As we approach the end of 2017, we reflect on what a pivotal year it has been, not only for the Meyer Foundation, but also for our region and our nation. This year brought no shortage of examples illustrating how our country’s greatest challenges affect people of color at uneven rates, and our region is no exception. A recent study from Georgetown University, for example, reaffirms what previous research has shown: that the robust DC economy is leaving the city’s longtime African American residents behind.
For nearly 75 years, Meyer has been dedicated to meeting the needs of our poorest communities. As we build on that history, we carry deep conviction that we must address the root causes of the challenges we have been seeking to solve for so long. We honor the work and commitment of our partners across the community, and at the same time we call on everyone in our region to own our history, understand its present-day impact, and commit to work alongside us toward meaningful solutions.
When we released our current strategic plan, we stated that, “many of the challenges in our region are rooted in a long history of inequality and disproportionately impact communities of color.” We named systemic racism as a root cause that we seek to address, and made a commitment to incorporate a racial equity lens into our efforts.
We are now fulfilling that commitment. Over the past year, the Foundation has looked inward and forward and explored what it means to more fully incorporate racial equity into all aspects of our work—from programs, to operations, to finance. Today we are pleased to share with you how our programmatic work is evolving, and we thank you for your patience during our time of transition and growth.
Our Commitment to Racial Equity
Our mission is to pursue and invest in solutions that build an equitable Greater Washington community in which economically vulnerable people thrive. In our region, when we talk about low-income and low-wealth people, we are most often talking about people of color—and the challenges they face are a result of long-existing policies, practices, and norms that discriminate against and marginalize people on the basis of race, while at the same time advantaging white people.
It is, therefore, impossible to address poverty without also addressing the systems that perpetuate it based on race. As we move forward in this work, we are motivated by our vision of a just, connected, and inclusive Greater Washington community in which systemic racism and its consequences no longer exist.
Funding for Systems Change
To sharpen our strategy, we took much of the year to examine our funding criteria, portfolios, and program design, held conversations with key partners, and sought guidance to determine how to shift the way we work to fully incorporate racial equity into our work and goals in housing, education, employment, and asset building.
As we look ahead, we see two key evolutions in our work:
Eliminating racial disparities
Building on our 2015 strategic plan, the goal areas we identified then remain the same. We will continue to focus on housing, employment, education, and asset building. However, informed by our vision to end systemic racism and all its consequences, Meyer’s work—including our grantmaking—will specifically focus on eliminating racial disparities in housing, employment, education, and asset building. These disparities stem from hundreds of years of inequity in this country, as well as from policy decisions, some made much more recently.
Tackling systems change
To eliminate racial disparities across our region, it is clear we need to adopt approaches that seek to address root causes and change systems—that is, the policies, practices, programs, and norms that have created or continue to perpetuate racial disparities and racialized outcomes. Direct services are critical to supporting and improving the lives of people in our region who are struggling, but services alone will not remove the many barriers people of color face, particularly low-income people of color.
In moving to a systemic change approach, Meyer will expand investments to include research, education, advocacy, organizing, communications, and narrative change. Much of our capacity-building work will focus on racial equity: helping nonprofits integrate racial equity into their work as well as strengthening the overall capacity of organizations working together to change the systems that perpetuate racialized outcomes. We will also continue to support strategic direct service that contributes to systems change.
Recognizing that all communities have assets on which they can draw as they face challenges and opportunities, and have the knowledge, wisdom, and ideas to shape their futures, we will also increasingly seek to support organizations deeply rooted in community, and whose work is actively informed by those most directly affected by inequity.
We anticipate growing into this new way of working over time, beginning in 2018 with an allocation of up to $1 million of our grant dollars to support the launch of our racial equity work. We recognize that this will make next year’s grant cycles more competitive and will mean that we will not be able to fund all who apply. We hope to find ways to support organizations who are committed to expanding their equity and systems change competencies through our organizational effectiveness grants and programs.
Opening the Door to New Solutions
The Foundation will publish revised guidelines and selection criteria on our website the first week of January 2018, along with more detail about what is changing about our grantmaking and what is not. Our next application deadline is February 15, 2018, and will be an open submission process. And we will host two webinars on January 18 and January 29 to further describe the evolutions in our priorities and to answer questions.
As we shared in an earlier announcement, we are in the process of hiring four new staff members who will be key partners to our community in moving this work forward. We hope to have them on board by the end of the first quarter of 2018.
With new staff and an evolving approach—along with our unbridled commitment and conviction—we strive to fulfill our mission, but with a deeper understanding of the drivers of inequity and what it takes to make change. We can no longer, as a society, pretend not to understand our history and how it impacts our present. Race-neutral efforts, to date, have not been effective. It’s time to confront racism head-on as we identify solutions. This is the work ahead for the Meyer Foundation, and we look forward to working with all our partners to achieve our vision for the Greater Washington region.