Earlier this year President Obama launched My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative to help boys and young men of color achieve their full potential in the face of trying circumstances. With the support of philanthropy, business, government, and faith leaders, the president hopes to help these young Americans make informed choices, develop resiliency, overcome obstacles, and achieve their dreams.
The initiative is rooted in the president’s engagement with promising high-school students in his adopted hometown of Chicago, where students commonly face adversity just walking to school. This is not just a new government program; it is a call to action to make sure the doorway to opportunity is open for those who are working every day to walk through it.
As the daughter of an African-American man who lives five blocks from where my parents grew up in Chicago, five blocks from the First Family, and five blocks from where 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was shot last year while standing with friends after completing her final exams, I confront the urgency of action every time I walk out my front door.
The field of philanthropy must answer, and it must start with leadership. Investing in leaders who reflect the communities that philanthropy serves and bringing perspectives to the table that are rooted in life experiences—experiences similar to those of people they seek to help—can help philanthropists more effectively advance the common good.
Robert Ross, president and CEO of The California Endowment, is one such leader. Ross grew up in a housing project in the Bronx before attending an Ivy League institution. The road that he has traveled is paved with experiences that inform and enhance his position as a leader.
Those experiences led him last year to help launch the Executives’ Alliance to Expand Opportunity for Boys and Men of Color. Like My Brother’s Keeper, this alliance of leaders from 26 foundations is committed to improving outcomes for a population that in too many cases is involved in alarming rates of violence and incarceration. The alliance is committed to “creating structures and pathways to opportunity and inclusion” for young men and boys of color, which will in turn help all of our communities. The leadership behind this alliance would have been hard to muster without the efforts of organizations such as the Association of Black Foundation Executives and other affinity groups that, for the past 40 years, have nurtured this leadership and promoted practices that allow for effective and authentic inclusion in philanthropy.
Another promising example is The Institute for Black Male Achievement (IMBA), which seeks to strengthen organizational capacity so that the field is positioned to address the long-standing systemic barriers that have denied young men and boys the opportunity to succeed. IBMA is partnering with the Social Impact Exchange to help funders leverage resources to help young men and boys of color across the country.
During his remarks at the My Brother’s Keeper launch event, boys and young men of color surrounded the president. Each represented the promise and potential that the initiative hopes to unlock. The faces were familiar to the president, and he noted that although he might not have faced the same low odds and heartbreaking statistics, growing up in a home without a father led to many poor choices. As he said, “I could see myself in these young men.”
More importantly, they should see themselves in him. If philanthropy is going to achieve its collective mission to advance the common good, it can start by ensuring that the people we work to help see themselves in us.
As D5 develops and promotes tools, resources, and support for foundations and organizations to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, we highlight examples from across the sector of successful approaches toward cultivating diverse leaders. Just a few examples include:
- The Association of Black Foundation Executives’ Connecting Leaders Fellowship is designed to sharpen the skills and strengthen the leadership capacity of foundation staff, donors, and trustees who are committed to assisting Black communities through philanthropy.
- The Emerging Practitioners of Philanthropy established the People of Color Network to widen the leadership pipeline and create opportunities for skills development and personal growth of young people of color in foundations and other philanthropic institutions.
- The Proteus Fund’s Diversity Fellowship identifies, recruits, and cultivates emerging practitioners of color who represent the next generation of philanthropic leaders.
- The San Francisco Foundation’s Multicultural Fellowship Program aims to cultivate the next generation of community leaders to reflect the diversity of its region.
This work is hard, but it’s not optional, and we do not have to do it alone. The efforts outlined here work to strengthen the common good with models, guidance, and networks that catalyze our individual actions and that contribute to a growing commitment to ensuring that philanthropy reflects, is responsive to, and attracts all of our communities.