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The Color of Philanthropy

January 7, 2009

In an earlier post, I mentioned the efforts of the Greenlining Institute to study the amount of money flowing to communities of color from foundations.   They began in California and succeeded in getting 10 of California’s largest foundations to direct approximately $30 million dollars to minority-led nonprofits. The Greenlining Institute has offered to conduct similar studies in other states, and has begun working in other states, including Pennsylvania and Florida.

On December 30th, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal published a scathing essay entitled The Philanthropy Shakedown.    The article likens the Greenlining Institute’s efforts to the “latest trend in racial extortion.”  The editorial-page editors go on to assert that “[t]he Florida report, like the studies Greenlining has done in other states, makes clear that the agitation for ‘diversity in philanthropy’ isn’t about donating to causes that help minorities. It’s a jobs program for college-educated minorities who want to work in nonprofits.”  Ouch – even for the Wall Street Journal.

I don’t find it surprising that the WSJ would like to believe that the state of philanthropy is just fine.  I, however, do find it surprising that the WSJ seems unable to accept that people of color are more invested in and often more effective at serving other people of color.   It’s not always true, but it’s true often enough.  History is filled up to its colored ears with examples, including the Voting Rights Act, to mention one.  I know white people in power don’t often like being held accountable (especially for their lack of circumspection), but the WSJ’s outrage seems irrational.

Al Piña, Chair of the Florida Minority Community Reinvestment Coalition (and prime target of the WSJ editorial), responded with a letter of his own.  He defends his position (and the work of the Greenlining Institute), stating “the most effective way to address issues of poverty, crime and education with underserved communities is through grass-roots organizations.”   What he is describing is not a jobs program for college-educated minorioties.  It is a recognition that the work of minority activists (college-educated or not) is not supported or funded at the level of a second rate ballet company.  And, he is asking us to re-examine our community’s priorities.  Because, although the WSJ would like to believe the opposite, things are not fine.

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