#AskHer Series: Shawnda Chapman, Director of the Girls Fund Initiative, Ms. Foundation

Our #AskHer series is an interview with our partners, community members and supporters who work tirelessly for women and girls. This interview is with Shawnda Chapman, Director of the Girls Fund Initiative for Ms. Foundation. The interview was conducted at the end of 2020 by our Program Officer, Claudia Williams. 

Claudia: Can you share a little bit about yourself, how did you come to the Ms. Foundation for Women, and what projects you have going on?

Shawnda: I believe people need all the experiences, I used to walk around thinking some of my experiences were a liability. And now, I really see them as an asset. My work is rooted in my own experiences as a survivor of sexual violence, and a survivor of the juvenile justice system. Many girls experience incarceration and gender-based violence that impact their lives. 

I am excited to lend my voice as the Director of the Girls of Color Fund Initiative at the Ms. Foundation for Women, because up until recently I walked around closeted of my lived experiences. Being a survivor of sexual violence and someone who has been impacted by the justice system is usually something others make you feel you should hide—I felt people would judge me in professional spaces. But I came to a point where I thought to myself, “I had these experiences, and my knowledge of them, and the solutions I can propose, could really help somebody.” There are few of us with these experiences in decision making tables, so now I am honored to do this work, and I have a responsibility to myself, to communities, and to girls of color specifically, to incorporate my lived experiences in mainstream conversations and to normalize talking about them.

I have a background in research, and activism, and I bring some of that to the work at the foundation as well. I am currently focused on supporting the leadership and organizing of girls of color, the work has evolved quite a bit. We started calling this project the Girls Fund Initiative, and we are now explicit about our focus on girls of color, because we can’t bring about change, if we are not intentional about naming what we are working on. We are in the middle of a deep listening and learning process, working closely with girls’ advisory groups who are helping us to understand what girls of color are facing. We are moving away from top down approaches and know that girls of color are playing an important role in leading our strategy. We can’t make any real lasting and sustainable change that isn’t led by them.

My orientation while conducting research, and now my orientation in philanthropy, is to always give more than we take. I think we should always be reducing barriers rather than creating more. So, we are being very thoughtful about that, and we are also making sure that we are honoring girls and organizations participating in our process.

It is such an honor to do this work and I feel a huge sense of responsibility to it. I know what it means to come from where I have come from. So I am making sure that we come to this work with dignity and with intentionality, and recognizing not just our ability to make an impact through the economic commitments that we make, but also through what we learn and that we have the ability to push the field to do better.

Claudia: Can you share more about your efforts to push the philanthropic sector to do better?

Shawnda: Ms. Foundation just released a report, Pocket Change, highlighting the fact that we are not investing enough in women and girls. Even less in women and girls of color. As a researcher, one of the first things that I always do is dive into the data to figure out what we know, what’s happening, and one of the things that surprised me the most was the fact that we don’t actually have a sense of how much money goes out to girls of color. Through this research we have a better sense of how few resources go to women, and there is still a long way to go. For instance, we do not have a great sense of how much disabled girls are getting or if there any resources going to girls affected by climate change. Girls of color quite often are the last to be considered for funding and the first to be let go. Feminist foundations like The Women’s Foundation and Ms. Foundation for women are more important than ever, because there are so few foundations that are intentional about funding, women, girls, and gender-expansive people of color. Our work is so critical, and all of the learning that we are doing and putting out there helps us advocate to push the field to do better.

Claudia: There is a lot of talk about centering the voices of young women and gender-expansive youth of color, but how do you do that? Can you share your experience as the Director of the Girls of Color Fund Initiative at Ms. Foundation for Women? 

Shawnda: I am super new to philanthropy; it’s been less than a year. I think it’s both a blessing and a curse sometimes. I feel a little clunky sometimes, but I think that being new has allowed me to be bolder in the decisions that I’m taking and the way that I want to develop a strategy to center the voices of young women and gender-expansive youth of color.

We are supporting organizations with the goal to be able to learn from them in a very deeply, engaged, and meaningful way. It is really about bringing them to the decision-making table in their own terms. We are asking girls of color to show up and create the change that they want to see in the world, but in order for us to ask that, we have the responsibility to resource them properly so they can do that fully. That means many things, and depends on the needs of the girls and organizations that we are working with, for some it is political education or capacity building or communications training, but it is definitely more than just checking a box that makes us feel good about saying that we “included” them. Their ideas, creativity and passion is really what needs to be driving our work, and we are being very thoughtful about the ways we engage with them, because they have so many competing priorities, between school, family and friends.

Claudia: What are some of the principles that guide your work at the Girls of Color Fund?  

Shawnda: One of the things that we deeply care about is the fact that girls have the right to joy and we want to support that. We want to support programming that creates opportunities for girls of color to access joy, spaces where girls can really enjoy and be themselves, and where they don’t have to be thinking about being resilient—there’s this conversation about how Black women are very resilient, but we don’t necessarily want to be resilient all the time! Just because many girls of color have figured out how to not to perish in the system, doesn’t mean that they don’t need fun and resources, and time for healing and growth.  

Learn more about Ms. Foundation here!

Supporting Survivors of Violence Through A Year of Change

When the novel coronavirus hit last year, we barely knew then how much our work and the work of our grantees would change. During those first months we were sheltering at home from the global contagion, we saw a shadow pandemic growing — violence against women and girls. We heard our longtime partners flag a significant increase of domestic violence and sexual assault reports, heightened demand for helplines and emergency shelters, and meager resources to support survivors, who were experiencing trauma like never before.

We knew we had to rapidly adjust our plans to respond to both crises—COVID-19 and gender-based violence—with a race and gender framework, prioritizing support to survivors through our emergency relief fund “Stand Together.”

The core of our grantmaking is flexible funding that gives our grantee partners choices and the ability to allocate funds where they are needed the most and where they will make a real difference. We believe in supporting and trusting our partners, and making things easy, so they can focus on changing the world rather than drowning in paperwork. And we invest in women and girls of color, not only because philanthropy has historically underinvested in women and girls of color, undervaluing them as the powerful community and movement leaders they are (less than one percent of the total 66.9 billion given by foundations in the US goes towards Black and Brown women and gender-expansive people, largely remaining out of sight in public discourses and funding), but also because we know they make change happen.

As we reflect on a year of grantmaking through unprecedented challenges, we are delighted to share with our community where our resources went, as none of this would be possible without your support.

Thank you for being a part of The Women’s Foundation story.

Our Safety and Violence Prevention Grants

  • Are unrestricted funding that allows our partners flexibility.
  • Center the voices of survivors!
  • Go to organizations led by women or gender-expansive people of color.
  • Support organizations providing culturally specific and trauma-informed services to survivors.

With your help during 2020, through our Safety and Violence Prevention portfolio we gave $230,000 to 15 grantee partners across the DMV region. 

  • 60 percent of grants went to first-time grantees to The Women’s Foundation.
  • 65 percent of grants went to groups with operating budgets of $1M or less.
  • 29 percent of grants went to organizations with one or no full-time staff.
  • 100 percent of leaders at the helm are women or gender expansive people of color.

All of our Grantee Partners received unrestricted funding to advance their mission! Visit their website and learn more about their work.

Provide support to South Asian women living in abusive marriages and homes.

Address, prevent, and end domestic violence and sexual assault in Asian/Pacific Islander communities while empowering survivors to rebuild their lives after abuse.

Provide legal, social, and language services to help low-income immigrants access justice and transform their lives.

Erase the stigma associated with domestic violence and trauma, providing alternatives, and incorporating trauma informed care.

Embrace, educate and empower those impacted, affected, or harmed by crime or trauma on their journey to justice and healing.

Provide access to safe housing and services to survivors of domestic and sexual violence and their families as they rebuild their lives on their own terms.

Advocate for, and provide services to, survivors of sexual violence.

Promote healthy relationships and reduce abuse in the Deaf community of the Washington DC area, emphasizing that all forms of violence are intersectional.

Empower women, children, and families to rebuild their lives and heal from trauma, abuse, and homelessness.

To enhance the dignity of Muslim women by empowering them through education.

Advocates for the dignity and rights of young women and girls so that every girl can be safe and live a life free of violence and exploitation.

Protect courageous immigrant women and girls who refuse to be victims of violence. By elevating their voices in communities, courts, and Congress, Tahirih creates a world where all women and girls enjoy equality, and live in safety and with dignity.

Provide free culturally specific, holistic, and trauma-based services to Black women survivors of domestic violence and/or sexual assault primarily living in Washington, DC’s Wards 7 and 8.

Silence Kills is a collective that fosters the ability of their members to turn their pain into power, encouraging people to speak on the unspoken via artistic expression.

Create safe spaces and combat violence against our communities.

With your support, thousand of survivors will receive interpretation, advocacy, and free legal services. Thousands more will be connected to vital social services, including emergency shelter, healthcare, food, and clothing.

By making an investment in the Stand Together Fund, you are joining forces with the collective generosity of your neighbors, colleagues, friends, and family to ensure that women and girls of color are not forgotten.

Stand Together, So She Can Stand on Her Own.

>Join Us<

Our Latest Investments in Young Women and Gender-Expansive Youth of Color!

Through our Young Women’s Initiative, we make investments in the District of Columbia to dismantle racist and sexist systems that harm young women and gender-expansive youth of color.

We know the most innovative solutions come from youth themselves, as they experience intersecting issues and systems, and are the experts on what they need to succeed. Our strategy is to put young people at the helm of advancing solutions to the problems they encounter in their lives and communities. We do it by providing flexible and reliable funding to organizations that strengthen and amplify youth’s leadership and advocacy skills, and that support youth to advocate for policies and practices that center their needs and solutions. We also engage young women and gender-expansive youth of color as agents of change in their communities through participatory grantmaking with our Rock Star Fund. This fund goes beyond traditional grantmaking, on one hand young people have the opportunity to review applications and decide which projects to invest in, on the other, young people receive resources to make their ideas a reality.

For our latest round of YWI investments, we are excited to support Black Swan Academy and Rights4Girls for a second consecutive year to serve as co-conveners of the DC Girls’ Coalition and co-coordinators of the coalition’s Youth Advisory Board—a group of young people who steers the direction of the coalition and selects awardees on behalf of The Women’s Foundation for the Rock Star Fund.

The coalition strives to reduce the criminalization and adultification of young women and gender expansive youth of color by uplifting them as leaders, making space for them to shape the policy agenda, and ensuring they have the skills and resources to do it. The coalition also brings together a network of organizations dedicated to adopting and implementing policy recommendations young women and gender-expansive youth of color identify themselves and that centers their needs and leadership.

During the past year, we witnessed first-hand  the incredible work Black Swan Academy and Rights4Girls undertook to build the coalition’s membership and membership structure, develop an action plan, and communicate with Girls’ Coalitions and Young Women’s Advisory Councils across the country to share best practices and highlight common trends. They also supported youth addressing issues related to Covid-19, convened two youth-led candidate forums, participated in DC Mutual Aid efforts, and advocated for their 2020 advocacy agenda.

We are very proud to put decision making in the hands of young people in our community, to be supporting grassroots efforts that elevate the leadership of young women and gender-expansive youth of color, and to let them lead with what they think is best for their community. As with most of our current grantmaking, funding for the coalition is general operating support with minimal reporting criteria. While we are funding a project, we are operating through a trust-based approach that is transparent, streamlined, and flexible, and we can’t wait to see the great things Black Swan Academy and Rights4Girls will accomplish this year.

Since 2017, the Young Women’s Initiative has:

  • Provided awards to 15 young women and gender expansive youth of color to invest in their own learning, leadership, and community projects.
  • Strengthened and amplified the leadership and advocacy skills of over 50 young women and gender expansive youth of color in the District of Columbia, and provided opportunities for them to leverage their leadership to create change.
  • Provided seed funding to launch the DC Girls Coalition, the only coalition in the District of Columbia that centers the leadership and addresses the needs of young women and gender expansive youth of color.
  • Uplifted the voices and priorities for action of young women and gender-expansive youth of color in the District of Columbia through a Blueprint for Action.

Closing the Gap in Funding for Women and Gender-Expansive People of Color

At The Women’s Foundation, we know that philanthropy is not immune to the racist ideas that permeate society. In 2016, we publicly committed to tackling racism head on and advancing equity for women and girls of color. We committed to better understand how racism shows up in our sector and to fix it from within. We also began our team journey to learn about addressing anti-Black racism and bias with an intersectional lens, and to increase our investments in movements and organizations led by Black and Brown women and gender-expansive people.

But even when many progressive philanthropists are moving in the same direction as us to bring about racial justice, foundations are less likely to publicly identify women and girls of color as a priority. Less than one percent of the total 66.9 billion given by foundations in the US goes towards Black and Brown women and gender-expansive people, largely remaining out of sight in public discourses and funding.

As data on the burden of the pandemic started to circulate, we were not surprised to learn that across the board, communities of color, particularly women, queer, and trans people of color, have been the hardest hit, disproportionately dying from the disease, but also experiencing increased job loss, economic insecurity, violence, and harassment.

During normal circumstances, organizations by and for women and girls of color do extensive critical work with extremely limited resources. At the outset of the crisis, we were concerned about the pressure the coronavirus outbreak would exert on their budgets, knowing their work would more than duplicate and that these organizations typically face significant barriers to unrestricted foundation funding. But we also knew that despite the historic lack of support from philanthropy, women of color-led organizations would bear the burden of the wide-reaching and multi-faceted consequences of the public health crisis and resulting economic downturn, but that as they have done time and time again, they would be at the forefront of social change, leading with resilience, power, and determination.

During this unprecedented time of social upheaval, social isolation, and economic depression, it is more important than ever for us to live our gender equity and racial justice values, and support small organizations led by women and gender-expansive people of color who are responding to the outbreak with a gender and race lens, and who understand the specific risks and vulnerabilities women and girls of color face.

For our first round of emergency funds—with investments totaling $100,000—we identified an issue area with critical gaps in funding and where the need has been significantly exacerbated by the pandemic—the safety of women experiencing violence.

We are supporting organizations that work to counter gender-based violence through a trust-based approach that is transparent, streamlined, flexible and removes unnecessary barriers that disproportionately impact small organizations without dedicated capacity to complete funder-imposed paperwork. Most of the organizations we are supporting have received little to no financial support from other Covid-19 emergency response efforts, are led by women or gender-expansive people of color, provide culturally specific and trauma-informed services, and build deep relationships with survivors of sexual and domestic violence at the intersections of gender, race, and other identities. Our grants are unrestricted funding to ensure our Grantee Partners will have flexibility to allocate funds where they are needed the most and where they will make a real difference—whether that’s on the project they originally applied for or to respond to emergent needs.

Through this round of grantmaking, we build on the work we have been doing over the past four years to fight anti-Black racism and to create an ecosystem where nonprofit leaders are valued, supported, and trusted. Now more than ever we are proud to be a community supported foundation that invests in the power of women and girls of color in the Washington DC region.

As a feminist in philanthropy working to advance gender and racial equity, I am thrilled we are investing in organizations that center the voices and experiences of women and girls of color and who are led by women and gender-expansive people of color. I am proud we are supporting the leadership of women and gender expansive people of color through our work, and we hope others in the sector recognize the importance of supporting organizations by and for women and girls of color through their racial justice investments.

The following innovative, resilient, and courageous organizations addressing the immediate impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, are our latest Grantee Partners, and we are looking forward to supporting them beyond the grant.

Asian-Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project $20,000
Bringing a part-time case manager to help ease the very high caseload they have because of COVID-19. Their cases have increased by 70 percent because of new clients and recurring clients who have been triggered.

Building Bridges Foundation $5,000
Linking survivors of domestic violence who seek emergency medical services at United Medical Center with wrap around services and case management to help them exit abusive relationships.

Community Advocates for Family and Youth $15,000
Increasing their pro bono counseling availability to clients who do not have health insurance or who are undocumented and increasing the client financial assistance fund to directly support client needs.

DC Rape Crisis Center $15,000
For general operating support to advance the mission of the DCRCC in advocating for, and providing services to, survivors of sexual violence.

DEAF DAWN $20,000
Supporting their overall programming, including resource referral, case management, wrap around services, peer advocacy, counseling, support groups, resiliency education, and emergency crisis support

Tahirih Justice Center, Greater Washington Region  $10,000
For general operating support to advance the mission of providing free legal and social services to immigrant women and girls fleeing violence, and to provide direct financial assistance and meet the basic needs of their clients.

The Safe Sisters Circle $15,000
Bringing a temporary staff attorney to assist The Safe Sisters Circle’s sole attorney with the influx of survivor’s cases during COVID-19 and immediately afterwards.

Responding to COVID-19 with a Gender & Race Lens

We are all in some way feeling the impact of COVID-19, no matter our race, nationality, gender, or ability. But cis and trans women and non-binary people of color—who experience deep-rooted inequities—are feeling the impact in very distinct ways. Responding with a gender and race lens underscores understanding the specific risks and vulnerabilities women and girls of color face. Some of them include:

Women of color are overrepresented in low-wage occupations and are disproportionately affected by poverty

Women of color are much more likely to experience poverty at higher rates and to work in the low-wage occupations bearing the brunt of the economic losses of the pandemic. Almost 27 percent of Black women and 16 percent of Latinas in the District live below the poverty level, and in the DMV region, nearly two-thirds of all low-wage workers are women. Most of them immigrant (49 percent) or non-white (81 percent). Low-wage occupations are precarious, with numerous research highlighting limited access to paid sick leave and other benefits. 

Women are most of frontline workers

Women are also more likely to be caregivers for the sick in both healthcare settings and at home, being disproportionately exposed to contagion through person-to-person contact. In DC, more than half (52.3 percent) of physicians and surgeons, and almost three out of four (73 percent) professional nurses are women.

Increased risk of violence

Travel restrictions and mandatory lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 are escalating gender-based violence incidents in the District. Victims have more difficulty reporting abuse, getting medical care or seeking refuge at their parent’s or friend’s homes. And advocates are dealing with unprecedented challenges to offer help. Domestic violence is also major factor contributing to unstable housing.

Women of color make up the largest share of women who experience homelessness

Unhoused women face unique challenges. They have difficulty accessing health care, menstruation products, or childcare. Are more likely to have poor mental health or chronic illnesses, and they deal with concerns for their personal safety on a regular basis. While the homeless population at large in the District is male, most adults in families without homes are women (79 percent), and women of color make up the largest percentage of women who experience homelessness (90 percent).

As the coronavirus spreads, unhoused individuals are among the most vulnerable to infection. Shelters are operating at full capacity with limited staff or volunteers, spaces to quarantine those who test positive are inadequate, and public spaces where homeless women met most of their basic needs—like meals or toilets—are now closed. People over the age of 60 are also more susceptible to COVID-19 and in the District 60 is the most common age for homeless women.

Reproductive health services dwindle during pandemics

Evidence from past epidemics indicate that health care systems divert resources from reproductive and sexual health care services to contain the crisis, yet women continue to require family planning, maternal health care, and safe abortions. The District is already experiencing a maternal health care crisis that impacts Black women and low-income residents the most, as a result of lack of access to preventive and prenatal care.

For us at The Women’s Foundation, it’s important to highlight the specific vulnerabilities women of color are facing during the pandemic, especially when most health executives and decision-makers are men—the White House Coronavirus Task Force includes just one woman of color, out of 25 members. Women of color are on the frontlines of the crisis, and their voice and lived experience must inform preparedness and response policies and practices.

Claudia Williams is Program Officer at Washington Area Women’s Foundation where she contributes to crafting and executing program strategy.

Blueprint Recommendations to End and Prevent Homelessness

This post is the first of a two part-series focused on philanthropy’s role in ending homelessness in collaboration with Funders Together to End Homelessness.

On a given night, close to 7,000 people are living in shelters or on the streets in the District of Columbia. Many more are at high risk of experiencing homelessness, dependent upon others for temporary accommodation, or living one crisis away from housing instability.

Many factors can contribute to individuals and families experiencing homelessness such as job loss, family breakdown, eviction, and domestic violence. However, the root cause of homelessness is the lack of affordable housing and the failure of systems, not that of an individual, and is perpetuated by the historical and current structural racism that exists in those systems.

Young women of color who provided their time and expertise to shape our Blueprint for Action—the policy agenda of the Young Women’s Initiative—talked about experiencing homelessness and lacking access to affordable housing. Homelessness came up in every single policy issue we discussed, from education, to health and well-being, to the juvenile justice system and economic security. They recognized that without housing first, it is hard for young women of color to pursue personal goals, secure and maintain employment, and overall improve the quality of their life.

Based on the learnings and overarching recommendations of the Blueprint for Action, and the work many funders and non-profit organizations are doing in the Washington region to end homelessness, this post outlines four funding strategies to prevent and end youth homelessness in the District of Columbia.

Because homelessness is complex and happens at different levels, our recommendations focus not only on strategies that drive individual programs to success but also on systemic approaches to address the underlying causes.


Addressing Racial Inequity

Young women of color are overrepresented among the youth population experiencing homelessness and structural racism within larger systems perpetuate these disparities. By centering the communities most affected by racism and helping a wide range of stakeholders to understand the harms of implicit racial biases and racist policies, philanthropy can help dismantle one of the root causes of homelessness, advance opportunities for all, and achieve equitable systems. Philanthropy also has the opportunity to challenge and lead the field in ensuring policies and practices are actively anti-racist in their creation and implementation. If the solutions we advance are working under a “colorblind” approach, we will never achieve racial equity and instead perpetuate racial injustices.

Scaling Best Practices

Understanding the realities of young women of color experiencing homelessness and the extent to which gender, culture, trauma, age, gender identify, and sexual orientation, among other factors, shape these experiences is indispensable to help them move out of homelessness. Supporting programs and solutions that center the young women of color with lived expertise, recognize the solution’s unique strengths and barriers and then build on these strengths, is an effective way to scale best practices.

Enhancing Supportive Services

Supporting organizations that increase access to housing options and coordinated supportive services for young women of color experiencing homelessness makes a significant difference in young women’s ability to work to regain stability and to reduce the contributing factors that caused them to experiencing homelessness in the first place. Strong and coordinated support services that connect young women of color to the most appropriate level and type of assistance based on their strengths and needs is a critical first step to prevent and end homelessness.

Changing Public Policies

Supporting advocates and organizations working to end homelessness in our region to advance policies that directly affect people experiencing homelessness is one of the most powerful ways to create long-term, sustainable change. Through public-private partnerships, philanthropy’s engagement in advocacy and public policy efforts leverages the impact of available resources and is an effective strategy to bring about systemic change. Funders can support efforts through not only funding grassroots organizations, but also through their influence and use of voice to lift up or oppose policies that impact housing and homelessness programs.

Claudia Williams is Program Officer at Washington Area Women’s Foundation where she contributes to crafting and executing program strategy and manages the Young Women’s Initiative of Washington, DC.


At the Intersection of Immigrant Justice and Racial Equity

Every day, we see targeted efforts to limit the rights, diminish the dignity, and harm the lives of immigrants, in particular immigrants of color. Throughout American history, immigration laws have been rooted in anti-blackness to privilege some immigrant communities over others, a deliberate strategy to define the demographic makeup of who gets to become a U.S. citizen.

Most immigrants and refugees today are people of color impacted, implicitly and explicitly, by anti-black systems of oppression built up over centuries in this country. In an effort to shed light on how advancing immigration justice simultaneously moves forward racial equity, on October 21, WRAG’s Racial Equity Working Group (REWG) convened a briefing and community dialogue between immigrant leaders, funders, and non-profit practitioners to explore philanthropy’s role in redistributing power and resources to amplify efforts on the ground.

Whether or not immigration is a funding priority, it is a crosscutting experience and issue central to all funders interested in creating a cohesive, just, and inclusive society. Jeanné Lewis from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) framed the briefing by sharing key findings from NCRP’s Movement Investment Project related to the funding of pro-immigrant movements. She then facilitated a conversation that uncovered some essential practices for philanthropy to be a supportive partner of the pro-immigrant and racial equity movements:

  • Embracing an Intersectional Framework: The experiences of Black immigrant and refugee communities are largely absent from the dialogue and strategies of both immigrant rights funders and racial equity funders, leaving Black immigrants and Black-led immigrant organizations facing substantial barriers in securing resources. Something similar happens to Indigenous immigrants and Indigenous-led organizations. Gabrielle Jackson, Co-director of UndocuBlack Network, called on philanthropy to begin challenging dominant ideas regarding immigrants’ identities. She underscored the importance of embracing an intersectional framework that recognizes immigrants have multiple identities and can experience overlapping forms of discrimination.
  • Providing Unrestricted Multiyear Funding to Immigrant-Led Organizations: Immigrants and people of color often experience lack of trust in their leadership. In philanthropy, this translates as concerns about the sustainability and structure of the organizations they manage, and their ability to track outcomes or deliver results. Darakshan Raja, Co-director of Justice for Muslims Collective, urged funders to not only unpack their biases about people of color, but also about what successful organizations and leadership styles look like. Building a strong organizational infrastructure and achieving policy wins takes many years and resources to achieve. Emerging immigrant-led organizations at the forefront of bringing important issues to the table but without a “proven track” record of results, traditional governance structures, and funding, can significantly benefit from flexible funding strategies that trust and value their expertise.
  • Enhancing Integrated Supportive Services: Most philanthropy organizations provide funding for legal and policy organizations, but very few invest in integrated services for immigrants and refugees. Yet, immigrants and refugees require more than just legal support and have very few alternatives to obtain services that meet their needs. Hiwot Berihun, Legal Director of African Communities Together, stressed that philanthropy can play a critical role in channeling resources to support integrated legal services, in particular to facilitate access to mental health and healing justice programs.
  • Building Capacity and Leveraging Networks: Organizations need capacity-building support in order to build infrastructure and develop more immigrant leaders. Besides financial resources, philanthropy can support immigrant and social justice advocates by providing technical assistance, opportunities for learning, networking, and leadership opportunities. Edgar Aranda-Yanoc, Senior Lead Organizer at Legal Aid Justice Center, asserted that philanthropy can send a powerful message just by standing together with immigrant organizations during marches and demonstrations.
  • Shifting Narratives about Immigrant Communities: Negative stereotypes about immigrants are widespread and deep-rooted. Anti-immigration rhetoric portrays immigrants as rapists, violent criminals, terrorists, and murders. Julio Murillo, Government and Strategic Relations Specialist at CASA encouraged philanthropy to work towards centering the voices of immigrants to creating space for them to share their own story, and to shift the narrative about the value and contribution of immigrants. He also emphasized the importance of cooperation between communities, building cross-racial and ethnic alliances for immigrant rights and racial justice, and solidarity among people of color when organizing to advance policy change.

We hope REWG’s briefing and community dialogue spurs grantmakers in our region to explore ways to better support and integrate organizations advancing immigration justice and racial equity. We know that it takes commitment, collaboration, and innovation to put the recommendations above into practice, that we need to hold each other accountable to make them a reality, and that we need to move with urgency because the stakes are just too high if we do not act now.

Claudia Williams is Program Officer at Washington Area Women’s Foundation where she contributes to crafting and executing program strategy and manages the Young Women’s Initiative of Washington, DC. Claudia is also an active member of WRAG’s Racial Equity Working Group, and serves in the immigration subcommittee.

Centering the Voices of Young Women of Color to Inform Policy Decisions

Just a couple of weekends ago, I heard an episode of Bitch Media’s Popaganda podcast that sought to reframe sex work by exploring the legal and financial realities of the trade.

My ears perked up when this episode started; DC is in the middle of considering full decriminalization of the sex trade. I have been following some of the arguments for and against this proposed legislation, as a public hearing before the Council’s Judiciary Committee occurred last week. DC’s proposed legislation would fully decriminalize the sex trade in DC, including acts of pimping, purchasing sex, and operating brothels. If passed, DC would be the first jurisdiction in the U.S. to have full decriminalization, and advocates are hopeful of making a statement coming from the nation’s capital.

The podcast’s host started the episode by asking a sex worker simple questions, such as, how to pay taxes, maintain records, or do marketing. The host goes on to ask about barriers sex workers come up against when running their businesses and changes that would benefit them. The podcast guest shares her wish list, including what most sex workers are advocating for: full decriminalization—meaning all criminal penalties removed for all parties involved. However, she also shares there is a big gap between what she personally would like to have, versus what is best for the greatest number of people.

While all advocates agree on the decriminalization of the sale of sex as an effective way to center the rights of sex workers and sex-trafficked children—who endure most of the arrests and who represent some of the most marginalized members of our community—there is no agreement about decriminalizing the act of buying sex. For some sex workers, it is in their best interest to protect their clients, but for others, offering legal immunity to those who exploit and traffic them is a dangerous policy.

In DC, it is currently up to the DC City Council to identify what is best for the greatest number of people involved in DC’s sex industry and adopt corresponding policies. In particular, it is the responsibility of the Council to identify what is best for those most vulnerable of being exploited. The Council has the task of passing legislation that strikes a delicate balance between affirming the rights of sex workers, but also the rights of survivors and trafficked victims.

The Blueprint for Action of the Young Women’s Initiative outlines recommendations developed by young women of color with the objective to shift local policies and practices in the District of Columbia in support of young women’s ability to thrive. During 2017 and 2018, The Women’s Foundation facilitated conversations and conducted interviews with young women of color and community members to understand barriers to success and propose recommendations to improve the experience of black and brown girls.

(Click image to read report)

Many of the recommendations in the Blueprint continue to be insightful and relevant to current policy considerations, including the current discussion around the full decriminalization of the sex trade. The safety and violence prevention recommendations of the Blueprint for Action, listed on page 42, include actions and policies that ensure young women and non-binary youth of color feel safe and free from all forms of violence in private and public spaces.

It is important for young women of color to have a voice in the policy decisions that affect them.  As councilmembers consider proposed legislation to decriminalize DC’s sex industry, I urge them to use the Blueprint for Action of the Young Women’s Initiative to learn the recommendations young women and non-binary youth of color identified to alleviate some of the most pressing policy issues that affect them.

Claudia Williams is Program Officer at Washington Area Women’s Foundation where she contributes to crafting and executing program strategy and manages the Young Women’s Initiative of Washington, DC

¡Celebrando nuestra latinidad todo el año!

Celebrar nuestra latinidad, durante el mes de la herencia hispana, después del tiroteo de El Paso, se siente casi como un pequeño motín. Casi cómo rebelarse y decir “estamos aquí para quedarnos, somos increíbles, y hacemos de Estados Unidos un mejor país con nuestra alegría, nuestra risa sin censura, nuestra comida y nuestro color.” También es decepcionante que tengamos que leer sobre nuestras tradiciones, nuestro idioma y nuestra historia prácticamente sólo uno de los doce meses del año.

La falta de representación de los Latinxs en los principales medios de comunicación del país, por dar un ejemplo, es de considerarse. Pocos medios incluyen nuestras voces y nuestras historias, y cuando lo hacen, se enfocan casi exclusivamente en la experiencia de los Latinxs en un contexto de seguridad nacional, violencia, y conflicto en la frontera.

Cuando no es el mes de la herencia hispana, hay pocos artículos sobre nosotros, nuestra diversidad, nuestras contribuciones a la vida estadounidense, nuestro espíritu emprendedor y nuestro compromiso con la escuela y el trabajo. Si no nos esforzamos para cultivar un rango más representativo de nuestras experiencias y contribuciones, sólo estamos contribuyendo a perpetuar una narrativa despectiva y obsoleta sobre nosotros mismos.

No es de sorprenderse que, en el Distrito de Columbia, el 41 por ciento de las jóvenes latinas reportan tristeza o desesperanza a tal grado que dejaron de hacer algunas de sus actividades habituales, y alrededor del 23 por ciento consideró seriamente intentar suicidarse en el 2017. A veces, la retórica negativa que nos rodea impregna nuestro entendimiento sobre quiénes somos, cuáles son nuestras contribuciones, y qué somos capaces de hacer.


El plan de acción de nuestra iniciativa de mujeres jóvenes (YWI por sus siglas en inglés) plantea recomendaciones de mujeres jóvenes de color—incluyendo jóvenes Latinas—que viven en DC con el objetivo de cambiar prácticas y políticas públicas que obstaculizan su capacidad para prosperar. Durante el 2017 y el 2018, La fundación de las mujeres facilitó conversaciones y entrevistas con chicas de color y miembros de la comunidad para entender qué barreras enfrentan y conocer qué soluciones proponen.

Una de las recomendaciones del plan de acción de YWI que propusieron las jóvenes, es cambiar la narrativa que se escucha sobre las chicas de color hoy en día, y cultivar su sentido de pertenencia a la comunidad. ¡Esta es una de mis recomendaciones favoritas! A veces esperamos que la próxima generación de Latinxs sea exitosa, aun cuando los planes de estudio en el colegio no incluyen lecturas con las que puedan identificarse con los autores o los personajes, cuando poquísimos programas de televisión representan familias Latinas, o cuando los profesores están con frecuencia pidiéndoles que hablen, vistan y escriban de cierta manera. Hay una infinidad de mensajes alrededor de nuestra juventud que constantemente refuerzan la idea de que no pertenecen a esta sociedad.

Estados Unidos está experimentando un cambio demográfico importante y los Latinxs son ya la segunda etnicidad más grande en el país.  En menos de 25 años, más de un cuarto de la población será de origen hispano. Estamos en una encrucijada y es momento de dejar de centrar la cultura blanca para elevar quiénes somos, resaltar nuestros logros y celebrar nuestra latinidad todos los días del año. Hoy tenemos la oportunidad y responsabilidad de crear espacios en los que nuestra juventud—y nosotros mismos—pertenezcan, y en los que puedan sentirse identificados y validados.

Si la próxima generación de Latinxs escucha una nueva narrativa de quiénes son, si cultivamos su sentido de pertenencia a este país, si hay más y mejor representación en los medios de comunicación, será entonces tal vez cuando tengamos más Latinxs trabajando en la filantropía, siendo dueños de pequeños negocios, encabezando organizaciones sin fines de lucro, dirigiendo políticas públicas y administrando negocios. Esto es lo que yo espero para mi hijo, Alejandro, un pequeño mexicoamericano que nació aquí, y está aquí para quedarse.

Alex (Claudia Williams' Son)

Alex (el hijo de Claudia Williams)

Claudia Williams es orgullosamente Latina y oficial de programas en Washington Area Women’s Foundation, donde contribuye a la elaboración y ejecución de la estrategia de programas y gestiona la iniciativa de mujeres jóvenes de Washington, DC.


Celebrating Latinxs All Year Long!

Celebrating our Latinidad this year during #HispanicHeritageMonth, in the wake of the El Paso shooting feels almost like a little mutiny. Almost like an uprising in which we’re saying, “we are here to stay, we are awesome, and we make this country a better place with our joy, our unapologetic laughter, our foods, and our color”. It also feels disappointing that we have to read about our traditions, our language, and our history one out of the twelve months of the year.

The lack of representation of Latinxs on mainstream media, for example, is noteworthy. Few outlets include our voices and stories, and most of mainstream media focuses almost exclusively on Latinxs’ experiences against a backdrop of national security, violence, and border conflict.

When it is not #HispanicHeritageMonth, there are few features about us, our diversity, our contributions to the American life, our entrepreneurial spirit, or our engagement with school and work. Failing to advance a more representative range of stories about our experiences only contributes to perpetuating derogatory and inaccurate narratives about ourselves.

It is no wonder that in DC, 41 percent of young Latinas felt sad or hopeless so that they stopped doing some usual activities, and about 23 percent seriously considered attempting suicide in 2017. Sometimes, the false narratives permeate our own understanding of who we are, what we bring to the table, and what we are capable of achieving.

The Blueprint for Action of the Young Women’s Initiative outlines recommendations by young women of color with the objective to shift local policies and practices in the District of Columbia in support of young women’s ability to thrive. During 2017 and 2018, The Women’s Foundation facilitated conversations and conducted interviews with young women of color and community members to understand barriers to success and propose recommendations to improve the experience of young women of color.


One of the recommendations of the Blueprint for Action is to shift narratives and cultivate belonging. I love this recommendation! Somehow, we hope the next generation of Latinxs is successful even when the school curriculum excludes writings and teachings from Latinxs authors, when very few TV programs represent Latinxs families, and when professors with frequency ask them to dress or talk a “certain way.” There is a myriad of subtle messages about Latinxs that are constantly reinforcing the idea Latinxs do not belong to this society.

The US is undergoing a demographic shift, and Latinxs are now the second largest ethnic group in the country. In less than 25 years, we will be close to a quarter of the US population. We are at a crossroads where it could not be timelier to move away from centering whiteness and to lean in to who we Latinxs are, to highlight our achievements, to celebrate our Latinidad every day of the year. We have the opportunity and responsibility to create spaces and opportunities for our youth—and for ourselves—to belong, to feel validated, and to connect.

Alex (Claudia Williams' Son)
Alex (Claudia Williams’ Son)

If the next generation of Latinxs hears a new narrative of who they are, if we cultivate their belonging to this country, maybe then we will have more Latinxs working in philanthropy, owning business, running non-profits, and directing public policy. This is my hope for my son, Alejandro, a little Mexican American who was born here and is here to stay.

Claudia Williams is a proud Latina and a Program Officer at Washington Area Women’s Foundation where she contributes to crafting and executing program strategy and manages the Young Women’s Initiative of Washington, DC.

Boycotting the Census is not the Answer #CountDMVIn

Last Thursday, the Census 2020 working group we are part of organized a conference for Grantee Partners and non-profit organizations serving hard-to-count populations. Participants had the opportunity to network and connect with members of the Complete Count Committee of their jurisdiction, brainstorm strategies to count vulnerable populations, and learn about the consequences an inaccurate count will have on the distribution of federal funds the next ten years.

We kicked-off the day with a keynote speech by Vanita Gupta, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights. In her remarks, Ms. Gupta talked about the unprecedented challenges and threats to accuracy the 2020 Census is facing. A last minute introduction of a citizenship question—still being contested—will make the population harder to count, but so too will major demographic changes over the past decade, a lack of predictable funding, and changes in the process that have not been tested adequately.

She assured attendees now is the time to get involved, to identify and engage trusted messengers in the community, and to spread the word about the importance of a fair count. While she acknowledged that the concerns of immigrant communities are very real, she also warned that boycotting the census is not the answer. It would only reinforce a concerted effort to construct a whiter electorate, diminishing diverse communities’ political voice and shared funding. For immigrant communities, participating in the census is about not being invisible. It is a way to say, “I am here, I count.” Ms. Gupta ended her statement making a call to philanthropy to join the effort and to invest in building capacity to engage in census outreach in community organizations that serve populations at risk of underrepresentation.

The Census 2020 working group is aware that funder engagement in support of the census is more important than ever. It is creating a space for funders to learn, strategize, and plan investments together and is actively creating resources and opportunities for grantee partners and non-profit organizations in our region to encourage participation among their staff, clients, families, and communities.

To keep the momentum going the working group wrapped-up the conference by opening a request for proposals for the fund Count DMV In, which will support projects related to outreach, education, and direct assistance focused on hard to count communities. It also released a set of fact sheets with information on basics you need to know about the census next year, including a timeline, ways you can help, and data on census tracks at risk of undercounting in each jurisdiction of the greater Washington region.

We all have a role to play in the 2020 Census. Whether you can commit to a sustained effort or can spare only a couple hours, you can participate in multiple ways—starting today. All hands on deck!

Here are three ways to get involved:

  • Follow @CensusCounts and spread the word about how the census is easy, safe, and important. Use the hashtag #CountDMVIn to raise awareness about the importance of an accurate count in our region.
  • Convene workshops and webinars to develop solutions to Census 2020 challenges in your community, to share resources and information, and to receive important updates.
  • Join the Census 2020 working group or consider investing directly or with other foundations and donors through CountDMVIn—a pooled fund housed at the Greater Washington Community Foundation dedicated to Census 2020.

Claudia Williams is Program Officer at Washington Area Women’s Foundation where she contributes to crafting and executing program strategy and manages the Young Women’s Initiative of Washington, DC