The Racial Justice Cohort – A New Way to do Philanthropy

The racial discontent that roiled cities across America in the aftermath of the police killings of George Floyd and Louisville’s own Breonna Taylor in 2020 and the gun violence that almost daily claims and disrupts countless Black lives were triggers for profound introspection and a re-examination of the Foundation’s approach to funding decisions. “The uprisings helped me and others here at the Community Foundation of Louisville to realize that it would be beneficial to look at our grantmaking through a racial lens. We needed to look at the policies we had in place that were barriers to Black- and Brown-led organizations receiving funding from us,” said Ramona Dallum Lindsey, Vice President of Equity and Impact.

The deep dive into the Foundation’s practices included promoting Dallum Lindsey and birthed the Racial Justice Cohort, through which 12 Black-led organizations each received $40,000 unrestricted grants as well as technical assistance. The funding is renewable for three years.

The Racial Justice Cohort is intentionally a bottoms-up initiative. The idea is to shift away from the traditional paradigm of funders telling communities what they need and what to do with the money. “As funders we have to rely on the wisdom, expertise, and the lived experiences of the communities we want to partner with,” Dallum Lindsey said. “The message to grant recipients is that they have the talent and collective power to inspire lasting and real change.”

At the outset, a representative group of community leaders, was identified and invited to design eligibility and the grant application. Later, they collectively interviewed leaders of 25 of the 51 grant-seekers and ultimately selected the 12 organizations who work at the ground level to save and transform lives. Mahogany Mayfield, a youth development professional and social justice advocate, was involved in every step of the process. She came away impressed and inspired. “What stood out for me was not talking about it, but being about it, meaning having a real commitment to the Black community. From the beginning we were seen as experts and our feedback was always taken into consideration,” Mayfield said.

Adria Johnson, President and CEO of Metro United Way was also effusive about the review and selection process. “This was trust-based philanthropy in action,” she said. “From beginning to end, this process is the model for how we can infuse equity and philanthropy and be intentional in providing investments to those organizations that often historically have not had the same level of access. It was powerful.”

A template of sorts for the Racial Justice Cohort process was the Health Equity Fund initiative in which the Foundation pooled with other funders and invested in four Black- and Brown-led organizations all dealing with the root causes of health disparities.

Dallum Lindsey, in a reflective moment, observed that too often, “People in power believe that people with suppressed power have nothing to bring to the table. At the Foundation, we want to intentionally recognize the power that every person in our community has to make real, lasting change. Her yardstick for measuring the success of the Racial Justice Cohort is two-fold. “One,” she said, “is for the Foundation to operate through trust and relationships with the people in our communities, and two, that we work with our grantees to define what success is for them.”

Learn more about the 12 organizations selected for the Racial Justice Cohort.

A future newsletter will spotlight some organizations that applied to be part of the Racial Justice Cohort, and though not selected at this time, are worthy of funders’ financial and technical support.

Continue reading for an in-depth look into the Health Equity Fund that started it all.

Contributor: Betty Winston Bayé is a former columnist and editorial writer for the Courier-Journal.