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Recognizing that Black-led nonprofit organizations in the Kansas City region have not had equitable access to foundation funds and networks, the REACH Foundation has launched an initiative focused on investment in six Black-led organizations, with unrestricted grant awards of $20,000 and technical assistance to further their missions. Beginning in 2021, the Centering Black Voices initiative aims to elevate the work of Black leaders whose programs address health, social service supports and advocacy for critical issues in the Black community.
“The focus of Centering Black Voices is to build the capacity of Black leaders and their organizations working in the REACH service area, and to eliminate barriers that have historically prevented these entrepreneurial leaders from accessing philanthropic resources, including from REACH,” said Carla Gibson, Vice President of Programs.
Gibson said the initiative took shape through a series of interviews with Black leaders in 2019-2020. National discussions among foundations and local conversations highlighted the challenges Black nonprofit leaders face in gaining entry to foundation networks and grant funds.
“Studies conducted by philanthropy have documented the underfunding of Black communities and their leaders,” Gibson said. “These reports, coupled with a national health crisis and calls for racial justice, gave urgency to the importance of addressing these funding imbalances.”
The REACH Foundation has selected Kansas City-based Rooted Strategy LLC, to work with the nonprofit leaders and REACH staff to design a program framework for the initiative that will include technical assistance, coaching and establishment of a community of practice for participants.
President and CEO Brenda Sharpe said the REACH Foundation Board and staff embraced the opportunity to re-examine the foundation’s funding policies and how REACH forms partnerships with Black leaders. Three REACH Board members—Dr. Lynette Sparkman-Barnes, Dr. Jerrihlyn McGee, and Dr. Danielle Jones, each accomplished Black leaders whose personal and professional work focuses on community health disparities—serve as advisors to the Centering Black Voices effort.
“It’s time the foundation be more deliberate in engaging leaders and nonprofit organizations within the Black community to ensure we’re partnering with people who are most deeply affected by persistent inequities in our health care systems,” said Sharpe. “We expect this work to alter how we approach collaboration and funding relationships with all of our grantee partners into the future.”
The following organization leaders were selected to receive the awards:
The Food Equality Initiative (FEI) was started with a mission to improve health and end hunger in individuals who must eliminate common foods from their diet to maintain health. A mother of children with food allergies, Emily Brown established FEI to support Black families who are underrepresented in food-related allergy advocacy groups, and to educate health providers on disparities in treatments and access to allergen-free foods.
Randy George started Village Initiative to help formerly incarcerated individuals reintegrate into society to become productive citizens. Based in Wyandotte County, KS, the organization provides mentoring, transitional housing, job training, drug and alcohol addiction counseling and other wrap-around services for these returning citizens.
D. Rashaan Gilmore is an entrepreneur, community connector and organizer. His organization, BlaqOut, works to eliminate discrimination and mistrust of the medical community among Black LGBTQ community members. BlaqOut advises on community research, provides free HIV testing and support groups, and conducts trainings for health providers on effective communications and support for individuals with HIV/AIDS.
Hakima Tafunzi Payne, known as Mama Hakima, has dedicated her efforts to eliminating health disparities in maternal and infant health in Black communities. She created the Sister Doula Program, a home-visiting program for pregnant individuals, a breastfeeding support group for Black families, an Afro-centric prenatal care model and a medical education curriculum specific to the needs of Black women.
Rosilyn Temple founded the Kansas City chapter of Mothers In Charge, Inc. in 2013. The organization’s mission is to reduce violent crime through prevention, education and intervention and to guide and support the families of victims. Temple became an activist for nonviolence after her son was murdered in 2011. She has become a respected voice for women and families that have lost family members due to homicide.
Communications and political strategist Michele Watley brings an array of policy experience to her work elevating issues of importance to Black women. Watley is founder and owner of The Griot Group LLC, a strategic communications and political advisory consulting practice. She founded Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet to grow representation of Black women through education and advocacy to be effective advocates for issues of importance to them and their communities.