Let’s Celebrate Black Women After Black History Month Ends by Giving Them More Funding

Elizabeth Barajas-Roman, President & CEO of Women’s Funding Network, underscores the importance of investing in causes that directly support Black women and girls.

This op-ed was published in Chronicle of Philanthropy on February 28, 2022.

As another Black History Month wraps up, we need to take stock of what has actually been accomplished during this annual event — especially when it comes to supporting Black women.

Report after report on the state of Black women send the same disturbing message: As the population as a whole made major strides during the last several decades in areas such as economic opportunity and health, Black women were consistently left behind.

Black women today are paid just 63 cents for every dollar earned by white men in the same jobs — far below the 79 cents white women make.

Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women. Data released last week by the National Center for Health Statistics showed that pregnancy-related deaths increased significantly overall during the pandemic, but were highest for Black women — accounting for one-third of all pregnant women and new mothers who died in 2020.

Vice President Kamala Harris’s ascension to the second highest office in the land made history last year, and Ketanji Brown Jackson, if confirmed by the Senate, will be the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court. But Black women still make up less than 5 percent of leaders elected to statewide executive offices, state legislatures, and Congress.

To help Black women achieve equality, we need to do more than celebrate yesterday’s heroes. Black History Month can’t onlybe about speeding up production of the Harriet Tubman $20 bill, introducing a new postage stamp in honor of Black sculptor Edmonia Lewis, or purchasing a “Black is Beautiful” sweatshirt at Target. We need to demand equality and change — and that means making major investments in Black women.

Access to capital is one of the most critical missing links to closing the opportunity gap for Black women. A 2020 report from the Ms. Foundation for Women found that out of nearly $67 billion in charitable donations made by foundations in 2017, the latest year for which comprehensive data is available, less than .02 percent specifically benefited causes that support Black women and girls.

Philanthropy needs to acknowledge the unique challenges at the intersection of racism and sexism. Black women are often forced to fight these battles on different fronts, as if they are different wars altogether. In reality, racism and sexism are merely different weapons in the hands of a common enemy: white supremacy.

Elizabeth Barajas-Roman, President & CEO of Women’s Funding Network

Since we know racism and sexism are inextricably tied, how can we start to unravel them both and create meaningful change? By funding organizations that are doing the work to lift up the needs of Black women — and that are run by Black women. Philanthropic leaders have pledged to increase such giving during the past few years. But they need to act with much more urgency. As an economic-justice grant maker, I’ve seen the difference such funding can make. Here are a few recent examples:

  • The Omaha, Neb., nonprofit I Be Black Girl used more than $700,000 in funds raised from local health partners to help launch the first and only statewide Black maternal-health coalition in Nebraska in 2021. The coalition, which consists primarily of Black women or Black nonbinary leaders, works with foundations and government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to combat the Black maternal-mortality crisis. It is currently mobilizing to increase access to community-based birthing centers and to expand the state’s postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to a year.
  • The Black Girl Freedom Fund, launched in September 2020 as an initiative of Grantmakers for Girls of Color, is calling for the investment of $1 billion in Black girls and young women by 2030. It raised more than $20 million in its first year from more than 15 foundations and some 1,000 individuals, including contributions from celebrities such as the singer Ciara and actors Rashida Jones and Tracee Ellis Ross. By April, the fund will have deployed approximately $4 million to organizations focused on addressing the wellness, safety, and leadership of Black girls and young women, including performing-arts programs centering on the voices of Black girls and survivor-led organizations focused on ending sexual assault.
  • The Women’s Foundation of Colorado last year launched the Women & Girls of Color Fund to support grassroots movements built on the lived experiences of women, girls, and nonbinary people of color. The fund has raised more than $2 million, which has been deployed quickly to support a range of programs focused on economic security, many of which traditional philanthropy might consider too risky. For example, one grant provides women of color access to English as a Second Language training, GED prep, and career and technical education — programs that are often ineligible for federal financial aid.

Supporting these funds puts the power in Black women’s hands and demonstrates trust in their ability to make the best decisions for their communities. Too often, women’s funding doesn’t factor in race. And too often, women’s philanthropy doesn’t include Black women in leadership roles. Today, as we close out Black History Month, philanthropy must start digging deeper to give Black women the support they need. Sure, let’s celebrate how far Black women have come. But let’s also acknowledge how far we still have to go.

Elizabeth Barajas-Román is the President & CEO of the Women’s Funding Network, the largest philanthropic network in the world devoted to gender equity and justice.

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