Funders Together’s second Foundations for Racial Equity (FRE) cohort wrapped its two-year learning-to-action journey learning in May 2023. We spent three days in Tulsa, OK learning about the history of Black Wall Street, deepening our commitment to housing justice, and dreaming of a more just and liberated future together. Read on to learn about our time at the Greenwood Cultural Center and Greenwood Rising and the questions we discussed.
Connecting History to Housing Justice
During our trip to Tulsa, Foundations for Racial Equity (FRE) visited Greenwood Rising, the museum built to tell the story of the historic Greenwood community, the vibrancy of Black Wall Street, and the horrific events of the Tulsa Race Massacre. Interactive exhibits painted a picture of thriving businesses, such as a barbershop where people discussed the racial tensions in the community. Photos and newspapers catalogued the destruction of the Tulsa Race Massacre, which left over 10,000 Black poeple homeless and burned 1,256 homes to the ground.
After moving through the museum, we sat down for a nuanced conversation with Hannibal B. Johnson, chair of the Education Committee for the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, about remembering history. Some of the questions we grappled with during this conversation included:
- Why haven’t reparations for the Tulsa Race Massacre happened? And if they were to happen, who gets to decide who, what, and how much? How do we balance resources for remembering with resources for restoration?
- How does Indigenous history fit in with what we’re learning in Tulsa?
- How is Black success being supported now in Tulsa?
- More broadly speaking, what do we not know because we have cut off mechanisms for learning history? How does history get deliberately erased?
Reflecting on our experiences later on, FRE participants drew connections to our work by reflecting on the questions: What is the connection between the Tulsa Race Massacre and housing justice? What might acknowledgement, apology, and atonement look like to people who have experienced or are experiencing homelessness?
- What the Tulsa Race Massacre Destroyed, The New York Times, May 24, 2021. Using maps, newspaper clippings, testimonies and more, a team of graphics editors at The New York Times created an interactive 3-D model of Greenwood, home of “Black Wall Street,” as it was before a white mob set it on fire over 100 years ago. (If you do not have a New York Times account, you can use this link to access the article for free.)
- Tulsa’s Greenwood Rising Museum Strikes a Nerve in a Community Still Seeking Justice, The Architect’s Newspaper, July 15, 2021. This article describes some of the tension and nuance surrounding the Greenwood Rising museum, touching on the balance between remembrance and reparations.
Supporting the Field to Shift Power
Funders Together’s communities of practice meet every month for two years. This is a huge commitment, equivalent to the length of time to earn an Associate’s degree, one term in Congress, and the toddler phase of life. The two-year commitment is intentional because of the three objectives for our communities of practice: to spur individual practice or behavior change, build a strong network with deep relationships, and engage in joint action to support the broader field. Similar to how meaningful change does not happen in a one-year grant cycles, we know that individual change and collective action cannot happen in 6, 10, or 12 months.
When FRE met at in Denver last Summer at the halfway point of our two-year journey, we began brainstorming answers to the question: What is something that Foundations for Racial Equity is uniquely situated to do to help build the field’s work to advance racial equity and housing justice?
We landed on creating a resource for philanthropy with different strategies to build and shift power to people with lived experience of homelessness and housing instability. This resource will include real, tangible examples from FRE participants and other Funders Together members about how they are:
- Creating grantmaking strategies to drive grants to grassroots organizers and activists with lived experience,
- Turning sharing grantmaking decisions over to community members with lived experience,
- Supporting training for people with lived experience to engage in deep policy advocacy work, and
- Shifting philanthropic governance to have people with lived experience serve on foundation boards.
Funders Together will release this resource later this summer. We hope it will be a living resource that we edit and add to as work evolves. If you have been shifting power to people with lived experience at your foundation, we’d love to include your work as an example!
A Call to Action for Philanthropy
Though philanthropy often asks grantees to report on numbers – people served, advocacy actions taken, coalition meetings held – this work depends on deep relationships. Deep relationships require time and space for sharing values, motivations, ideas, and knowledge, as well as time and space for healing and joy. As one participant shared in Tulsa, “It is powerful when we learn each other’s stories and what happened in the past, because we then learn about different possibilities for our future.”
We have the power, solutions, and resources to advance housing and racial justice, but we will miss the opportunity directly in front of us to affect real transformation if we don’t make bold moves right now. For philanthropy, what would it look like to resource a movement – both its fight and its recovery – that builds power to move government toward reparations and our society toward a real reexamination of our relationship to housing?
Funders Together is grateful for the Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation and their staff, specially Nancy Curry and Bill Major, for their warm welcome to Tulsa. We cannot thank them enough for their support of our time at Greenwood Cultural Center, Greenwood Rising, and our conversation with Hannibal B. Johnson. We also extend thanks to their colleagues, Amanda Howard for her coordination, and Joshua Knowles for moderating our conversation with Hannibal Johnson.
Thank you also to Hannibal Johnson for sharing your wisdom and time with Foundations for Racial Equity. We are glad to have truth tellers like you who help make sure that history is not forgotten.