The Insight of Those Directly Affected #DisruptPhilanthropyNOW
This is an accountability intervention and its purpose is to disrupt how we typically relate to each other and speak truth. We hope to collectively transform these relationships as well as the resource distribution system. This is also a wide-loving invitation to our colleagues, friends, and comrades in the racial justice movement saying: enough, let’s share our stories, let’s organize together in the philanthropic sector to demand a just distribution of resources, and commit to racial justice that is reflective in all funder practices.
Youth As Resources’ (YAR) work exemplifies “that those who are directly affected by unjust systems and structures have the best insight into how to change them…,” a belief espoused by its funder, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). The youth-led YAR positions young people as problem solvers—not service recipients—within their own communities, all of which are located in inner-city Baltimore, all of which are primarily African American, and all of which struggle with issues related to poverty stemming from systematic divestment and institutional racism.
YAR is a youth-led, grant-making, community organizing, and leadership development organization based in Baltimore, Maryland. YAR has a longstanding relationship with CCHD, a national organization established to fund "such projects as voter registration, community organizations, community-run schools, minority-owned cooperatives and credit unions, capital for industrial development and job training programs, and setting up of rural cooperatives" in keeping with principles central to the Catholic mission. YAR was a recipient of CCHD local grant funds five times from 2002-2014 and a recipient of CCHD’s Strategic National Grant program annually from 2008-2013. In 2016, after a mandatory break in the application cycle, YAR was again invited by CCHD to submit a proposal to their Strategic National Grant program.
In keeping with their values, CCHD requires that “at least 50 percent of the members of the governing board of… applicant organization[s]... be comprised of individuals who are involuntarily low-income.” YAR’s board is comprised primarily of young people under 18 years old who are students and come from low-income families. CCHD directs prospective grantees to “use either the Very Low-Income or Low-Income household definition of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development” to determine whether or not their organization is eligible for funding. By these standards, 92% of YAR board members were reported as being very low-income on YAR’s 2016 application.
Despite a strong recommendation submitted on YAR’s behalf by the CCHD local committee, a CCHD grants specialist at the national level raised concern that YAR had not sufficiently proven that 50 percent of its board was involuntarily low-income. CCHD requested—after 15 years of successful applications—that the occupations of the parents of YAR board members be disclosed in order to prove their eligibility. YAR refused, arguing that doing so would constitute a traumatic invasion of privacy. YAR further argued that the disclosure of this information would not serve to prove their eligibility.
YAR’s 2016 application was denied.
YAR’s Argument Summarized
For the past 15 years, YAR and CCHD have enjoyed a joyful, mutually respectful relationship. When CCHD first funded YAR, YAR was primarily facilitating community conversations. YAR has since grown to the point that young people are now community organizers and participate in direct action. In the history of the organization, YAR members have never been more poised to affect social change in their own communities than they are today. Much of their development as young leaders has been made possible by CCHD funding.
The communities in Baltimore City that YAR board members live and work in are part of the “Black Butterfly”—a term first coined by Dr. Lawrence Brown to describe hyper-segregated areas in Baltimore characterized by urban geography. Baltimore native Dr. Clyde Woods describes the Black Butterfly as being comprised of communities where low-income or very low-income is the norm, where access to resources to meet basic needs is limited, and where the population is overwhelmingly African American.
From 2002 to 2013, CCHD decided that YAR’s board was indeed at least 50 percent involuntarily low-income and, therefore, eligible to apply for funding. In addition to CCHD, YAR receives funding from a number of organizations who also require that grantees be low-income. Yet, none of YAR’s other funders require the disclosure of the occupations of parents of its board members. It is important to keep in mind poverty is multidimensional. Income alone is not always an effective indicator of poverty and neither is a job title an effective indicator of income due to variations in wages.
The CCHD Grants Specialist who requested the occupations of the parents of YAR board members offered that all application materials received by CCHD are kept confidential. This may be so. Yet, any information disclosed within YAR’s application would, by policy, be accessible to all members of YAR’s board. Not only would this create a potentially dangerous situation for board members, it would constitute a traumatic invasion of their privacy as well. At least two members of YAR’s board of directors are unstably housed. Many parents of YAR board members are unemployed. Some parents are incarcerated and/or disabled, and some parents who are employed work at fast food restaurants or convenience stores.
YAR Board Vice Chair Toni shared: “[CCHD] kept trying to compare us to private school kids...I just feel like maybe it’s the fact that... Some people of color, they don’t get the best jobs because of their color. Maybe that’s a reason for us not wanting to do that, because of the level of the job that our parents have. I just feel like CCHD wouldn’t understand that because their board—of who we met and we’ve talked to—have been mostly white…[It’s] very hard for people to talk about. I know people have trauma about certain things that they see, just because something traumatic happened with that situation. So, it’s like, ‘Oh, my parents are unemployed. Maybe you’re gonna think less of me.’ That’s kind of traumatizing to think that someone thinks of me, as, you know, not good enough or something.”
YAR asked CCHD to reconsider its decision in light of the multidimensionality of poverty, the effects of wage variation, practices of other funders with similar eligibility requirements, and, most of all, the insight of those directly affected. YAR was subsequently informed by CCHD that they will not consider YAR’s request or any future request without disclosure of parent occupations of the youth who serve on the YAR Board of Directors.
YAR Board Vice Chair Toni would like CCHD to know this: “How much money my parents make doesn’t define what I do at YAR and who I am… Their money doesn’t help me get motivated to do the things that I do.”
YAR believes that funders need to consider:
- Trauma – Requesting personal and sensitive information is not only intrusive and offensive, but could cause trauma.
- Cultural competency and the use of language – YAR youth do not want to be referred to as “poor.”
- Professionalism – Funders need to approach their work with young people with the same level of professionalism with which they would approach their work with adults.
YAR invites CCHD to consider the insight of us – those who are directly affected.
Ashley Minner is a community artist from Baltimore, Maryland. She was the founder of the Native American After School Art Program (NAASAP) in 2007. Ashley formerly worked as the Liaison for the Title VII Indian Education Program of Baltimore City Public Schools. She currently works as a folklorist for the State of Maryland and is a part-time lecturer in the Department of American Studies at University of Maryland Baltimore County. Ashley holds a BFA in General Fine Art, an MA and an MFA in Community Art, which she earned at Maryland Institute College of Art. She is a PhD student in the Department of American Studies at University of Maryland College Park.
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We encourage you to send an accountability letter to any foundation that is using inequitable practices or misusing its power and share the impact. We encourage you to meet with them and discuss changes in practices and develop accountability structures. And we invite you tell your story. We must work collectively to share our stories to lessen the consequences on every organization. Keeping our voice unheard leads to the conclusion there is no urgency for the philanthropic sector to be transformed. We must disrupt philanthropy, intervene against inequitable practices, and transform the sector by redistributing wealth so we collectively end racism within our lifetime
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