A mockup of The Embrace sculpture in Boston Common.

From Commitment to Action: Barr’s Racial Equity Work

Barr’s president introduces refreshed core values, recent grant investments, and new website section focused on Barr’s commitment to racial equity.

During the past several years, a frequent refrain from me has been that actions matter more than words. I returned to this theme often in these blog posts during the past year, especially as we watched so many leaders and organizations assert that Black Lives Matter and that we must Stop Asian Hate; commit to addressing structural racism; and express solidarity with those calling for racial justice.

Such statements are important, but they only matter if they yield concrete actions and if those actions are sustained for the long-term.

This blog post returns to this theme, as I report on a number of actions we have taken at Barr as part of our continued and deepened commitment to racial equity. So, yes, actions do matter.

But then, so do words, which is where I begin.

Updating Barr’s Core Values and Centering Racial Equity

We recently refreshed the core values of the Barr Foundation. These values were first codified by our co-founders, in partnership with me, in 2014. Articulating Barr’s core values was especially important then in view of our plans to expand the board and to have a majority of Barr’s board be composed of non-family members, which is where we stand today.

Although it was not explicit in those values, Barr’s founding trustees always viewed equity as an implicit value, woven through Barr’s grantmaking and culture since our inception. However, through our own work on diversity, equity and inclusion, we have learned the importance of both stated and unstated values. And as a result of discussions among our board over the past year, our trustees chose to update these values in 2021.

Barr’s values now include an explicit commitment to center racial equity. They also make a subtle, but important, shift from a value focused on “excellence” to one focused on “impact”. While this may seem a semantic change, at its core is our acknowledgement that excellence can often be confused with perfectionism and can also raise questions such as: excellence according to whose standards? A shift to impact puts the accent where it should be: on our service to community.

We invite you to review our refreshed values and welcome any feedback, as always.

New Investments to Advance Racial Equity

Most of the grant resources we are dedicating as a result of our deepened commitment to racial equity will occur within our core programs. At the same time, we have been selectively investing in organizations that are strengthening the infrastructure for racial equity work in Greater Boston. I highlight three recent grants here:

  • $460,000 to the Center for Antiracism Research at Boston University, founded by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. Barr’s three-year grant will support the Center’s narrative work, which focuses on translating research to practice in accessible ways.

  • $450,000 grant to the Latino Equity Fund for operating support. This is part of their recently announced $10 million campaign to capitalize the Fund for grantmaking activities; Barr’s support enabled the appointment of their first-ever Executive Director, Evelyn Barahona.

  • $450,000 grant to the Boston Women’s Fund for operating support. Our grant comes as Natanja Craig-Oquendo takes the helm of the Fund and as she brings her leadership and vision to its vital work.

These recent grants follow similar investments that Barr has made in the past several months: King Boston ($1,000,000), the Foundation for Business Equity ($250,000), the City of Boston’s Equity Office ($200,000), the New Commonwealth Fund ($175,000), GetKonnected Fund ($75,000), and two investments totaling $250,000 in the Forward Fund, managed by King Boston, which awards grants to community-based groups, with grant decisions made by community leaders. In all, these new grants total in excess of $3.3 million.

Every one of these organizations is led by a person of color, and Barr’s investments are a direct manifestation of our core value to invest in leaders, providing them the resources and flexibility to make the decisions that will best serve their organizations and advance their vision.

Finally, we have also made significant investments this year—over $2 million—for vaccine equity efforts, as I reported earlier this year.

We view all of these investments as a start, as we continue to scan the landscape, consult with community leaders, and identify other ways for Barr to be a supportive partner in this important work. I will have more to share later this year on our further plans.

A New Home for Storytelling and Transparency About Barr’s Racial Equity Work

To date, our blog has served as our primary platform for sharing progress on Barr’s work related to racial equity. As our core program areas develop further plans and expand their investments, we will share updates on their progress.

To that end, we recently posted blogs from program directors Mariella Puerto and San San Wong regarding racial equity work in the Climate and Arts & Creativity programs respectively. And Leah Hamilton will write about racial equity and the Education Program in the months ahead.

In addition, we have created a new landing page on our website that consolidates much of Barr’s communications, timeline, and strategies related to racial equity. With thanks to our communications team, I am pleased to share this Racial Equity page with you. We will continue to update this page as our work evolves and use it as a platform to increase transparency and accountability.

Much remains to be done to realize our commitment, and yet, with the powerful leadership exhibited by so many at this moment, with a Boston Mayoral election that will result in the first person of color ever elected to that role, and with so many in our field adding their own commitments to ensure this time is indeed different, there is hope and promise of real, sustained change. The work continues—as it must—and we at Barr remain all-in.

Explore our racial equity landing page

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