People of King Boston organization breaking ground with shovels

Closing the Racial Wealth Gap

Jim Canales describes Barr’s initial grantmaking focused on racial wealth equity in Greater Boston.

A few years ago, I wrote about the Barr Foundation’s enduring commitment to racial equity. Since that time, we have outlined various ways in which this commitment has been made manifest in our priorities and our grantmaking (examples include the efforts in our Arts and Climate programs as well as our leadership investments). Our focus to date has been on expanding and deepening Barr’s commitment to racial equity within our core programs and existing initiatives.

Last year, in conversation with our trustees about our work, we found ourselves frequently returning to a central truth: addressing the persistent racial wealth gap is perhaps one of the most important levers to advancing racial equity.

Addressing the persistent racial wealth gap is perhaps one of the most important levers to advancing racial equity.

What would it look like to achieve racial wealth equity in our region? To start, it would mean that an individual’s racial or ethnic identity does not predict or restrict their capacity to deal with financial adversity, care for themselves and their family, or take advantage of economic opportunities, including home ownership, business ownership, and asset accumulation. There are many reasons for the existing racial wealth gap, but at its heart, we cannot ignore the role that systemic racism and our history of exclusionist legal and social policies have contributed to this reality.

Listening and Learning

Realizing that no single entity can tackle this complicated issue, we sought to explore over the past several months if there was a constructive role for Barr in addressing this imperative, with a focus on the Greater Boston region. In this exploration, we listened. We listened to and centered the voices and perspectives of those who have been working on addressing the racial wealth gap to learn from their experiences and to benefit from their advice to us.

These discussions were insightful, productive, and—importantly—candid, especially in their guidance to Barr. We not only learned more about the substance of the issue and the range of solutions underway, but we learned how we should engage. And much of what we were told echoes themes we have heard across the foundation: the value of investing significant and unrestricted resources, especially in organizations serving and led by people of color; the imperative to trust our partners and to behave as co-learners in this work; and the value of using Barr’s voice and platform to amplify issues and solutions and to bring new allies to the table.

Based on this, we resisted the natural impulse in philanthropy to take a great deal of time to shape a perfected strategy. Instead, we have already started to move resources to organizations that have proven commitment and understanding in advancing racial wealth equity in Greater Boston.

Grantmaking to Date

Over the course of 2022, we will invest a total of $15-20 million to support a cohort of allied organizations who are eager to learn from each other and who can help us to shape Barr’s strategy going forward. As a starting point, our grants will focus in three areas:

  • Supporting leaders and organizations advancing racial wealth equity in the Greater Boston region
  • Deepening and broadening research and evidence about the nature of the racial wealth gap and prospective solutions
  • Exploring the role of narrative efforts to expand understanding of multiple perspectives and support space for community dialogue

To date, Barr has awarded $6.75 million in grants to the following organizations:

Next Steps

In 2023, we will share more detail on Barr’s plans, including the scale and scope of this special initiative focused on advancing racial wealth equity in Greater Boston. We invite anyone interested in learning more to sign up for updates about this evolving initiative.

A key element in Barr’s work going forward will be to hire a dedicated staff leader for this initiative, someone who will work in partnership with our grantees and others to give further shape to this collective work. We will be taking next steps on that new role soon.

As we enter this space, we bring the clear understanding that addressing the racial wealth gap will require concerted effort across many sectors as well as a willingness to tackle the policies and practices, rooted in systemic racism and oppression, that have contributed to our reality.

Addressing the racial wealth gap will require concerted effort across many sectors as well as a willingness to tackle the policies and practices, rooted in systemic racism and oppression, that have contributed to our reality.

We also bring the humility that philanthropy’s role in this work is but a small part, but we approach the work with optimism that by working in close partnership with others, by being willing to learn and iterate with those partners, and by building a larger coalition toward collective action, we can together make a difference.

Our continued quest for an equitable society demands this work, and our future generations deserve nothing less.

Visit the initiative landing page

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