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Turning Pain Into Purpose: The Latino Community’s Path Forward

by Masha V. Chernyak, Senior Vice President of Programs & Christian Arana, Vice President of Policy at the Latino Community Foundation

How do we turn pain into purpose?

Even before a global pandemic, that was the question we kept asking ourselves. Children are thrown into cages. Anti-immigrant rhetoric. A threat to render our immigrant communities invisible through a citizenship question on the census. Mass shootings from Buffalo, NY to Uvalde, TX.

The grief can be debilitating. It moves from pain into anger. From the stomach to the neck.

At the Latino Community Foundation (LCF), the state’s sole philanthropic organization focused on unleashing the power of Latinos in California, we see the pain and we feel the hurt. And yet we go all in with love. Because we, ourselves, are immigrants, and the children of immigrants. We are driven by the hopes and dreams of our parents. We know what it means to be seen and unseen. We have lived it. Our families and communities still live it.

Unfortunately, this pain is not new for Latino grassroots organizations on the frontlines of social change. We have all seen the data. We know that one cent of every dollar goes to Latino nonprofits in the United States. In California, there are a handful of Latino CEOs at major foundations and less than three percent representation of Latinos on philanthropic boards.

Latinos are the backbone of this great state and that back has been worked to the bone. In response, the Latino Community Foundation has stepped up to launch bold initiatives that aim to reverse decades of economic exploitation and philanthropic neglect. From the Latino Giving Circle Network© and our grassroots get out the vote campaigns to our groundbreaking Latino Nonprofit Accelerator, we have tapped into the generosity of Latino communities and elevated the grit of Latino leadership.

Then the pandemic hit.

Farmworkers who harvested our nation’s fruits and vegetables stood in lines to get food for their families. Kids camped out in Taco Bell parking lots to access the internet and continue their education. Elders were afraid to go to the doctor because of the price tag and fears of deportation.

The invisible was finally made visible for all to see.

We watched Latino-led organizations once again stretch themselves to their limits to meet the unprecedented need. We saw a wave of pandemic money and attention from politicians sweep into organizations that have been on the frontlines for years. Vaccination campaign dollars finally resourced grassroots Latino nonprofits closest to the people. The governor, the private sector, and philanthropy have all come to see the importance of Latino organizations and mobilized resources to help them during the pandemic.

This recognition validates what we have known all along: the best way to help Latinos thrive in California is to invest in the organizations whom they trust. That is how we have helped our community get vaccinated, access COVID-19 relief dollars, participate in the Census and elections, and dream a bold vision for the future of the state.

But now once again our grassroots leaders are faced with great uncertainty. Who will stand with them for the long term? Who will help them rebuild, maintain staff, and survive the rising cost of everything?

A recession looms and a scarcity mentality will once again befall our grassroots organizations. But we have the power to change that and philanthropy has a pivotal role to play.  


Brown Issues, Accelerator participants | Bryan Patrick, Latino Community Foundation Photographer


At the Latino Community Foundation, we are doing just that. One year ago, we launched the Latino Power Fund, a five-year $50 million philanthropic initiative focused on long-term power building and strengthening the nonprofit ecosystem in California’s Latino community.

Nearly halfway to our fundraising goal, we are proud of our progress:

  • We made $1.4 million in grants to Latino-led nonprofits to leverage the historic investments coming from President Biden’s American Rescue Plan.
  • We launched our 3rd Latino Nonprofit Accelerator cohort made up of frontline power-building groups and farmworker-centered nonprofits.
  • We changed the narrative of who Latinos are and highlighted our assets in media outlets like the Fresno Bee, KQED, and Univision.

Soon, we will invest in voter engagement efforts for the 2022 Midterm Elections and will support Latino nonprofits who are at risk of displacement with capital campaigns to buy buildings and land. We will invest in cultural organizing and help Latino grassroots leaders heal and build – Together.

But we cannot do it alone. We need our philanthropic partners to also turn pain into purpose.

First, start by partnering with LCF and ensuring that Latino communities finally receive their equitable share of philanthropic funding. Via our Latino Power Fund, we are eager to dream and build with the sector. Given the enormous opportunities ahead of us, from the next presidential election to historic federal investments, our nonprofits must move from crisis fundraising to long-term power building.

Internally, you can conduct an equity analysis to see how many of your grant dollars reach Latino nonprofits. Latinos make up nearly 40% of the State, but Latino nonprofit leaders still feel alone and forgotten by the sector.

Most importantly, you can reach out to our leaders on the ground and ask: How can we help you? LCF created the Latino Power Map, a first-of-its-kind mapping of Latino nonprofits across the state, especially designed for philanthropy to learn about Latino nonprofits in your local communities.  

The last half-decade in our state has been a difficult one, but as we learn from and give voice to the people most impacted we see it’s possible to channel fear and grief into love and purpose. Because if nothing else, to be seen, heard, and respected is one of the greatest gifts of them all. The time to act is now. 

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