Foundation for Black Communities seeks $200 million from federal budget to support Black-led charities
Proposal comes after report reveals Black-led organizations are significantly underfunded
Eugenia Addy remembers what it was like as a young Black girl in Toronto's The East Mall, trying to envision her future.
"I grew up in one of the communities that we do work in, and really not being able to see myself represented anywhere on TV [or] in my textbooks," Addy said. "So to really believe that I could be a scientist or an engineer was something that I literally had to dream about, because I couldn't see it in reality."
While pursuing her PhD in chemistry, she met Francis Jeffers, the founder of Visions of Science, an organization that brings interactive science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programming to kids in marginalized communities. Now as the CEO, Addy aims to open doors for others like her.
"A lot of STEM engagement is usually locked up inside institutions. So if you don't have a proximity to those institutions, you won't be able to engage with all the incredible things that you could do," Addy said.
Supporting non-profit groups like Addy's is the goal of an initiative by the Foundation for Black Communities (FFBC).
As the federal government prepares to table its first budget in two years on April 19, the FFBC has been pushing for $200 million in order to start an endowment that would help support non-profits working with Black communities. The goal is for Black-led organizations to be able to apply for grants from a foundation created specifically for them.
Liban Abokor is a working group member of FFBC. A fund of this kind would be a "game changer," he said.
"It means that you don't have to justify why you're focusing on Black communities," Abokor added.
"It means that if you have an issue that impacts your community and you want to address it, you no longer have to think about 'Will someone support this work?'"
In addition to what it has asked for from the federal government, the FFBC is already working to raise an additional $100 million from the private and philanthropic sectors. It recently received $1 million from the MLSE Foundation to put towards sports and wellness programs for Black youth.
This comes after a report published in December by the Network for the Advancement of Black Communities and Carleton University found that of every $100 given in grants by the country's 40 leading foundations in 2017 and 2018, less than 30 cents made it to Black-led organizations.
Abokor was one of the authors of the report and he says he wasn't surprised by the results.
"The reality is [that] philanthropy in this country works based on relationships. If you look across this country there are over 10,000 foundations, all of them are predominantly white-led, from staff to board members to executive directors," Abokor said.
FFBC's plan is to put a call out for programs to apply for grants, and then a committee made up of community members from where those programs operate would review the applications.
"We want to empower some community members to be able to make those determinations. And that's what we talk about when we talk about self-determination," explained Abokor.
The idea of self determination for Black communities has been a goal for organizers and civil rights leaders for decades, but Abokor said now felt like the perfect time for a concerted effort to start something like this.
"We've just had the privilege to really take advantage of the moment we're in with the global Black Lives Matter movement, this important recognition that we have to address racial injustice in this country."
Addy says a Black-focused foundation would take away the concern that with changing interests and news cycles, support and funding for organizations like hers will fade away.
"With all the events of the summer, I think a lot of Black-led organizations saw an outpouring of support. But I know much many leaders like myself are also holding our breath, because we don't want this to just be a trend," Addy said.
Despite managing to grow Visions of Science from a mostly volunteer-led team to one that employs more than 100 and serves 28 different communities, Addy says finances can still be tight.
"I think for work that's like ours, we're always knocking doors down. It's never not going to be that situation. And really, it's about being able to get support in a way that allows us to remain agile and responsive to our communities."
Visions of Science was founded using a model built on intimate hands-on workshops, and when the pandemic hit it had to quickly adapt and find ways for students to continue to participate from home. The organization assembled STEM kits with all the materials needed for their projects and delivered them directly to those in the community.
But it didn't stop there. Many of the young people involved in the program needed other types of support as well, so Addy and her team connected families to ways to access food, and helped make sure that every young member that needed a laptop in order to take part received one.
"We're not only addressing the issues around underrepresentation in STEM. When you think about the populations that we serve, you think about housing insecurity, food insecurity," Addy said. "There are so many layers when it comes to working in our communities."
For Jean Claude Munyezamu, the executive director of Umoja Community Mosaic based in southwest Calgary, being able to apply for grants from a foundation like FFBC that's also led by Black people is an opportunity to have his work be seen and understood.
"They know how we do things. It's easy for them to evaluate what we are doing," said Munyezamu.
Over the past 11 years, Munyezamu has been running a drop-in soccer camp for youth in his neighbourhood, many of whom are new to the country. He has grown that into an organization that meets a number of needs, from tutoring to women's support groups.
As the pandemic left many in his community even more vulnerable, he also began delivering food to more than 800 families on a regular basis. He says being from the community he's serving has helped him understand what needs to be done.
"We were serving people already who are vulnerable. You know, we are based in public housing," said Munyezamu. "So yes, there was emergency help, but how many days did it take for people to get the benefit from the government? Also, how many people know how to apply for those benefits?"
Munyezamu also took his efforts to help those struggling to make ends meet a step further by tailoring food hampers to the cultural backgrounds of those receiving them and, in turn, helping to support ethnic grocery stores in the city.
"It's wonderful to see food from home. You know, it's a comfort."
Umoja operates with just three staff members and a dedicated team of volunteers. Munyezamu says the organization is struggling financially to keep up with so many responsibilities.
"One thing I do every day is fundraising, fundraising, fundraising. Every month. We don't know where we're going to get the money for next month," said Munyezamu.
He adds that one of the challenges he faces when applying for grants or appealing for donations is the desire for others to box him in.
"You are disqualified for not being Black enough. Here in the west, many Black people are first- and second-generation," Munyezamu said. "We don't have many Black professionals who can help to build capacity."
The federal government came under fire in January after Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) rejected hundreds of applications to a program for Black organizations because they didn't meet the threshold of having two-thirds of their board members and senior leaders identify as Black.
FFBC is still working to define the criteria for groups eligible for its funding, but plans to have a "sliding scale approach" that will be formed over the next several months following community consultations.
In the meantime, Abokor says regardless of whether they get the funding they've asked for from the federal government, the Foundation for Black Communities will continue to raise money and plans to issue grants for the Fall.
"I think in a couple of years when this is all set up and done, and we get to see the extraordinary work that Black organizations are able to do with these resources, I think that's a moment for reflection. For now, there's a lot of work to do."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
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With files from Makda Ghebreslassie