How This Foundation Works For Racial Equity at a Local Level

We've written often about the role philanthropy has played in the fight for racial equity. There's a long history, here, and we've looked all the way back to early 1900s, when Julius Rosenwald bankrolled the building of thousands of schools for African-American children throughout the South during Jim Crow. We've also examined the wealthy donors who were involved in supporting civil rights groups in the 1950s and 1960s, backing the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and critical efforts like Freedom Summer. And, of course, we've written about what large foundations like Kellogg, Ford, and Knight have been doing lately on race, most notably supporting efforts to empower young men and boys of color. 

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But while old money and large foundations are dominant in this funding space, it's also worth thinking about what other funders are doing to challenge racial inequities, including wealthy donors of color working at a more local level.

Consider Bay Area couple Wayne Jordan and his wife Quinn Delaney. Jordan is an African-American real estate developer who founded Jordan Real Estate Investments in 1998. The company's holdings include office buildings in San Francisco and Oakland, as well as apartment buildings in Oakland and Washington, D.C. Jordan has also been involved with Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a D.C. think tank that focuses on policy for low and moderate-income Americans. Quinn, meanwhile, is a graduate of Pitzer College, a liberal arts school in suburban Los Angeles, and University of Houston Law School. She's been heavily involved with the ACLU, working as an attorney and also serving on the board of the ACLU of Northern California for a decade.

In the late 1990s, the couple was inspired by Bay Area youth groups who rallied against Proposition 21, which increased a variety of penalties for crimes committed by youth. While Prop 21 ultimately passed, Quinn and Jordan decided to support more youth organizations committed to racial justice and founded the Akonadi Foundation. The foundation, by the way, gets its name from the oracle goddess of justice in Ghana.

Akonadi's mission is both simple and lofty: "To support the development of a powerful social change movement to eliminate structural racism and create a racially just society." The foundation notes that racial justice organizations currently have many strategies and priority areas, and may not necessarily see themselves as part of a larger movement. When funders step in, this fragmentation tends to increase.

What's Akonadi's solution, then? In a word: "Movement building." The foundation doesn't just want to support individual work, they want organizations to come together and operate collectively by "building power, shaping policy and transforming culture."

As readers of Inside Philanthropy are aware, how funders do (or don't) support social movements is another keen interest of ours. While history shows that such movements on both the left and right are often instrumental in catalyzing major change, many funders invest in more technocratic strategies. We've explored why this is so, and also how, exactly, philanthropists can be most effective in investing in social movements. 

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The Akonadi Foundation is a good example of how one smaller funder is finding its way in this important work. The foundation has awarded grants through its Beloved Community Fund and its Arc Towards Justice Fund. A snapshot of some of this grantmaking will likely present a better picture of what Akonadi is all about.

The Arc Toward Justice Fund aims to achieve equity for youth of color ages 14 to 24 in Oakland. Recent grants include:

  • $100,000 a year for three years to Black Organizing Project"a Black member-led community organization working for racial, social and economic justice through grassroots community organizing and community building to end the criminalization of black and brown students in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD)."
  • $100,000 a year for three years to Californians for Justice Education Fund: "a statewide grassroots organization working for racial justice by building the power of youth, communities of color, immigrants, low-income families, and LGBTQ communities."
  • $75,000 to National Council on Crime and Delinquency, which "promotes just and equitable social systems for individuals, families, and communities through research, public policy, and practice."

Meanwhile, the foundation's Beloved Community Fund supports cultural and arts events in Oakland celebrating communities of color. In 2015, the fund received 92 applications and made 60 grants for a total of $450,000. Some of these outfits include:

  • A $7,000 grant to Youth SEED to support its Youth Cultural Innovation Showcase which included a discussion of how youth of color in low-income communities can still participate and live in a gentrifying landscape.
  • A $5,000 grant to East Bay Asian Youth Center (AYPAL) to support its annual arts festival which "intersects arts, activism, history, and culture for Asian Pacific Islander youth."
  • A $13,500 grant to Zawaya to support an interactive concert of Palestinian folk music and dance that also aimed to connect that community with Bay Area African American, Asian-American, and Latino audiences.

The foundation's Arc Toward Justice Fund is currently only accepting applications by invitation only and its Beloved Community Fund is no longer accepting applications for the year. Grantseekers working in this space should check back in 2016.

To be sure, the stream of funding coming out of Akonadi isn't huge, and it's pretty locally focused. But it's a reminder that there are actually a range of funders worried about racial inequity besides the usual suspectsincluding some, like Akonadi, that aren't afraid to talk candidly about the deeply embedded problem of structural racism.