Strengthening The Field of Black Male Achievement
“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. penned these words in Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, the last book he published before his assassination in 1968. More than forty years after Dr. King asked “where do we go from here,” American society is still grappling with the same sobering question.
In 2006, a front-page New York Times headline warned that “The Plight of Black Men Deepens.” The story below the headline presented alarming data describing how, even though economic prosperity had steadily risen in America over the previous decade, the collective physical, political, educational, and economic health of black males lagged far behind that of their counterparts from other races.
The article ignited a conversation at OSF about how or whether it should respond to the increasing marginalization of black men and boys. While there was ample internal debate over whether the foundation should initiate a grantmaking strategy explicitly focusing on black males, many leaders and organizations and the communities they serve across the country are grateful today that it launched the Campaign for Black Male Achievement in 2008.
A former Open Society Programs board member, Lani Guinier, championed the campaign and has long argued that black males are America’s “canaries in the mine,” meaning that the conditions black men and boys face are a barometer of what Americans as a nation are facing. We do not want a future America where families, regardless of race, suffer high rates of incarceration, homicide, high school drop-out, and unemployment. This is why philanthropic investments in strategies to address the myriad challenges confronting black males will help in turn “to lift all boats” for underserved, vulnerable, and marginalized people and will ensure a brighter, stronger, and more equal and open society for us all.
The work of the campaign and the efforts of philanthropic partners and leaders from the policy advocacy, practitioner, and research sectors have expanded on earlier work of funders like the Ford Foundation, the 21st Century Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to establish the emerging field of promoting black male achievement. There has been progress in recent years, much of it championed by people of color in leadership positions within the philanthropic sector. But the sector itself is only slowly becoming more diverse and inclusive, and organizations working on this issue still receive only a paltry slice of the overall philanthropic pie, one that clearly is not enough to respond adequately to the enormity of the challenge we face as a nation.
With this in mind, I offer the following recommendations to help philanthropy work better to expand and sustain the field of black male achievement.
Build the Brand of Black Male Achievement: Invest in strategic communications to keep the challenges and opportunities facing black men and boys at the center of public policy and philanthropic discourse and to reframe how black men and boys are portrayed in the media.
Increase Public/Private Partnerships: Perhaps philanthropy’s most meaningful role can be as a catalyst for leveraging innovative collaborations between the public and private sectors, such as the partnership between George Soros and Mayor Michael Bloomberg in launching the New York City Young Men’s Initiative.
Invest in Leadership Development & Organizational Sustainability: The work that is required to improve the conditions of black men and boys in the United States requires more well-equipped leaders and more robust and durable organizations.
Measure Impact & Promote What Is Working: Philanthropy should work to motivate organizations and programs to achieve greater positive impact in terms of making a difference in the lives of black men and boys, and this impact should be measured by rigorous performance indicators and evaluation.
Sustain the Work: One of the most important lessons we’ve learned over the past four years on the “campaign trail” is that eliminating inequities preventing black men and boys from realizing their full potential requires a generational — i.e., long-term — commitment and approach. In fact, what is needed is an endowed philanthropic social enterprise — something like a Corporation for Black Male Achievement — to make the generational commitment that this issue requires and deserves.
This week the Campaign for Black Male Achievement and the Foundation Center release the report Where Do We Go From Here? Philanthropic Support for Black Men and Boys. The report establishes baseline data with respect to funding for black men and boys and describes recent philanthropic investments and innovations. It is intended to inspire dialogue, exploration, and, ultimately, investment in the field of black male achievement that contributes to lasting change. We invite you to read the report and share with us your ideas that can help answer the question: Where do we go from here?