Perry: Philanthropy Must Save Itself from Whiteness

February 6, 2017; Hechinger Report

Dr. Andre Perry, the founding dean of urban education at Davenport University writes in the Hechinger Report:

There are wealthy, white philanthropists in every city saying they want to change urban education, but few are able to save their own organizations from whiteness. That’s because few funders are serious about social justice. And taking their money erodes the seriousness of those who take it.

He says that if the board members, executive staff, and the grant recipients do not look like the public students they allegedly serve, you have a problem of seriousness.

Funders are not the experts—communities are. Nonprofits that take money from wealthy donors who aren’t serious about taking on the values of the communities they fund are a major reason why the rich continue to hold on to more power than they deserve while urban schools stay in reform mode.

Flozell Daniels, president and CEO of the Foundation for Louisiana, agrees: “Philanthropy should be a representation of the community it serves…and that means the board [of the foundation], the senior staff and the representation of the grants that it makes.” Flozell says that the way money flowed to organizations from philanthropy after Hurricane Katrina reflected the makeup of the foundation’s decision makers even in a city that is majority black.

“The major national education foundations are funder-driven, not oriented toward empowering local organizations or representing community,” said Sarah Reckhow, a Michigan State University economist who studies philanthropy in education. “They are not bringing that community representation back within their own organizations.”

Dr. Perry observes that when philanthropy’s decision-makers do not reflect the community, “they reinforce the power dynamic that creates the need for so much nonprofit work in the first place.”

We are not going to “nonprofit” our way to educational justice. Communities need government and economic systems to work for marginalized groups. Funding nonprofits that are disruptive to school boards isn’t enough to make you serious about social justice. Helping communities organize around their own goals is.

—Ruth McCambridge