The first is that boards of many of the non-profits that serve Black people are composed of people who are beholden to the corporate sector and are mostly white.This creates a dynamic where the organizations that serve Black people are not accountable to the community that they serve, but are accountable to the corporate sector.This means that there is no mechanism for the people who are being served to have any meaningful control over the institutions that govern their lives.
Secondly, the social networks that are deemed legitimate in the non-profit sector are very white, which often means that Black people are able to get access to resources to the extent that we are in close in proximity to white people. This often leads to Black being more preoccupied with capitulating to white people than being accountable to the community.
Lastly, the white dominated leadership of the non-profit sector has a general belief that the methodologies the are developed out of the bodies of work produced by people of color are inferior. Often the typically less effective methodologies that are produced by white institutions are elevated as the standard for their industries which crowds out and marginalizes Black people who are building programs and institutions that are built on community based Africana/Black methodologies. This reinforces a dynamic of dependency between Black grassroots organizations and the white non-profit sector.
These problems are pervasive and require intentional structural changes that can reverse this dynamic of white supremacy. Serving as co-chair of the Children and Youth Fund Task Force provided an excellent opportunity for us to take our criticism of the non-profit sector and operationalize an alternative.
Our model for developing an intermediary that would manage the money has features that provide meaningful redress to the some of the problems stated earlier.We were intentional about how we should define expertise. In the recommendations we made it clear that we didn’t just want traditional non-profit professionals and leaders in the corporate sector to be the people who are making the majority of the decisions about the allocation of resources.
We provided the following language that help to guide who will serve in decision making capacities:
- A person with extensive experience working with people in the communities that we want to serve. Not just people who work for an organization that delivers a service or a program, but who themselves has an extensive track record at providing a specific services to community.
- Someone who has a particular kind of training from an institution that has an explicit grounding and expertise in racial equity, and/or culturally informed methodology.
- Individuals with substantial connections to and experience working with Black-led/POC- led organizations, particularly whose leadership comes from the community that it serves.
Another core element of our model is that the allocations for the youth fund should be made by an assembly comprised of people who fit the qualifications listed above. This facilitates a collaborative community based process for allocation of resources that takes the power out of the traditional nonprofit sector and into the hands of the community. ( complete recommendations of the task force)
This model works toward building a systemic solution to a systemic problem. Black people are often relegated to a position of having to beg white people for acceptance and resources. As a result of this dynamic Black people who are advocating for resources often frame the solution to this problem in terms of pressuring white people and the government to do more for us.
This frame is disempowering because it easily folds right into the notion of Black people being dependent on white power. This disempowerment has diminished the emphasis on building our own institutional wherewithal to solve our own problems and has allowed people outside of our community to make a living off of our suffering. Our approach will help us to build power that will benefit us long term, instead of being reliant on the short term crumbs that are typically availed to a few of us.
If we are serious about addressing the non-profit industrial complex in Baltimore, then this is the step in doing so.