By Karen Kelley-Ariwoola
Editor’s Note: Today’s post is the second of two parts written by MCF member Karen Kelley-Ariwoola, a Minneapolis Foundation donor advisor and community leader. She is the former Vice President, Community Philanthropy, at The Minneapolis Foundation, and a former MCF Board Chair.
Yesterday I wrote about my experiences at the recent Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE) conference, where I was led and taught by some of the best and the brightest Black professionals in philanthropy.
Today I’ll share how I was also lifted up by the special track of workshops for Black trustees who serve on foundation boards, as well as the annual James Joseph Lecture.
Equipping Black Trustees to Serve Their Community
The trustee workshops were part of “Leverage the Trust,” an ABFE initiative that equips Black trustees with support and tools to be excellent foundation trustees and represent the needs and concerns of Black communities in foundation deliberations and investments.
After serving many years on various nonprofit boards and chairing the MCF board for three years, I was honored to lead “Leveraging the Trust” with co-chair Anita Brown-Graham, a trustee of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in North Carolina.
In the workshops, Black trustees from around the country shared their experiences as foundation trustees and deeply explored the challenges and opportunities in moving philanthropy toward equity. I was honored to listen and learn from my peers and elders, and I will use their wisdom and experiences to help ABFE finalize a tool to strengthen the ability of Black trustees to serve with excellence and impact.
James Joseph Lecture: Invest in Early Education
Finally, the James Joseph Lecture given by Dr. Robert Ross, president and CEO of the California Endowment was the centerpiece of my weekend. Last year, I had the privilege of receiving this award and delivering the 21st annual lecture, the highest honor in Black philanthropy, and this year I was pleased to be on the other side of the podium, listening to Dr. Ross’ powerful message.
Troubled by the growing violence in our nation, this very busy foundation head took three months off to dive deep into better understanding causes and solutions. His lecture was an edge-of-your-seat recounting of the vivid conversations, tears shed, and revelations that emerged from listening and learning.
Read the full text of his speech “Enough and Now.” Dr. Ross noted three primary early warning signs that Black boys or young men are signaling for help: third grade reading, chronic school absence, and school suspensions or expulsions.
In response to these concerns he called for “greater investment in the early childhood years, reducing and or eliminating out-of-school suspensions; replacing unreasonably harsh discipline practices with restorative justice and other more accountable and effective policies; monitoring and reporting systems for chronic school absence; the incorporation of wellness, physical and social-emotional health into school achievement testing approaches.”
I’m sure these were not the kinds of recommendations most people expected to hear in response to violence in our communities. But those of us who work in community understand that these are the very kinds of investments that serve as protective factors for young children.
Dr. Ross also called for more people of color in philanthropy, noting that most foundation efforts focused on Black men and boys are led by people of color. In the absence of this diversity, he fears that much of the work focused on equity will not exist.
Dr. Ross closed by reminding us that if we truly “love” the black boys and young men in our community, then we are compelled to fight for justice on their behalf. “Love is justice.”
I could say much more about these three days that were jammed with networking, learning and discovering strategic tools to place Black communities on a path to healing. Though the snow in Minnesota is trying hard to hang on, I refuse to look back to the cold, dreariness of winter. And I refuse to give in to the sense of hopelessness that often accompanies discussions of lifting the Black community out of its current condition.
I’ve received my annual ABFE elixir and am ready to face the work of building community in partnership with allies that share the commitment to strengthening Black communities. Springtime brings my new resolve.