back into the communities we serve helps everyone.  For the past 15 years, “Internet Essentials” has provided low-cost internet for low-income families. There will be more initiatives for small businesses in the bigger picture.  Comcast is driving the change as our investment leads to job creation.  Our goal is to help business owners succeed; to help them RISE.”

Comcast RISE (representation, investment, strength, and empowerment) was created to invest in the success of critical small businesses of color by providing valuable and practical support along with funding and assessing company needs. Between February and April of 2020, black owned businesses were the hardest hit by the pandemic lockdowns and racial unrest and violence.  41% of African American commercial locations had to close their doors along with 32% Latinx; and 27% Asian compared to 21% of the general population. RISE’s support includes consulting in advertising and marketing, a 30 second TV commercial, a technology makeover and monetary grants. 

Chandra Smith Baker, Minneapolis Foundation Chief Impact Officer, said, “We’re supporting community power building, and we’re supporting organizations that are working on issues that are important to community, that are engaging people that have not been engaged in the democratic process or public debate, and often those things intersect with big things that are happening in the community.”

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