A national network of funders supporting strategic, innovative, and effective solutions to homelessness

Pivoting to Something Different: Reflections from Foundations for Racial Equity’s Convening in Denver

After a year of meeting virtually, Funders Together’s second Foundations for Racial Equity (FRE) cohort met in person for the first time in August 2022. We so grateful to have the privilege of facilitating this amazing group of people working toward housing and racial justice. We know that FOMO is real, and we hope this recap will help share with the broader Funders Together network a snapshot of what we’re learning and doing.


This blog post is adapted from a Twitter thread Stephanie authored on August 12. See and retweet the original thread, or see the whole thread unrolled into a single post.

While we know that many of our members are eager to see each other in person, the COVID-19 pandemic has also made Funders Together staff reflect:

If we are going to have people spend time and money to travel in ways that either have or run the risk of having negative environmental and health impacts (carbon emissions and the risk of contracting COVID-19), how do we ensure that the there is intention behind where and how we choose to convene members?

Housing Justice Work in Colorado

Tracey Stewart, Senior Program Officer, and Sean Dollard, Program Officer at The Colorado Health Foundation have been sharing updates the Foundation’s incredible racial and housing justice work in Colorado with FRE participants over the past year. As a result, FRE participants expressed a great interest in traveling to Denver to hear more about their housing justice work.

On Day 1 of our convening, Steward and Dollard brought in three grantees, the GES Coalition / Tierra Colectiva Community Land Trust, the Native American Housing Circle, and The Reciprocity Collective, to share about their housing justice work. In addition to helping to arrange for speaker honorariums, The Colorado Health Foundation also modeled what it looks like to create an intentional and inclusive space by bringing in the Community Language Cooperative, which offered a language justice statement and provided live translation so that monolingual Spanish speakers could fully participate in the conversation.

What We Learned

  • The GES Coalition / Tierra Colectiva Community Land Trust, the Native American Housing Circle, and The Reciprocity Collective are doing incredible organizing work that centers love and accountability to those most impacted in everything that they do.
  • Language justice is an important part of our racial and housing justice work. Groups like the Community Language Cooperative exist, and we must be intentional about creating inclusive spaces that allow those most impacted to be fully engaged.
  • Good intentions scarcely mean anything without systems change, and if the current system does not work and will not change, sometimes the best solution is to create a new system.
  • Allowing all three groups to be present for the whole day and to hear from one another meant that they were also able to listen and learn from one another, and it was really special to see them want to find ways to collaborate with each other.



White Dominant Culture and Pivoting to Something Different

On our 2nd day we dug into white dominant culture norms and how to pivot to something different. The amazing and talented Jonathan Lykes and Tashira Halyard of Liberation House led us grounding, chanting, and an examination of ourselves and our institutions to help us understand that change is possible. One FRE participant reflected that this training was as much about being as it was about learning. We think that’s a real testament to the liberatory space that Lykes and Halyard intentionally work to create in all that they do.

Funders Together has three goals for a community of practice: 1) individual practice change, 2) relationship building and peer learning, and 3) field building. After learning about white dominant culture together, we split up into small groups to provide peer coaching to one another on our individual goals. FRE participants practiced using the Emergent Learning framework to get concrete about what we’re trying to accomplish and what progress we’re seeing.

Our Reflections

  • The most common white dominant culture characteristics that show up in our institutions include: fear of open conflict; superiority of the written word; comfort with predominantly white leadership; priorities and timelines that perpetuate white dominant culture; transactional goals; and progress meaning bigger/more (rather than deeper/stronger). Though some of these seem obvious, they’re also rarely challenged directly. What excuses might we be making to absolve ourselves from that responsibility?
  • As funders, we take pride in the number of housing units we’ve funded, even though they are not accessible to everyone, and this reflects “success is bigger/more” thinking.
  • While it is helpful to focus on what we need to improve upon, many of us have made progress, and that progress is worth celebrating as we continue to strive for a more liberated world.
  • The Emergent Learning framework is a useful and practical framework for getting concrete and making the learning process inclusive and iterative.



"Justice is Love in Action"

Over the three-day convening, FRE reflected on love being central to all the work these organizers are doing. Love and disruption are also central to Funders Together’s work, as seen in our new strategic framework and mission. We read this tweet from Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, together and reflected on it:  

Another theme throughout the convening was collective care. Because not everyone could attend in person, FRE we spent time thinking through the question, "What will it take to ensure that FRE remains a cohesive cohort and that those who weren't here in person don't feel left behind?" 

As a group we talked about not just the takeaways we wanted to share, but also how we wanted to share that knowledge and this experience. FRE participants stepped up to do 1-1 outreach to the people who couldn't attend in person and to provide peer coaching. What felt important to those who were in Denver was that the community of practice remain one cohesive group, regardless of whether folks were able to attend this convening.



We are incredibly grateful to the Colorado Health Foundation for graciously hosting us in their beautiful LEED Gold and WELL Certified offices in Denver, and especially to FRE participants Tracey Stewart, Senior Program Officer, and Sean Dollard, Program Officer, at the Colorado Health Foundation for coordinating many of the logistics for our community of practice.

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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