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CEO Message | Advancing Racial Equity: Our Journey Continues

by Ellen LaPointe, President and CEO, Northern California Grantmakers

When we announced a few years ago that NCG would be taking up racial equity as a central part of our work we received praise, and we also encountered some skepticism. Many cautioned us that everyone seemed to be “getting into equity” and that we’d better be sure we had something distinct to add. We have taken that to heart. 

Our commitment to advancing racial equity and social justice has become a core component of our work. It is our view – and our message – that there are racial equity implications to everything we and our members do, all the time. We are centering racial equity within an intersectional framework that recognizes the ways race is shaped and informed by class, gender, sexuality, and ability.

In May we were proud to host Lateefah Simon and Manuel Pastor in a spirited conversation to launch a new Racial Equity Action Institute, a multi-sector space for racial equity specialists and leaders to test and deepen racial equity and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices. We put out a call to invite champions of racial equity from the public and private sector to apply to participate. We were bowled over by the response and found ourselves having to tell dozens of highly-qualified applicants that we could not accommodate them. This coming Friday a cohort of 20 people working in philanthropy, government, business, and the nonprofit sector will begin a six-month shared journey to learn, network and develop a set of actionable strategies to advance race equity with field experts and each other.

We are incorporating a racial equity lens into our work in other ways as well. For example: 

  • Panel discussions at our annual conference centered on the intersectionality of race and gender and the need to include disability in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.  
  • Our Corporate Philanthropy Institute featured corporate leaders from Levi Strauss and Airbnb discussing equity and the responsibility of businesses to speak out on controversial topics that may affect their company’s brand. 
  • Our policy team has developed an analytic framework to assess the equity implications of all potential policy actions to determine whether and how to engage an issue.   
  • We’re raising our voice to challenge policies that create or exacerbate barriers to equity: For example, we are working with Grantmakers Concerned for Immigrants and Refugees and Funders for LGBTQ Issues on a joint statement to confront rollbacks in the federal rights of immigrants and transgender people. 
  • And several programs addressed racial equity in a variety of ways, including one with United Way investigating how poverty is defined, who is disproportionately affected and how we’re thinking about interventions in relation to disparate impact by race.  

Internally we are incorporating an intersectional equity lens to review and modify a range of organizational policies and practices, and in our organizational culture work. At a recent staff meeting, we engaged in a conversation about gender pronouns. We discussed how to create a welcoming environment in our member community by offering our gender pronouns and asking our colleagues to share theirs when we come together for programs and meetings. 

NCG’s Justice League, a self-named group of staff from every level of the organization, organizes monthly learning sessions focused on equity. Some of these sessions have included reading Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, a novel about family generations and the legacy of slavery; watching Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th, which dovetailed with a Board/staff trip to Montgomery to experience the National Memorial for Peace and Justice; and reading Mira Jacob’s graphic memoir Good Talk, which takes up the intersection of race, family, and American identity.  

Our Board, which welcomed a diverse group of five fierce and fantastic new members in April, continues to encourage and urge NCG to lean ever more steadily into this vital work. 

This work engages our hearts and our minds, and requires a mix of personal, organizational, and community-focused work. We’re learning, sharing, and growing, and we are inviting you to join us on the journey.  

We are eager to understand how racial equity is playing into your work, and how NCG might partner with you to advance racial equity goals within your institution, in our member community, and in the broader communities we serve.  We are asking a series of questions about this in our recently-launched community survey, which was sent out to 600 people last week.  We are in the midst of a long-term strategic visioning process that will continue to center equity as a focus of our efforts.  And we are consulting with other stakeholders and field experts to inform our thinking.  

We want to hear from you. Please do not hesitate to contact our Equity and Social Justice Director, Alice Y. Hom, Vice President of Member Engagement Phuong Quach, or myself to let us know how we can partner with you to advance racial equity. 

Yours in the journey,


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