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Steeped in History and Justice: Reflections from Foundations for Racial Equity’s Closing Retreat in Tulsa

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?

Discussion with Hannibal Johnson at Greenwood Rising

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?



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. 


Showing 1 reaction

  • Stephanie Chan
    published this page in Blog 2023-06-30 16:16:55 -0400

We joined Funders Together because we believe in the power of philanthropy to play a major role in ending homelessness, and we know we have much to learn from funders across the country.

-Christine Marge, Director of Housing and Financial Stability at United Way of Greater Los Angeles

I am thankful for the local partnerships here in the Pacific Northwest that we’ve been able to create and nurture thanks to the work of Funders Together. Having so many of the right players at the table makes our conversations – and all of our efforts – all the richer and more effective.

-David Wertheimer, Deputy Director at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of decent communities in which to live and bring up their children.

-President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964 State of the Union Address

Funders Together has given me a platform to engage the other funders in my community. Our local funding community has improved greatly to support housing first models and align of resources towards ending homelessness.

-Leslie Strnisha, Vice President at Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland

Our family foundation convenes local funders and key community stakeholders around strategies to end homelessness in Houston. Funders Together members have been invaluable mentors to us in this effort, traveling to our community to share their expertise and examples of best practices from around the nation.

-Nancy Frees Fountain, Managing Director at The Frees Foundation

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