Insights from “Philanthropy’s Role in Reparations and Building a Culture of Racial Repair”

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Insights from “Philanthropy’s Role in Reparations and Building a Culture of Racial Repair”

Commitments to fund racial equity have increased since the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent movement to advance racial equity. However, few of these commitments have been directly aimed at reparations, a comprehensive collection of policies to address the legacy of slavery in the U.S., and the centuries of documented, systemic race-based harm thereafter. 

This legacy has resulted in the racial wealth gap: one study suggests that even if the wealth of White households remained stagnant, it would take Black families 228 years, or more than 10 generations, to catch up.1 To affect change for racial equity, funders must build a culture of repair and recognize reparations as an essential pillar in creating a thriving multiracial democracy. 

On February 14th, we heard from leaders and funders at the forefront of the movement for reparations. Aria Florant, of Liberation Ventures, Ricshawn Adkins Roane, from the Weissberg Foundation, Vanessa Mason, from Omidyar Network’s Building Culture of Belonging focus area, and special guest Heather McGhee, Chair of the Board of Color of Change and author of “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together,” came together in conversation with moderator, Lyell Sakaue, of The Bridgespan Group. The group explored the breadth of reparations, how philanthropy can advance this movement, and a potential foundation for repair.

Key Takeaways

Leaders discussed and shared the following insights and takeaways:  

  • While financial compensation is incredibly important reparations work is not only about money; Building a culture of repair requires racial reckoning, acknowledgment of the harm, accountability by individuals and institutions, and redress for the harms done;
  • Reparations would have a positive effect on everyone, and thus the racial repair it brings requires the participation of everyone

The group explored the breadth of reparations, how philanthropy can advance this movement and lay a foundation for repair.

Reparations needs more than just money

Oftentimes, when people think of reparations, they believe that it starts and ends with money. However, the movement for reparations focuses both on finances and on creating a national culture where true acknowledgment and redress can lead to a better future for everyone. As Aria Florant says, “As much as it is about our past, it has to be about our future.” She goes on to explain that a one-time payment may close the racial wealth disparities for a limited time; however, if the systemic and infrastructural systems that created the gap are not fixed, it will only re-open.

“We view culture change as critical to actually making the policy change durable. It’s not just about the destination; it’s also about the culture change that we want to see in the journey along the way.”  — Aria Florant

In order for such cultural repair to take place, the private and social sectors must do their part not only in operationalizing repair but taking accountability for our part in causing harm to Black communities. Having knowledge of the harm caused helps better contextualize our shared stake in repair, and implementing redress and repair sets systems in place that we can build a better future upon.

Repair requires all hands on deck

In order to build a culture of racial repair, we need the participation of everyone, from the public and private sectors and individuals across all races. Building such a culture consists of reckoning, acknowledging, taking accountability, and redress. As Florant states, “We all are beneficiaries of repair; we all have to be agents of repair.” 

Florant goes on to explain the power of the term “reparations” itself and how it is often perceived as a divisive term. However, by not using the term, it is implied that Black people are not deserving of the dignity that so many other communities have received. It is because of other groups, such as Japanese Americans and the Civil Liberties Act of 19882 that we know reparations are obtainable. 

Heather McGhee joined the conversation as a special guest, highlighting her work with the New York State Community Commission on Reparations remedies as a “once in a lifetime” effort with the capacity to affect the entire nation.

“Justice for any group is progress for all of us.” — Heather McGee 

It is important for reparations work to be a multiracial coalition that spans across the country. It is also clear that people nationwide want to pitch in to bring such work to fruition. Public support for reparations has tripled in the last two decades. 30% of Americans polled are in favor of reparations – approximately the same amount of support that marriage equality had upon starting out.1 As funders supporting grassroots movements at the local level, we make national strides in this effort.

Repair must take many forms

As more foundations and organizations search for ways to get engaged, it is important to enact several modes of repair in order to meet the different types of harm done. Philanthropy has a role to play. Vanessa Mason, Principal of Building Cultures of Belonging for the Omidyar Network, details these four modes that have helped them as an institution shift towards repair:

  • Material (How can philanthropic organizations support the reparations movement?)
  • Relational (How do we relate to each other and resolve conflict?)
  • Cultural (What cultural practices are celebrated and upheld, and what practices have been dismissed and erased as a result of these systems?)
  • Spiritual (What spiritual practices allow for resilience and care; what do we need to acknowledge; and how we are moving forward?)

Funders can engage with reparations by funding this work, but also by addressing pervasive anti-Black narratives. Ricshawn Adkins Roane described how the Weissberg Foundation has begun this work by exploring its wealth origin story beyond what comes up on its website. Looking at the ways in which wealth was acquired and at whose expense, you can begin to see a starting point in identifying the harm your organization may have caused. Other opportunities for internal redress may reside in the examination of grantmaking practices, investment strategies, and your vendor partners. Shifting power by way of shifting assets is important to the work, even with something as internal as assessing policies that may spur racial disparities in pay and gaps in benefits. Taking multiple forms of reparative measures is key in moving toward a culture of repair.

"It’s not just money. We have to go through that process of reckoning, wrestling, acknowledging, committing to non-duplication... Being able to acknowledge this history is where we start."  — Ricshawn Adkins Roane

How to Get Involved

New York funders have a timely opportunity to join the conversation around the reparations movement by supporting the New York State Community Commission for Reparations Remedies, established through legislation in December of 2023.

To learn more about how you can support this work, be sure to register for Liberation Ventures upcoming New York State Reparations Donor Briefing.

Additional insights, resources, and organizations mentioned during the session include:

Philanthropy’s Role in Reparations and Building a Culture of Racial Repair (Liberation Ventures & Bridgespan, Sep. 27, 2023):   Chuck Collins, Dedrick Asante-Muhammad, Josh Hoxie, and Emanuel Nieves, The Ever-Growing Gap: Failing to Address the Status Quo Will Drive the Racial Wealth Divide for Centuries to Come, Institute for Policy Studies, August 8, 2016

2 This act apologized for the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, on behalf of the U.S. government, and authorized a payment of $20,000 to each former detainee who was still alive when the act was passed.

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