by Kevin Ryan, former Program Officer at the New York Foundation
Beginning with a grant to the NAACP at its founding in 1911, the New York Foundation has supported groups fighting racial discrimination for over 100 years. Early grants were made to the Urban League, historically Black universities, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. Grants were made to local groups in New York City that were fighting discrimination based on race in education, housing, and health. During the civil rights era, following the lead of civil rights organizations elsewhere, the foundation funded work to register voters, create Black worker cooperatives, and organize communities in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi. Though the New York Foundation’s support was primarily local, trustees believed that winning the battle against discrimination in the South ultimately would have an enormous impact on the lives of Black New Yorkers. See a timeline of New York Foundation grants related to racial equity.
We are marking the 50th anniversary of the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by looking forward. What do Black leaders have to say about where we stand today? Though great progress has been made since our first grant to the NAACP, the mood of many Black organizers and advocates today is less than celebratory. Some lament the dearth and decline in Black-led grassroots organizations, suggesting that important strategies which historically have mobilized the Black community for action—community organizing and engagement—are not being utilized to the fullest. In this series, these leaders talk with Program Director Kevin Ryan about how they developed as community organizers, and share their ideas for building a deeper, stronger Black organizing infrastructure.
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