I wrote this piece four years ago. It was a punch to the gut reading it today because nothing has changed, except for the names—1,000 names, in fact, of people who lost their lives simply for being Black.
To my staff, my colleagues, and my friends whose pain, grief and trauma is indescribable and unrelenting—I’m sorry. Your pain is not a pain inflicted solely by the events of last week. Your pain is compounded by centuries of oppression and injustice. Your pain is the fear that walking or jogging in your neighborhood, playing in a park, going to the grocery store, or even sleeping in your own bed will result in death solely because of the color of your skin.
As the staff of Washington Area Women’s Foundation individually struggle to process the events of this past week, we also collectively struggle with how we show up as a philanthropic organization at this moment. During a call today, a staff member shared that we all have a unique gift to offer and that we should use our gifts to make change.
So we asked ourselves, “What is the gift that Washington Area Women’s Foundation has to offer?”
Our gift is using our voice as a funder to push for change. To that end, we will stand in solidarity with women and girls of color in DC and across the Washington metro region. We will center women and girls of color and follow their lead in identifying community needs. We will invest in the power of women and girls of color. We will push philanthropy to use an intersectional lens. We will work to disrupt sexist and racist systems. And we will acknowledge our mistakes and commit to doing better.
As a white woman, mother, friend, and leader, my gift is also using my voice. Silence is not an option. But words alone are not enough. To my white colleagues and friends, I implore you to speak up and take action. Our discomfort with saying or doing the wrong thing is inflicting even greater pain. If you don’t know where to start, here are some excellent resources.
There is no gender justice without racial justice. We have to take a stand against racism today.
As I said four years ago:
“At what point do we say enough is enough? At what point are we willing to look deep within ourselves and face our own prejudices and biases head on and call them out for what they are? At what point do we collectively decide that the racialized structures we inhabit have to go? If not now, when?”
President & CEO
Racism in the United States has shaped institutions, policies, and practices in a way that creates, maintains, and perpetuates racial inequities. Because of this backdrop, racial disparities across every indicator for success are more likely to be the norm rather than the exception. In DC, young women of color live in communities with fewer resources and opportunities, and are vulnerable to experiencing higher rates of poverty, violence, and involvement in foster care and the criminal justice system.
Our local government, in partnership with philanthropy, businesses, and nonprofits, has the ability and responsibility to change this.
Mayor Bowser and the DC City Council can focus on tackling the roots of these disparate outcomes by taking actions that disrupt the underlying systems perpetuating inequity. While this will require a significant adjustment in the way the District operates and allocates resources, the good news is the City is starting to take some important first steps to address ongoing racial injustices.
Last Thursday, the City Council held a hearing on the Racial Equity Achieve Results Amendment Act (REAR Act). The legislation, introduced by Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, proposes to operationalize racial equity by requiring the Office of Budget and Planning to design and implement a racial equity tool, adding racial equity performance measures to agency performance plans, and providing racial equity training for all DC government employees, among other things.
Implementing a framework that integrates explicit considerations of racial equity in DC’s decision-making would bring awareness of the policies and practices whose effects may seem neutral but that disproportionately impact people of color.
This year, for example, the proposed budget cut to the New Heights Program for expectant and parenting students, disproportionally affects young women of color. Teen births for Latinas and Black young women in the District are nearly 25 times that of White young women. These births primarily occur among young women attending poorly resourced schools, living in neighborhoods with maternal care and food deserts, and limited transportation options.
Moving forward, City Council can enhance the REAR Act by expanding the scope of the racial equity toolkit to explore the unintended negative outcomes of policies and programs at the intersection of other identities, for example, race, gender, disability, and immigration status. The Council can also deepen DC government’s commitment to racial equity by engaging more deeply with communities of color to center their lived experiences, and ensure they participate in taking decisions that affect them.
We applaud the steps DC government is taking to dismantle systems and practices that create inequity and exclusion, and look forward to working with city leaders and our community partners to advance opportunities for all.
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.
DC is in an economic boom. By most measures, the District is thriving, and with an advancing economy, our policymakers and residents are having economic security conversations in ways that we have not seen before—debating the appropriate implementation of paid family leave and the viability of having a separate tipped minimum wage, for example. However, there is a piece of this conversation that is missing from the dialogue: whether the economic boom that DC is experiencing is only for White residents.
You see, there are at least two stats that suggest that Black residents are not benefiting from DC’s prosperity as much as White residents. First, median household income in DC for White families continues to rise and is currently $134,000. However, Black household income has not changed in the last decade and hovers at $42,000. With the cost of housing, child care, and other expenses in DC being as high as they are, any resident can tell you without looking at any stats, that $42,000 is not enough to raise a family here.
The second data point to consider is DC’s staggering Black-White unemployment rate gap. In fact, DC currently has the widest racial unemployment rate divide in the country, with Black residents eight times more likely to be unemployed than White residents. We know that this gap is not a regional trend. In fact, while Maryland and Virginia also have Black-White unemployment rate gaps, those rates are far less stark than DC’s statistic.
So, if White residents are prospering, but by and large Black residents are not in the same ways, why is this happening? And more importantly, what is the District going to do to about it? The Women’s Foundation has some thoughts about what philanthropy can do.
Two years ago, The Women’s Foundation adopted a racial equity lens, in addition to our existing gender equity lens. This was crucial to our work to support the economic stability of women and girls in the DC region. What history and our own experience show is that no matter how many job-training programs you fund, the gap between Black and White employment will sustain unless we are intentional about addressing systemic racism across all issue areas and within our own organizations.
We are not alone in this belief. Over the past few years, local and national foundations have increasingly adopted racial equity and/or racial justice lenses, including our local partners Consumer Health Foundation and The Meyer Foundation. We encourage philanthropy to continue to consider the role that systemic racism plays in our systems, regardless of issue area. Because the economic security of DC’s Black residents is intrinsically tied to academic achievement gaps, practices of redlining in the housing sector, the racial gaps in maternal mortality rates, and all of the other ways that as a society we either overtly repress or simply overlook racial minorities.
We believe that philanthropy cannot conduct business as usual. We need to take a stand, individually and as a sector. Regardless of our giving areas—whether we invest in education, health, workforce development, or the arts—or the communities we focus on—women and girls, young people, older populations, veterans—we can review our giving and organizational practices to ensure we are actively contributing to the reduction of barriers raised by systemic racism.
As a women’s foundation, for us this means ensuring that our work supporting women and girls in the DC region is intentional about how the needs of and opportunities for women and girls of color are reflected in our research, advocacy, and grantmaking. In recent years, we increased the racial and ethnic diversity of our staff; launched a Young Women’s Initiative to spotlight the voices of young women of color in DC; and worked with the Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative, housed at The Women’s Foundation, to incorporate a racial equity lens into its grantmaking and to provide racial equity training for its Grantee Partners. This is just the beginning. We continue to work to ensure that our operational practices and programmatic work are community-led and intentionally supportive of women and girls of color.
Other foundations will implement racial equity differently and focus on different populations and issue areas. That excites us. We look forward to collaborating with other philanthropic entities toward a holistic systems change effort that could affect all genders and age groups across all issue areas.
We encourage foundations that are interested in implementing a racial equity lens to reach out to us about our journey or to Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers to inquire about the racial equity work they are doing with their members. Because the first step on this journey is asking questions and starting a conversation.
 DC Fiscal Policy Institute, DC’s Growing Prosperity Is Not Reaching Black Residents, Census Data Show. https://www.dcfpi.org/all/dcs-growing-prosperity-is-not-reaching-black-residents-census-data-show/?utm_source=DCFPI+Blog+Subscribers&utm_campaign=b03f319f34-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_71c838dca1-b03f319f34-111156113
 WAMU, DC’s Black Unemployment Rate Remains among Highest in the Country. https://wamu.org/story/18/05/18/d-c-s-black-unemployment-rate-remains-among-highest-country/
Good Afternoon, my name is C. Nicole Mason, and I am the Vice President of Programs at the Washington Area Women’s Foundation, home to the Young Women’s Initiative–our city-wide effort to improve life outcomes and chances for young women and girls of color in the District. As a part of Young Women’s Initiative, I also facilitate the Young Women’s Advisory Council, a bi-weekly group made up of 21 young women and girls of color between the ages of 12-24 that reside in the City.
Needless to say, I have a personal interest in making sure that every child regardless of her race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status is in the best position to succeed and have her social, emotional and educational needs met while in school, and on a daily basis. Currently, this is not the case.
As you know, In-school disciplinary actions and suspension rates among Black and Latina girls and young women are alarmingly high compared to other girls in the District. Black girls are nine times more likely to receive at least one out-of-school suspension, compared to non-Black girls. Less than 0.2 percent of White, non-Hispanic girls in DC receive an out-of-school suspension.
When the Student Fair Access to School Act of 2017 was introduced by Council Member Grosso, we at the Foundation believed it was an opportunity for the City to address glaring disparities in out-of-school suspensions, create uniform standards across District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), encourage positive approaches and the use of evidence-based and promising practices to discipline in schools, and to curb out-of-school suspensions for minor offenses.
Passing the legislation would put the City on a path to increased educational parity and equity for the most vulnerable students in our system.
When I discussed the bill with our Young Women’s Advisory Board, they were fully supportive of the legislation. Of the 21 girls on the Council, more than half reported that they had been suspended once or more; many for minor infractions ranging from dress code violations to talking back to a school official. Most of the young women that had been suspended believed they had very little recourse to dispute the suspension and struggled, in some instances, with the arbitrary enforcement of rules.
One story from our meeting relayed by one of our Fellows was truly heartbreaking and strikes at the core of why I believe this legislation is so urgent and necessary. One of our Fellows, now a recent graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia and current DCPS school teacher was suspended for bringing a knife to school when she was in the 12th grade. When she went through the metal detector at her school in the District, the alarm sounded and her backpack was searched.
Upon further investigation, it was revealed that she was homeless, and worked nights at a local Burger King restaurant. Most nights she would get off work extremely late, and carried the knife for protection as she made her way from Burger King to the local shelter where she lived. She forgot to remove the knife from her backpack before school. Rather than expel her, she was given a 10-day suspension.
I think we have to ask ourselves, was this just? Knowing the situation, could there have been an alternative that would have kept her in school and engaged? More importantly, how can we work to ensure that we are meeting the needs of students and not applying a one size fits all solution to a problem that is multi-layered and complex? I believe the Student Fair Access to School Act of 2017 helps us do just that.
Thank you for this opportunity to submit this testimony.
Strong evaluation is essential to building strong programs, measuring success and achieving desired outcomes. For organizations working in diverse communities, having an evaluation tool that is able to account for the impact of implicit bias, racial inequities and other systemic and institutional prejudices is key to high impact outcomes and program development. In this webinar, speakers Adar Ayira and Sally Leiderman will discuss how to apply a racial equity framework to program and project evaluation.
Excited to welcome the following speakers!
- A. Adar Ayira, Racial Equity Strategist and Trainer, Associated Black Charities
A. Adar Ayira is part of the senior leadership team at Associated Black Charities, the region’s only African American philanthropic organization providing coordinated leadership on issues impacting Maryland’s communities of color. Adar is also a founding member and Advisory Board Member of Baltimore Racial Justice Action (BRJA), a nonprofit organization committed to social and economic transformation and equity. Adar is a poet, artist, social observer, consultant and anti-racism / anti-oppression facilitator and trainer with more than 20 years of experience and a commitment to continued internal growth and external learning on these issues.
- Sally Leiderman, President Center for Assessment and Policy Development
Sally Leiderman is President and one of the founders of the 25 year old non-profit Center for Assessment and Policy Development (www.capd.org). She is an experienced evaluator of multi-year, multi-site foundation/community initiatives, leadership efforts and projects aimed at promoting social justice, reducing structural racism and/or reducing racial disparities in health, education, safety and other important areas of well-being. With funding from the Kellogg Foundation, Ms. Leiderman is also currently working with Potapchuk Associates and World Trust Educational Services, Inc. to create training modules on white privilege that leadership development efforts can build into their ongoing training. Ms. Leiderman co-created www.racialequitytools.org and www.evaluationtoolsforracialequity.org and co-authored Flipping the Script: White Privilege and Community Building, including its chapter on evaluation.
- Claudia Williams, Research and Evaluation Program Officer, Washington Area Women’s Foundation
Claudia coordinates a foundation-wide program evaluation and research plan that supports and advances The Women’s Foundation’s strategic goals, and enhances the effectiveness of program strategy and grantmaking. Before joining The Women’s Foundation, Claudia served as a Research Analyst at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), where she conducted research related to the status of women in the United States, women’s economic security and work/family balance. With her research and testimony, Claudia helped numerous Paid Sick Days advocacy campaigns around the country make the case to pass legislation to ensure paid time off to recover from illness or to take care of a sick child or family member.