Looking inward and outward in 2020, the Community Foundation expanded its work to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), both in our practices and in the region we serve.
Those efforts build on work we started more than two years ago, when we conducted a preliminary assessment of our Board and staff and updated language on our website and in our employee handbook. We also offered funding to nonprofits that wanted to do similar work.
In 2020, we hired a consultant to do a closer analysis and recommend ways to make our policies, procedures and grant guidelines better meet the goals of DEI. Qiana Watson, a licensed master social worker (LMSW) at Cornell Health Counseling and Psychological Services, teaches a course in Diversity and Oppression in the Master of Social Work program at Binghamton University. She previously worked as a case management coordinator and divisional diversity officer at BU.
Watson takes a broad perspective on diversity. “A lot of times, people think about race and gender when they hear the word,” she said. But other factors, such as ability and socio-economic status, also play a role.
To measure the state of DEI at the Community Foundation, Watson sent questionnaires to members of our Board, staff and grant review panels, and to a sampling of organizations that have received or applied for Community Foundation grants. Questions focused on topics such as: the Foundation’s value to the community; how accessible the Foundation is; how well it reflects various groups within the community; and how well respondents understand terms such as diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism.
A new steering committee at the Foundation will guide our future work on DEI. “My role is to lead the steering committee and make recommendations about opportunities for the Foundation to do things better,” Watson said. Based on the expertise they bring to the project, committee members will help the Foundation implement best practices for DEI.
One of the experts on the steering committee is Foundation Board member Tomás Aguirre, vice president for student life and chief diversity officer at SUNY Delhi.
A commitment to DEI is a matter of morality and social justice, Aguirre said. “Every human being has something valuable to contribute, and as a society we are obligated to address and eliminate any barriers and/or historical factors that might have resulted in inequitable conditions for people of color and members of other marginalized populations.”
But that commitment also makes good economic sense. “We know that companies and organizations that value and practice diversity and equity are more likely to succeed,” Aguirre said. A stronger commitment to DEI will increase the amount of good the Foundation can do in the community, he added.
Aguirre also serves on another committee at the Community Foundation, formed to oversee our new Racial Justice and Equity Fund. This fund supports local programs that seek a better future for communities of color. It made its first round of grants in December 2020.
The fund will focus on initiatives that aim, among other things, to promote racial justice and equity, counteract systemic racism or increase the capacity of Black-led organizations. But the panel that reviews grant proposals can also take a broader perspective, Aguirre said. “The panel is welcoming any programs that serve Black people, indigenous people and people of color.”
Grants can range in size, but the group seems to favor using smaller grants to help a larger number of organizations, Aguirre said. “It’s almost like seed money. If you can impact 20 or 30 different organizations, you can build capacity off that.”
There are many opportunities to put those grants to good use, according to Shanel Boyce, a nurse, social worker and community organizer in Binghamton. In the spring of 2020, Boyce helped to facilitate a forum in Binghamton where participants brainstormed potential solutions to problems in the community. The nearly 400 people who attended the outdoor meeting, plus 441 who responded to an online survey, shared ideas about housing, mental health and substance use, criminal justice reform, education and food justice.
“There’s a real need for mutual aid projects,” said Boyce, citing grassroots programs in Binghamton that help families obtain food, clothing, diapers and other necessities and don’t raise complex administrative obstacles. The community also needs more mental health resources to help people deal with challenges such as poverty, grief and racial trauma, she said.
It needs DEI training as well, Boyce said. During the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, many organizations formally expressed their commitments to DEI. “But statements aren’t enough,” she said. Organizations must examine their cultures and look at board recruitment and retention, to make sure that the people affected by their work have a voice in their decisions. “You need to always be asking, ‘Who’s missing from the table?’” she said.
As we continue our work at the Community Foundation, we look forward to seeing new faces at our table and gaining strength from their experience and knowledge.
2020 Racial Justice and Equity Grants
Broome Community Land Trust $10,000 to support a Youth Story Corps video on housing justice (Broome)
Chenango County Historical Society $1,300 to hire an indigenous consultant to help shape exhibits at the museum (Chenango)
Shanel Boyce Consulting, Coaching & Counseling Services $10,000 for the “Organizer Boot Camp” program (Broome)
Southern Tier Alphas $1,000 to support a Men and Boys of Color Summit (Broome)
Support Black Business 607 $5,000 for a financial literacy program for organization members (Broome)