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

By: 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.”

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