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Five years ago, the REACH Healthcare Foundation started an examination of its own investments and partnerships through the lens of racial equity—asking questions both internally and externally about the impact of REACH’s grantmaking practices on nonprofit leaders and Black-led, Black-serving organizations. Discussions with Black community leaders surfaced questions about how REACH should facilitate relationships, develop partnerships and make space for new voices that didn’t have a history with the foundation.
The information gleaned from these conversations was the spark that ultimately created our Centering Black Voices initiative which sought to increase our investment and partnership with the Black community. This effort also included a year of learning focused on racial equity for our Board of Directors, and the formation of a Board of Directors advisory committee of Black leaders to create a mechanism to build ongoing champions and ensure input into the evolution of the initiative.
Centering Black Voices has propelled us forward on our racial equity journey and has led to new practices that now permeate our entire grantmaking process. Today, we embrace our responsibility and commitment to reparative health philanthropy, as iterated below:
Racism is a real and pervasive issue that is deeply embedded in our society.
It operates as a system of oppression that is reinforced through individual behaviors, relationships, institutions, policies, and culture. The evidence of this system can be seen in the disparities that exist in many systems such as healthcare, housing, criminal justice, education, and employment. These disparities are particularly evident in the persistent differences in health and healthcare outcomes between Black people and White people. The U.S. healthcare system is a mix of public and private, for-profit and nonprofit insurers and healthcare providers, but it excludes, by design, millions of people from access to health insurance coverage and healthcare services, disproportionately impacting Black people. The system has a history of racism, including refusal to serve Black people, unethical testing and research practices, and systemic racial differences in the kind and quality of medical care provided, leading to higher morbidity and mortality and demonstrably poorer health outcomes.
REACH is a healthcare conversion foundation in Kansas City that aims to address health inequities. It received charitable funds from the sale of a non-profit system of hospitals, clinics, and organizations to a publicly traded corporation in 2003. Established to address health inequities and serve low-income and uninsured people, REACH acknowledges the role of racism in creating and perpetuating a system that denies millions of people access to optimal healthcare. In fact, racism has produced the very inequitable conditions that philanthropic institutions such as REACH are working to resolve. Furthermore, over the course of its development and history, the leadership of REACH has come to recognize that it has engaged in practices that perpetuate philanthropic “redlining” and thus reinforced chronic underinvestment in organizations led by and serving Black people.
There are clear parallels between anti-Black racism in housing (residential redlining) and the decades-old philanthropic attitudes and practices that result in woeful underfunding of Black-led organizations throughout the United States. Sources such as the Association of Black Foundation Executives and Mismatched have shed light on the issue, highlighting the need for greater transparency and accountability in the philanthropic sector to address and rectify these inequities. Anti-Black racism is a major reason why REACH will focus on the effects of philanthropic redlining on Black people and Black-led and Black-serving organizations specifically.
REACH regrets the harm that philanthropic redlining has caused to Black-led, Black-serving organizations and communities in the REACH service area and any role REACH has played in perpetuating it. To truly make an impact, philanthropy must work to dismantle systemic inequalities and create equitable and just systems that benefit all members of society. REACH acknowledges that it has fallen short of this call.
REACH is committed to addressing health disparities through intentional anti-racist actions, which must be taken at all levels, including personal, interpersonal, institutional, and policy levels.
Reparative philanthropy involves making amends for the wrongs committed by philanthropy as a system. It is a process of repairing, healing, and restoring the people affected by the injustices historically perpetuated by philanthropy. Philanthropic reparations recognize the role that philanthropy has played in perpetuating harm and seek to address that harm through action and accountability. REACH has chosen to engage in reparative philanthropy through its practice of Trust-Based Philanthropy and specific actions. REACH recognizes the need to address this historical injustice and commits to taking concrete actions to repair the damage and work towards greater racial equity and justice.
REACH is currently practicing reparative philanthropy by engaging with activists, advocates and grantee partners to question, for example, why health philanthropy is even necessary in the U.S. REACH is also committed to individual and collective learning about racism, implicit bias, and philanthropic redlining, engaging the Board of Directors and staff in this process. REACH’s leadership has identified and changed grantmaking practices that were intended to be “fair and equitable” but in fact had the consequence of being exclusionary and created unnecessary burdens and hardship on under-resourced organizations. REACH is assessing its grantmaking, investment portfolios, and institutional practices to increase its investment in, and partnership with, Black-led, Black-serving organizations. Additionally, REACH has increased its amount of unrestricted core operating support to Black-led organizations and is developing open and authentic relationships with these partners, leading to a better understanding of their needs.
Going forward, REACH commits to continue engaging in ongoing learning at every level of the organization and to maintain a lens of reparative philanthropy. REACH also plans to increase its philanthropic investments in Black-led and Black-serving organizations and increase the share of its invested assets in funds managed by people of color. REACH will also work to increase Board and staff representation of people who have a deep commitment to racial equity and who may have experienced racial discrimination themselves. REACH will strive to increase the number of businesses owned by people of color engaged by the Foundation as vendors. In its policy work, REACH will stand against policies that intentionally disenfranchise Black people and other people of color, and advocate for policies that advance health and well-being for Black people and other people of color. Additionally, REACH plans to share its progress on a regular basis with the community in a way that honors its commitment to community partners and to lead by example by sharing REACH’s story with other philanthropic institutions.