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A Bold and Dynamic Grantmaking Response to Systemic Racism

Why the grantmaking of the Zarrow Families Foundation is now in the hands of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.

Sometimes it takes a crisis of the moment to spur bold action. We know that Black Americans, Indigenous Persons, and People of Color disproportionally experience homelessness, food insecurity, and barriers to healthcare in Oklahoma and that funding in these areas is crucial to responding to racial disparities and injustices. We also understand that philanthropy can, and should, do more to be actively antiracist. 

As the country engaged in a racial justice awakening and uprising spurred by the continuing and horrific racial injustices of the murders of Black people and power imbalances, the Zarrow Foundations knew a “message of solidarity” was empty without meaningful and authentic action so we took a bold step with our philanthropic privilege.

The Trustees of the Zarrow Families Foundation have decided to commit the funds of the joint family foundation to positively impact Black Tulsans, Indigenous Persons, and People of Color.  ­­­­The Zarrow Families Foundation will now conduct its grantmaking through The Commemoration Fund, to honor the memory of the victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. This new effort will be dedicated to, and overseen entirely by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. 

Public Response to Systemic Racism

What is commonly referred to as “The Zarrow Foundations” is actually three foundations in Tulsa, Oklahoma - The Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation, the Maxine and Jack Zarrow Family Foundation, and the Zarrow Families Foundation. The Zarrow Families Foundation was originally established as a corporate charitable giving vehicle that evolved into a fund where brothers Henry and Jack Zarrow could do collaborative grantmaking outside their well-known individual family foundations.  Though these foundations have never identified as being in the business of antiracist grantmaking, they have a legacy of making brave decisions with their philanthropy. 

In the wake of Breonna Taylor’s and George Floyd’s murders and heightened focus on the detrimental impact of systemic racism, our foundation staff began working on a public statement, like many other organizations, to share our stance in solidarity with communities across the nation. After feedback from trustees, it became clear that rather than create a statement, we needed to take a bolder and more dynamic response. 

“We have been distressed and moved by what is happening in Tulsa and across the country,” said Judy Kishner, a foundation trustee and the daughter of Henry and Anne Zarrow. “We had to do something that made abundantly, certainly and unequivocally clear that we stand for the real change needed to stop this racial injustice.”

The Commemoration Fund

The Commemoration Fund will provide approximately 5-7 years of support, likely totaling around $6 million. This summer, foundation staff are working with the Commemoration Fund Advisory Board to create a grantmaking process that is autonomous. Grant guidelines and qualifications for application will be determined by the Advisory Board. The first year of grantmaking will occur in 2021 to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

The important decision here is not to initiate grants for the cause, but to grant authority over those funds directly to Black Tulsans, Indigenous Persons, and People of Color. Because the makeup of the Foundation leadership is White, we understood the need to transform the decision-making process to be more equitable and come from members who best know the communities that the Commemoration Fund is meant to serve. The Inaugural Advisory Board for the Commemoration Fund is made up of eight BIPOC professionals within the Tulsa community. Seating the Board took only a day’s worth of work because it was built on decades of relationships in the community. 

  "We really saw that it’s not enough to just grant funds; we need to grant the authority to determine those grants. It’s the authority to direct that money as much as it is the money itself that is valued," said Gail Richards, a foundation trustee and the daughter of Maxine and Jack Zarrow.

Funders Together to End Homelessness has been an incredible example and consistent reminder that philanthropy can play a key role toward antiracism. We urge our peers to think how they are working towards transformation in this movement we are in and how philanthropy can shift decision-making power to others in order to make the most impact in our communities.

Creating and announcing The Commemoration Fund was the first step. The work to create true change in our community starts now.  

Bill Major is the Executive Director of the Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation, the Maxine and Jack Zarrow Family Foundation, and the Zarrow Families Foundation.  In this role he oversees all grant making aspects of the Zarrow Family Foundations to fulfill the vision and mission statements and major strategic goals as defined by the Boards of Trustees. Bill is also a Board Member of Funders Together to End Homelessness.

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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