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    Being Black in Canadian Philanthropy

    Picture of a diverse group of people holding hands in the shape of a heart.

    2020 and 2021 have not only been marked with the stain of a global pandemic, but were also the years that a light was shone on many dark realities of the Canadian philanthropic sector. In 2020 there was a ground swell of support for racialized and Black communities in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, and many positive changes began to occur. The question is, how can we make those gains sustainable, and build on them to make lasting changes that benefit the Black community in the long run?

    In December 2020, a ground-breaking study conducted by the Network for the Advancement of Black Communities and Carlton University, revealed the stark reality that Black communities are overlooked by Canadian philanthropy.

    The report titled Unfunded, underscores the fact that Black-led and Black-serving organizations are grossly underfunded, receiving only between 7 and 30 cents for every $100 raised by Canada’s big charities. We recently spoke with one of the co-authors of the report, Liban Abokor, about Canada’s first-ever foundation dedicated to investing in Black communities and priorities – the Foundation for Black Communities (FFBC).

    Abokor stresses that the report has already addressed the question of “why” an organization like the FFBC exists, and it is time now to start thinking about our roles as actors in Canadian philanthropy to ensure that the FBCC receives the support of the sector to help advance strong, Black communities that are leading in their own solution making.

    To get a wider understanding of the issues affecting Black communities in Canadian philanthropy, we also interviewed several Black leaders in the sector to share their perspectives on what it means to be Black in philanthropy and what is stopping sustained progress.

    Common among the responses as it relates to being Black in a sector whose leadership does not reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of our city or country, is a constant pressure to “meet and exceed fundraising goals,” “to perform better than,” as well as the unfortunate reality of “dealing with donors who make it clear you are invisible until you are introduced by a more ‘important person’ in the room.”

    ‘We still have some way to go’

    IDEA (inclusion, diversity, equity, and access) principles are the pillars on which the AFP Greater Toronto Chapter stands. As we evolve our own organization, we wanted to get a better sense of IDEA changes these leaders have observed across the sector as we begin 2022. Nell Bent, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the University of Toronto, commented that “IDEA principles in practice have not been as prevalent equally throughout our sector.” She added also that it was only “until the unfortunate events of 2020, with the death of George Floyd, that a massive shift in the legitimacy of the issues that Black, [Indigenous and people of colour] face that the implementation of IDEA principles was more widely [spread] throughout our sector.”

    ‘White guilt is not something that’s sustainable’

    Stachen Frederick, Executive Director at Weston Frontlines Centres, shares similar views around IDEA changes that occurred around that time with the “outpouring of dollars to Black communities,” but tells us also that there has been “a subsequent dwindling of funding in 2021.” The correlation of the realities between 2020 and 2021, she says, is that the former was fueled by “White guilt” – something “that’s not sustainable” from year to year.

    ‘Change has to start at the top’

    Therefore, on the matter of building on (and re-energizing) the momentum that started in 2020 in relation to IDEA implementation in our sector, Sandra Sualim, President & CEO at Humber River Hospital Foundation says “I would like to see IDEA principles become imbedded across organizations. I would also like to see IDEA principles be a top priority for C-Suite individuals and Boards leading non-profit organizations. For the IDEA principles to work and affect change, it has to start at the top, and there is no better time than now.”

    One theme that reverberated in the discussions we had for this article, is the fact that change requires action. Let us all take the time to reflect on our responsibility and capacity to affect change and do it. The Black-led and Black-serving communities in our sector need our support, but not only during Black History Month and not out of guilt but out of shared responsibility and understanding that supporting the Black community is a matter of social justice that will benefit everyone.

    Everyone that wants to be a true ally should consider learning about and supporting Black causes, well beyond Black History Month.

    About the Author

    Darren McAlmont

    Writer, Anti-Racism Advocate & Communications Specialist