A view of Boston's historic Pilot House from the harbor

Matt Conti

An Enduring Commitment to Racial Equity

Foundation trustees outline key principles for Barr’s racial equity work.

In January, I wrote about Barr’s Equity Journey and our long-term work to place equity at the center of our grantmaking and organizational practices. The events of the intervening months have only deepened our commitment to advance this work.

Of course, the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color brought attention to many policies and systems in our country that continue to produce different outcomes based on race. Then came the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other actions leading to the latest national reckoning about structural racism and anti-Blackness. These realities demand action.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Barr’s first actions have been in the form of new flexibilities and support for our grantees and $6 million in new grantmaking (with our most recent grants focused on organizations serving Black communities in the region). In addition, we have taken immediate actions in our core programs to provide relief and resources to our grantees while developing more in-depth and longer-term ways to sustain and reimagine the fields we work in.

As an organization with a determination to act directly on issues of structural racism, we are seeking to balance the urgency for action with the knowledge that sustained, enduring commitment and partnership is the only way to achieve the transformative change we need. Short-term pronouncements will not suffice.

My message today is to underscore Barr’s commitment to engaging with and learning from our grantees and partners, to making a significant investment in sustained action, and to inviting you to hold us accountable to that commitment.

Last month, our quarterly trustee meeting focused on the question: “What does this moment demand of us?” Grounded in Barr’s mission, core values, and current programs, our trustees agreed to three principles that will guide our efforts around racial equity:

  • We must be unequivocal about Barr's commitment to racial equity.
  • We must view this as a long-term commitment.
  • We must expand our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion with a focus on anti-racism.

Explicit commitment to racial equity

Barr’s mission is to “invest in potential” and to address barriers that inhibit full expression of potential. The events of recent months have reminded us yet again how formidable a barrier racism is to that mission. For the impact we seek, we must be unequivocal and explicit in our commitment to advancing racial equity in all that we do. This includes how we partner with organizations and communities, how our grantmaking flows into the community, and our own internal work and culture.

“We must be unequivocal and explicit in our commitment to advancing racial equity in all that we do.”

Each of our program teams are now re-examining their work through that lens. Rooted in our current goals and priorities, they are engaging with grantees and other partners to understand how an explicit focus on racial equity can accelerate the change we seek, and we will have more to report in the months ahead.

An enduring commitment

As noted above, this is a time for sustained, long-term commitments. Change of the magnitude required will not occur in three-year grant cycles or through time-limited initiatives. It will require sustained, patient, and significant investment in organizations and leaders. This is why Barr is prepared to significantly expand its grantmaking in the years ahead, particularly by augmenting investment in Barr’s core programs to deepen existing work or support new efforts that explicitly advance racial equity.

“Change of the magnitude required will not occur in three-year grant cycles or through time-limited initiatives. It will require sustained, patient, and significant investment in organizations and leaders.”

From embracing DEI to becoming an anti-racist organization

We know from our own internal work on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) that this is not easy work, nor should it be. Our commitment requires that we listen deeply, that we validate others’ experiences, and that we bring deep humility to our learning. It also requires the much harder work of acknowledging where we are part of the problem, and working to change that. Where do we benefit from and sustain structures and policies that generate opportunities for some but barriers for others, based on race? Answering questions like these requires understanding our own power and privilege as a philanthropic institution, how we contribute to systems that perpetuate inequality, and how we must change.

Building on the work we have done related to DEI over the past few years, we now intend to focus more fully on what it would mean for Barr to become an anti-racist organization. While we have much to learn, we know that a commitment to anti-racism is a commitment to action. We will continue to share our actions and learning as we benefit from our ongoing partnership with so many of you.

Accountability is essential

Finally, the public calls we have heard for real and sustained action are resulting in many leaders and institutions giving voice to the urgency of addressing racial equity. Statements of solidarity and support have a certain value (and we have certainly offered ours). Yet, it is essential that rhetorical pronouncements convert to tangible action. And it is equally important that those making commitments to action in the heat of this moment are held accountable to following through. We plan to explore ways to invest in that kind of accountability for leaders and institutions in our region. And we invite the same accountability for Barr, as we make our own commitments.

The time is now

Much has been written about how this moment feels different, and there are many reasons to be hopeful that it is. But it will take hard work from all of us to transform this from a moment to a movement. For us at Barr, we know that we must embrace this time, with the knowledge that investing in leaders and organizations on the front lines of this work is our most powerful way of contributing to the future we all seek.

Drawing on one of our core values, we also must approach this time with the humility that enables us to admit what we don’t know, to listen and learn, to acknowledge when we have been wrong and made mistakes, to change and adapt, and to share power with others.

These are our commitments, and we are in this for the long haul.

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Racial Equity at Barr

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