The California Black Freedom Fund is a 5-year, $100 million initiative with a mission to build and sustain the power of Black-led organizations working to realize equity and justice for Black communities and Black people in California.
In December 2021, Kaiser Permanente in Northern and Southern California jointly contributed $2 million to the fund. So far, $63 million has been raised toward a $100 million goal, with more than $26 million distributed to over 110 Black-led organizations across the state.
The fund’s executive director, Marc Philpart, recently spoke with us about how the initiative is making a difference.
What are the origins of the California Black Freedom Fund?
We were established in response to the uprisings in 2020 following the horrific murders of unarmed Black people including Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. There were global protests with people in the street calling for systemic change and transformation. Community leaders and funders in California witnessed what was happening and came together to talk about how to support Black-led organizations to realize equity and justice for Black communities.
Some of the issues we are concerned about include lack of access to high-quality education, the growing number of unhoused people — many of whom are Black — the lack of economic mobility, and the huge disparity around life expectancy.
Tell us about the range of organizations the fund supports?
We support organizations working to enhance the freedom and self-determination of Black people most impacted by structural racism in California. Wherever policy decisions are being made, we want to ensure that a greater preponderance of Black leaders and residents are at the table and that their perspectives and issues are being heard.
We fund organizations that focus on stopping police violence, promoting education equity, improving health outcomes, championing voter registration and civic engagement, and crafting policies to increase access to housing.
Six out of 10 of our grantees are working locally in their respective communities; 9 out of 10 have budgets under $1,000,000. Our medium grant size is $138,000.
What are some of the key challenges that Black-led organizations face?
Cities like Oakland and Los Angeles used to be centers of Blackness, but many people are moving away or being priced out due to gentrification. A challenge for Black leaders is to engage and organize residents living outside major urban areas where there isn’t a strong nonprofit infrastructure. We’re trying to figure out how to help them build power, engage in policy conversations, and manage their program costs and operations.
Another challenge is supporting healing and wellness. Staff of Black-led organizations report being mentally and physically exhausted from COVID-19, daily injustices, and the trauma of responding to attacks. Resourcing their healing and wellness will ensure that Black-led organizations and their leaders are better equipped for the long-term struggle for equity and justice.
What difference does the funding make for these grassroots organizations?
There are degrees of difference. Everything from helping grassroots organizations to keep their lights on, to enabling them to innovate to meet their communities’ needs.
All the organizations we fund face a giving gap. They receive fewer dollars than their white peer organizations and most have not had the same luxury of flexible, unrestricted funding. Our funding is for core support, and it is primarily multi-year. This is key for the stability, innovation, and health of these courageous, Black-led organizations.