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Caught between two pandemics: Your nonprofit's place in this work

I have wanted to write about the intersections of our two pandemics; the first, a coronavirus that has taken the lives of 370,000+ Americans as of the writing of this post, and the second systemic racism that has forced its way into the collective consciousness, in not so unexpected ways. More than one in 800 Black Americans, one in 750 Indigenous Americans, and one in 1,150 Latinx Americans have died so far from COVID-19. Meanwhile, Black men face a 1 in 1000 chance of being killed by police, Indigenous men are predicted to be killed at a rate between 36 and 81 per 100,000, and Latinx men are at risk of being killed by police at a rate of 53 per 100,000. While women's lifetime risk of being killed by police is 20 times lower than a man's risk; Black and Indigenous women are being killed at a rate twice as high as that of White women,

Two children, a woman, and a man are walking toward the camera with cardboard signs saying "racism is the pandemic," "Black Lives Matter," and "No Racism, No Violence"
"Racism is the pandemic. #blacklivesmatter #BLM #sanfrancisco #childrensmarch #7x7bayarea" by davitydave is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The attack of the U.S. Capitol by far-right, pro-Trump insurrectionists is just the most recent example of how white supremacy is trying its hardest to maintain its grip on American politics, way of life, and society. I could use this space to talk about the hypocrisy of the police treatment of pro-Trump supporters versus their treatment of Black and Brown bodies every day. I could talk about how years of explicit anti-immigrant, anti-Black, and anti-Brown sentiments have paved the way to today’s riots. I won’t because we saw this coming.

We knew Trump was fomenting rage that was excused and ignored by our country’s political leaders, policing systems, and many media outlets. What happened, and is continuing to happen, right now, in D.C. is the result of explicit white supremacy.

Our country is in the midst of a democratic crisis. It is the responsibility of White folks to clean up this mess and dismantle our country's white supremacist infrastructures. What does that mean for nonprofits?

  1. Our communities are overwhelmed. Healthcare systems are being pushed to the brink with scarce resources available in hospitals and limited access to mental health resources after 10 months of lockdown and race-based traumatic stress caused by encounters with police brutality, racial violence, and ethnic discrimination. What is your organization doing within its mission framework to alleviate these feelings? How are you connecting with your community beyond traditional marketing and fundraising requests to ensure their safety and security?

  2. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) must move from conversation to action to permeate the nonprofit sector if we hope to see systemic change. Nonprofit workers are on the frontlines of both pandemics and need organizational resources to protect them from the trauma as they deliver direct services, programs, and navigate their organization's workplace and culture.

  3. Funders must invest in general operating, capacity building, and long-term infrastructure support of nonprofit spaces if we want to develop actual solutions to societal problems. There's a lot to unpack here, but essentially philanthropy must be reimagined to be community-minded rather than as a tax-abatement tool. Organizations need long-term funding opportunities that allow them to continually work on the challenges and issues that confront them with the staff support they need to succeed and donors who prioritize going a mile deep rather than an inch deep and mile wide.

  4. Our board rooms, workforce, and volunteer communities must be representative of the communities whom we serve. If we hope to eliminate power structures that favor white supremacy we must ask nonprofit and philanthropic leaders to cede power to BIPOC leaders, empower them by being outspoken allies, and call out discrimination and problematic behavior within our professional spaces.

  5. Leadership must be unequivocal in their stance on white supremacy and adopt long-term policy changes (hiring, communications, development, program implementation, etc.) to sustainably build a new organizational culture. Ask yourself, if you had an employee participate in the pro-Trump insurrection, what would that mean for your organization? Is that employee harming the organization's ability to achieve its mission? What is your policy for employing a person who opposes your organizational values? Furthermore, ask yourself what your response has been to employees who have refused to wear masks during the pandemic. Do your policies differ in one situation over the other? If so, why is that?

These suggestions barely begin to scratch the surface of the work that must be done in the nonprofit sector to dismantle our systems of inequity. As we move forward in 2021, we must acknowledge we cannot overcome the trauma and devastation of 2020 if we are not actively working to change our future outcomes. Join me in starting this process for yourself and your organization now.


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