What's the Brooklyn Community Foundation Up To With Its Race-Focused Youth Strategy?

An eviction defense protest in Bedford-stuyvesant 

An eviction defense protest in Bedford-stuyvesant 

While racial equity has lately drawn interest from a growing array of funders, the Brooklyn Community Foundation has approached its grantmaking through a racial justice lens since its earliest days. Which makes sense, given that around 70 percent of Brooklyn residents are people of color, yet huge racial disparities exist here. This funder believes that the first step to building a better Brooklyn for everyone is addressing these disparities and overcoming them.

To see how this translate into grantmaking, we like to keep an eye on where BCF’s money is going and what programs it has cooking.

Last month, BCF announced over $1.9 million in new grants through its Invest in Youth initiative, which brought the foundation's giving total for 2016 up to $2.3 million. That sum may not sound very large, but BCF grants—typically around $20,000 to $35,000—can make a real difference for the smaller community-based groups that this funder often supports. 

Invest in Youth is a 10-year, $25 million commitment that was set up in 2015. The goal here is to improve social and economic opportunities for 16- to 24-year-olds of color. Over 100,000 youth, largely of color, are living in poverty today in Brooklyn. BCF has been particularly interested in supporting organizations that keep youth out of jail and help youth from immigrant families. According to foundation stats, about 25 percent of incarcerated youth in NYC come from six Brooklyn neighborhoods, and around 33 percent of NYC households are immigrant families.

In its most recent giving cycle, the foundation committed $960,000 to youth leadership across 32 nonprofits. Topics of interest here were economic opportunity, youth arts, girls of color, and safety. Meanwhile, $595,000 went to 18 nonprofits for youth justice causes like diversion programs, enrichment opportunities, job training, and school discipline reform. The last giving category here is immigrant youth, for which BCF gave $360,000 to 10 nonprofits working in the fields of legal & social services, leadership, and advocacy. A full list of Invest in Youth grantees can be viewed here.

It’s clear that Invest in Youth is BCF’s biggest priority now, as more grants come out of this program than anything else. This focus reflects concerns shared by other funders, too: namely that more needs to be done to intervene early in the lives of young people of color to give them the best chance of achieving their full potential. We've reported on a fair amount of grantmaking for boys and young men of color nationally and, more recently, have written about a collaborative of 16 funders (including BCF) that is focused on girls and young women of color in New York City. 

RelatedWhy This Collaboration Working for Women and Girls of Color Deserves a Close Look

One other point about BCF worth mentioning is that this foundation keeps a close eye on the diversity of the groups it supports. So, for example, more than half of the new grantees’ executive directors are people of color. BCF is also attuned to providing the kind of funding that so many nonprofits say they need. The bulk of its grantees (about 60 percent) have received multi-year general operating support for a three-year period.

For prospective applicants, Invest in Youth grants range from $20,000 to $50,000 each. Forty-three nonprofits received these grants in 2016, and 17 of them were first-time recipients. This tells us that BCF is looking for innovation and not afraid to take risks.

Since 2009, the foundation has provided over $25 million in grants to more than 300 nonprofits throughout Brooklyn. Keep in mind over 75 percent of BCF’s grantees are headquartered in Brooklyn and around half of its grantees and half are grassroots groups with less than $1 million to work with per year.