The statistics are all too familiar. Nearly every major indicator of economic, social, and physical well-being shows that black men and boys in the U.S. do not have access to the structural supports and opportunities needed to thrive. The unemployment rate of black men is more than double that of white men. According to a recent report by the Schott Foundation, only 52 percent of black males graduate from high school in four years, compared with 78 percent of white, non-Latino students.
What is philanthropy doing to reverse the tide? The Foundation Center and the Open Society Foundations (OSF) recently released Where Do We Go From Here? Philanthropic Support for Black Men and Boys, documenting the range of philanthropic activity directed toward promoting black male achievement. The report is the most comprehensive to date, examining the grantmaking activity of more than 1,000 foundations.
The good news is that the research reveals that annual foundation funding for black men and boys has been rising steadily, from $10 million in 2003 to $29 million in 2010. In addition, a slew of new initiatives suggests increased interest and commitment to this area of work. Perhaps most notably, in 2011 philanthropist George Soros and Mayor Michael Bloomberg each contributed $30 million to a New York City program designed to improve the life outcomes of black and Latino males. Three months ago, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced a $9.5 million investment in Forward Promise, an initiative designed to improve the health and success of young men of color. Earlier this year in Los Angeles, the California Community Foundation launched the only major philanthropic initiative focused on black male youth involved in the delinquency system. (Read more about foundation investments for black males in California in a new report by the Association of Black Foundation Executives [ABFE].) And President and CEO of The California Endowment, Robert K. Ross, recently spent three months exclusively studying the challenges and opportunities associated with helping young men of color lead healthier, safer lives. His insights will help The California Endowment achieve meaningful progress on its 10-year, statewide Building Healthy Communities Plan—which includes a strategy to improve the health of Boys and Young Men of Color (BMOC).
These efforts build on the foundational work of previous initiatives. Twenty years ago, Dr. Bobby Austin and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation began the African American Men and Boys Initiative. The initiative eventually became the Village Foundation, the first foundation focused solely on the needs of black men and boys. Since then, there have been a number of collaborative efforts to promote the well-being of black males, including the 2025 Network for Black Men and Boys (convened by the Twenty-First Century Foundation and Ford Foundation, among others), the 2007 National Funders’ Dialogue on Black Males (hosted by ABFE, Casey Family Programs, Ford Foundation, and OSF), and the launch, this year, of the Leadership and Sustainability Institute (sponsored by OSF, Skillman Foundation, The California Endowment, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and Heinz Endowments).
Despite these positive trends, there is much work to be done. Philanthropic funding for black men and boys makes up less than one percent of giving by U.S. foundations. As Shawn Dove, Campaign Manager for Open Society Foundations’ Campaign for Black Male Achievement asserts in the foreword of the report, there are opportunities for the philanthropic community to engage more deeply in advancing positive outcomes for black men and boys. “Work in this field is fueled by a broad and diverse sector of organizations that are tackling a seemingly intractable problem with a combined direct services and policy change approach. [The report] is intended to inspire more dialogue, exploration, and ultimately investment in the field of black male achievement that will contribute to lasting change.”
An issue this important and complex requires that funders’ work be more coordinated and strategic to achieve maximum impact. To that end, the Open Society Foundations and the Foundation Center are developing a web portal that will house tools, resources, and a funding map to give grantmakers the data and information they need to make strides in promoting black male achievement. The web portal, BMAfunders.org, is currently in development and will be launched in February 2013.
This post was authored by Seema Shah and Grace Sato of the Foundation Center. They are co-authors of Where Do We Go From Here? Philanthropic Support for Black Men and Boys.