October 23, 2020
Guest Blog

Mind the Gap: The State of Philanthropy and the Black Community Review

Félicia Tremblay, Director of Diversity and Community Relations, Montreal Pride Festival

Until today I had never stopped to ask myself whether there is a gap between philanthropic foundations and Black communities in Canada.

That may be because, as a racialized person, the answer is obvious to me.

There are many discrepancies between certain institutions—the majority of them, in fact, because they tend to be predominantly white—and marginalized communities.

We’re talking about facts here.

Yes, despite the fact that many people believe that the centuries of oppression those communities have suffered are far behind us (although that’s not true), there is still that lack of real commitment by Caucasians in leadership positions to question themselves in order to map out solutions and cease being part of the problem. Although catalyst events like the murder of George Floyd have unsettled and even awakened some people’s minds, the reality is that little work has been done since then.

In this conversation moderated by Jeansil Bruyère, panellists Liban Abokor (Youth Leaps), Djaka Blais-Amare (Calgary Foundation), Joseph Smith (Generation Chosen), and Sadia Zaman (Inspirit Foundation) very eloquently put words to certain truths that should have been started long ago. Right from the start, the opening question left the door wide open:

How well are philanthropic foundations attuned to the various needs of Black communities when it comes to funding?

The answer is not very well at all.

Why?

First of all, as the experts put it so well because there’s a huge lack of representation at the top, where the decisions are made to grant funds. That lack of representation points to a lack of perspectives. Where perspective is lacking, there is blindness. How can they claim to be apportioning funds fairly when there is a built-in misunderstanding of the challenges that Black communities in this country face?

Sadia Zaman of Inspirit Foundation pointed out that the issue of power provokes a number of insecurities in some people who are already in leadership positions. There seems to be a knee-jerk reaction with many people: the idea that a single Black person or a single organization dedicated to Black communities would be enough—or even one too many.

Generation Chosen founder Joseph Smith shared some of the challenges he had to overcome in building the organization. He explained that it was only funded for one year out of five and that he had to work hard and invest his own money to keep the organization running. The problem, he says, is that there’s a vicious circle: to be eligible for funding, a group has to have received funding already.

Unfortunately, this is not the only challenge: the lack of research into the needs of Black communities and the absence of data on the topic are all too illustrative of the problem.

Normally, I’m not one to retain statistics. But I found this one stunning, albeit not surprising to me: out of 10,000 organizations that receive funding in Canada, there are only a dozen or so with Black governance and/or that pursue a mission of helping Black communities.

And what would happen if there were one or even several philanthropic organizations dedicated exclusively to the success of Black Canadians?

We can dream! This may well be a path to a solution, some light at the end of the tunnel. What if we didn’t have to continually justify ourselves to access funding from an organization in full possession of the facts? Is this possible?

There is clearly a lack of Black leaders on boards of directors and in decision-making and influential roles, and this is widely felt.

And yet, there are so many of us working tirelessly to get into those positions, because we know real change won’t happen until there are many voices at the table.

Keeping our heads above water. Breathing. Being appreciated for our true value. It’s not too much to ask.

This was an amazing panel, thought-provoking and enriching, even if the takeaway was that we’ve barely touched the tip of an iceberg.

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