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Philanthropy, Power and Race

May 29, 2013

Last week, I was fortunate enough to participate in the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers’ Annual Meeting and 30 Year Anniversary, punctuated by a keynote from the brilliant Lucy Bernholz, self-described “philanthropy wonk” and historian. The focus of the annual meeting was on shaping the next 30 years of philanthropy in Baltimore.

30 years from now, I’ll be a few weeks short of my fifty-ninth birthday, much closer in age to the typical professional philanthropist of today–perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but likely not by much. When Bernholz noted that Baltimore will be blacker and browner in 2043 than it is today–Baltimore is already 64 percent African-American–I couldn’t help but notice that the audience was overwhelmingly white and middle-aged (and older). This is not a critique of ABAG, but an overall observation of institutional philanthropy, generally, and society at large; political clout, policy influence and philanthropic capital deployed to affect the lives of black and brown people is by and large concentrated and held in the hands of white, middle-class Boomers.

Is this really a problem? I believe so. Baltimore, as an example, is not a region devoid of exceptionally intelligent, entrepreneurial and credentialed (philanthropy loves its credentials…) black and brown people with the passion, savvy and empathy (if not lived experience) to help solve the big problems faced by thousands of Baltimoreans. And I understand that the philanthropy industry is trying to become more inclusive and diverse, but as an outside observer, I’d like to see less trying, and I’m not quite sure what’s so difficult to begin with…

Over the next 30 years, I hope we’re no longer reinforcing and perpetuating traditional power dynamics; I’m hopeful that 30 years from now, celebrating 60 years of excellence, the individuals convened at that lovely ballroom look a lot different–and Baltimore, all of Baltimore–is on the upswing.

  1. Kate permalink

    Interesting idea: Take your network and a person similar to you except white. (Peter Jackson? Scott Burkholder?) Wonder what would be similar and different.

    • Kate- are you asking: What would be similar and different if Scott and/or Peter ran the show, that is, were they leading philanthropists and political actors?

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