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Invest in Women in the Washington DC Metro Area

by Washington Area Women's Foundation
Invest in Women in the Washington DC Metro Area
Invest in Women in the Washington DC Metro Area
Invest in Women in the Washington DC Metro Area
Invest in Women in the Washington DC Metro Area
Invest in Women in the Washington DC Metro Area
Invest in Women in the Washington DC Metro Area
Invest in Women in the Washington DC Metro Area
Invest in Women in the Washington DC Metro Area
Invest in Women in the Washington DC Metro Area
Invest in Women in the Washington DC Metro Area
Invest in Women in the Washington DC Metro Area
Invest in Women in the Washington DC Metro Area

The COVID-19 Crisis is a Racial Justice Issue & our Response must Prioritize the Power of Black, Indigenous, Latinx & Other People of Color

The COVID-19 virus does not discriminate — it can infect anyone. However, when an indiscriminate virus is unleashed in a country where racially unjust systems have long decided who lives, who dies, who thrives and who just gets by, the impact is anything but equal. As data disaggregated by race trickles out from state and local health agencies, it has confirmed what many of us not only feared but also anticipated: Black, Latinx and other people of color, who are the people of the global majority, are disproportionately dying from COVID-19.

A racially disparate impact necessitates a racially equitable response — one that prioritizes the leadership of Indigenous, Black, Latinx, and other people of color to respond to the immediate needs in their own communities, bolsters resilience in the face of this crisis, and builds power to push for long-lasting systemic change. With this in mind, we, the undersigned funders who believe in reimagining philanthropy as a just, racially equitable transition of power and resources, have coordinated approximately $2 million in sustained funding and $500,000 in rapid response funding to date to organizations led by people of color in the Washington, DC region based on the following commitments:

1. Supporting underfunded organizations led by people of color
Organizations led by people of color are traditionally underfunded; therefore, they are less likely to have reserves and are more likely to be unsustainable after an economic crisis. We challenge the notion that the nonprofits that can weather an economic downturn are the “best.” Rather, they have not suffered from decades of systemic underinvestment from local and national funders. We commit to designating funds to organizations, projects, groups and collaboratives that are led by Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people of color, who are using an intersectional lens, and have operating budgets of under $1,000,000.

2. Solidarity with organizers, base builders and advocates
The philanthropic sector and the individual donors who support nonprofits are less likely to support the work of community organizing, base and power building and advocacy. We believe that more investment in organizations and groups that do this important work is imperative to address the issues that precipitated this crisis and the fallout to come. We commit to supporting those who have been organizing, advocating, and building power with communities of color before, during and in the wake of this moment.

3. Focusing hyperlocally
In times of crisis, your neighbors — those living and working in proximity to you — are often your first responders. We believe community care and mutual aid are vital responses in this moment and their structures will have lasting benefit beyond this crisis. We commit to focusing this support toward groups working in hyperlocal ways, for example, the neighborhood, block or building level.

4. Prioritizing disproportionately impacted industries and workers
Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, the District of Columbia already reported the highest Black unemployment rate in the country, and Virginia had a wider gap between Latinx/Hispanic and white unemployment than any other state. In the month of March, unemployment in the Greater Washington region, like the rest of the country, skyrocketed. Restaurant workers, domestic/care workers, hospitality workers, sex workers, day laborers, and those dependent on the formal and informal gig economy lost their livelihoods in the wake of COVID-19 — sectors where people of color make up the majority of workers and frequently have few worker protections. We commit to supporting organizations and groups with sector-specific priorities to increase the resiliency of our region’s disproportionately impacted industries, many of whom employ large numbers of people of color.

5. Taking a multi-pronged approach
Philanthropic institutions’ support must be as nimble and diverse as the evolving challenges our partners and their constituents face. Organizations are in the midst of shifting strategies and they are experimenting with digital organizing, conceiving of new fundraising plans and devising new engagement methods in a year with big priorities, including civic engagement and the Census. Our support is crucial. At the same time, we ask funders of social service and large-scale advocacy organizations to realign their resources in support of grassroots groups. We commit to a multi-pronged, innovative approach to address the needs of organizations led by people of color to develop new capacities and shift their strategies.

6. Operating with trust
Philanthropy is a sector created and maintained by inequity and an imbalance of power, and we recognize our role in maintaining inherited practices that hinder our ability to be at the forefront in achieving racial justice. We commit to reimagining the relationship between funder and grantee partner, operating through a trust-based approach that is transparent, streamlined, flexible and removes unnecessary barriers that disproportionately impact grassroots groups and organizations led by people of color.

As funders coordinating this effort, we pledge to act as advocates for these groups and invite our philanthropic peers, both locally and nationally, to part ways with business-as-usual philanthropy to meet this moment, which is anything but usual. Here are steps you can take right now:

1. Get the support you need from funding peers with experience in racial justice grantmaking. Organizations like Neighborhood Funders Group and Association for Black Foundation Executives can help. For local support, reach out to any of the signatories on this letter for opportunities to plug in.

2. If you do not have the relationships or capacity to deploy funding quickly to grassroots groups, rely on trusted intermediaries such as Diverse City Fund and Emergent Fund, who have a history of funding systems-change work driven by people of color-led grassroots organizations.

3. Extend your influence beyond grantmaking by contributing your time, expertise, and voice. We have formed sub-committees focused on civic engagement, healing justice and capacity building. We are especially inviting national foundations with regional offices in the Washington, DC region to join us.

4. Finally, attend the trust-based philanthropy webinar hosted by the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers on Monday, April 20th at 11 a.m. to learn how to reimagine your philanthropy. Information can be found here: trust-based-philanthropy-during-times-crisis-and-beyond

In solidarity,

Yanique Redwood, PhD, MPH
President and CEO
Consumer Health Foundation

Board of Instigators
Diverse City Fund

alicia sanchez gill
Emergent Fund

Julia Baer-Cooper
Philanthropic Advisor
England Family Foundation

Tonia Wellons
President and CEO
Greater Washington Community Foundation

Daniel Solomon
Donor Adviser to Greater Washington Community Foundation

Nat Chioke Williams
Executive Director
Hill-Snowdon Foundation

Dara Johnson
Executive Director
Horning Family Fund

Nicola Goren
President and CEO
Meyer Foundation

Tom Perriello
Executive Director Open Society-US
Open Society Foundations

Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat
President and CEO
Washington Area Women’s Foundation

Hanh Le
Executive Director
Weissberg Foundation

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YWAC Fellows Kiran Waqar & Alicia Butler
YWAC Fellows Kiran Waqar & Alicia Butler

Make Equitable Spaces For Youth to Lead

Last month I had the honor of speaking as a panelist at the “Declare Equity for Girls: Power & Policy Luncheon” by Crittenton Services of Greater Washington. As a poet, I am used to speaking on stages, navigating green rooms, and gauging audiences but something about this experience felt different. Not only was there a focus on amplifying the voices of the most marginalized, there was action behind the rhetoric.

From my experiences, the luncheon organizers and participants embodied the change needed. I felt this most clearly in the language used. Far too often, the same spaces focused on empowering youth, end up creating barriers to youth engagement. They hold events during the school day, don’t assist with transportation, and on top of all that, use jargon that most (without the expertise) don’t understand. This isn’t to say that young people aren’t intelligent or that they are incapable of participating in these discussions. On the contrary, youth often have the experience and input that adults need to create sustainable, long-term solutions.

Instead of using academic and industry-specific jargon, effective messages are rooted and phrased in youth’s lived experiences and expertise.

What I commend Crittenton Services for doing so well is mixing the two — bringing in academics, community leaders, and experts who use language you don’t need a PhD to understand. Incorporating slam poetry, an emcee who casually referenced “hot girl summer,” and a panel that ranged in age, I quickly realized that this event was unique. For once, I felt comfortable. I felt like I was in a space made for me, not one in which I was merely a guest. I didn’t feel the need to code-switch or censor myself. I knew I was in a place where I could talk about intersectionality and Muslim Twitter in the same breath; I knew I could be myself and still be heard.

Reflecting on my experience as a panelist with Crittenton Services of Greater Washington and my experiences with numerous other organizations, I am reminded again of the ways we show up in spaces. The ways we show up and the people we bring with us can either continue the status quo or make room for new, innovative, and necessary change.

As we engage with nonprofits, advocacy organizations, and organizers, we need to be mindful of what we are bringing to the table and what doors we are opening for others. Are we advancing ourselves and the communities we purport to serve? I think this is a question every good public servant needs to ask themselves constantly. For myself, I am reminded of the ways I can accidentally play into the “good Muslim” stereotype, furthering myself while simultaneously feeding into problematic vs. bad Muslim discourse. Even though my original intentions could have been innocent, the outcome is less so. To be an ethical changemaker, I must have both: the intention and the self-reflection required to secure the anticipated result.

Moving forward, I encourage all of us to take a critical look at ourselves and the organizations we engage in. It is far too easy to critique other organizations that you forget to take a look in the mirror. In what ways do we perpetuate the same forces, whether it be gate-keeping, white supremacy, or sexism, that we purport to be fighting against? How can we identify these gaps? And most importantly, what solutions can we take to be more equitable, and inclusive, and not just in theory but also in practice.

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UCSF Person Centered Contraceptive Care Framework
UCSF Person Centered Contraceptive Care Framework

A few weeks ago, Dr. Jamila Perritt and I represented Washington Area Women’s Foundation’s DC Family Planning Project (DCFPP) on a panel at the annual Society of Family Planning (SFP) Conference. The panel was about prioritizing equity and community engagement in contraceptive access work.  We told attendees that the progress of the DC initiative so far is as much about what we have decided not to do as it is about what we have decided to do here in DC.

Let me explain!  Our DC initiative is among a small minority of contraceptive access projects nationwide that have decided not to center our work or define our success based on increasing uptake of long-acting reversible contraceptives (methods of birth control that provide effective contraception for an extended period without requiring user action — including injections, intrauterine devices (IUDs) and subdermal contraceptive implants). Instead, we are trying to learn more about what DC residents want and need with respect to their reproductive health and then to define success around how we can contribute to adapting health care service delivery to meet those needs.

To provide some background regarding where the DCFPP started and where we are now …. the idea for a DC contraceptive access project came from an initiative in Colorado that was designed to improve access to LARCs. The Colorado project provided training, operational support, and low- or no-cost LARCs to low-income women statewide.  Colorado reported significant increases in LARC uptake and reductions in unintended pregnancy and abortion.  Many states followed suit with similar initiatives — focusing on LARCs, targeting low-income women, and measuring success by increases in LARC uptake and decreases in unintended pregnancy.

When a similar project was discussed in DC, concerns were raised about a “one size fits all” approach to contraceptive access.  So, The Women’s Foundation, in partnership with a coalition of local funders and providers,  commissioned a DC Family Planning Community Needs Assessment, which was conducted by the GW Milken Institute School of Public Health.

Through the needs assessment, we learned that reproductive health services and contraceptive methods (including LARC methods) actually already are widely available in DC; however, there is a disconnect between the availability/accessibility of these services and the utilization of them.  We also learned that a significant number of sexually active adolescents and young women in DC are not accessing health care services at all.  Additionally, the results showed low knowledge levels, negative perceptions, suspicions, mistrust and safety concerns about birth control methods (especially LARC methods) – particularly among young women of color from low-income households.

Given the study results, we realized that we needed to assess, understand and mitigate potential unintended harm to our community if we initiated a LARC-focused project directed at low-income households, which predominately include people of color in DC.  It became clear that there are many issues other than the ability to access highly effective birth control methods or a desire to reduce unintended pregnancy that are impacting contraceptive and reproductive health care decision making in our community.

There is a long history of reproductive coercion and abuse against African Americans in the U.S., including nonconsensual medical experiments, compulsory sterilization, the Tuskegee Untreated Syphilis Study, and — more recently, unconstitutional, coercive laws proposed to incentivize or require welfare recipients to use the contraceptive implant, Norplant; disproportionate marketing to Black women of the injectable contraceptive Depo-Provera; and judges offering inmates reduced sentences if they agree to be sterilized or use contraception.

As a result of the DC needs assessment findings, our reproductive health/racial equity research, and recognition of how historical injustices and resulting mistrust may affect reproductive health care decision making, we believe that:

  • method-effectiveness is not necessarily the main priority in all patient’s decision-making regarding contraception;
  • some patients do not want LARC methods for a variety of reasons;
  • access barriers are not necessarily as simple as method availability and having enough clinicians trained to provide them; and
  • unintended pregnancy is not universally viewed as a problem that needs to be prevented.

We also believe that the community the DC initiative is intended to serve should guide the identification of the problem(s) to be addressed, as well as the potential solutions that best fit the needs of the community.  Thus, we are focusing on whether people are able to access the services they need and want, and whether they experience those services positively, and ultimately whether their reproductive quality of life improves.

Admittedly, these outcomes are harder to quantify and thus, more difficult to fund. Yet, we believe this is the right approach for our community.

We currently are partnering with like-minded contraceptive access initiatives from Mississippi, Chicago, Boston and Utah, in collaboration with the UCSF Person Centered Reproductive Health Program, to form a national collaborative to develop a “principles of quality” document that describes our collective vision of what person-centered sexual and reproductive health care should look like, as well as to develop shared evaluation measures for our contraceptive access work that do not focus solely on LARC devices and unintended pregnancy prevention. We hope to jointly develop shared language; to strengthen our messaging to funders regarding the value of investing in equity/justice/quality-focused contraceptive access initiatives that go beyond LARC access to tackle wider quality issues; and to better identify and articulate how we can define success with this work.

Circling back to a key takeaway from the SFP Conference, in order to move toward more equitable reproductive health care for all people, more philanthropic organizations must be willing to invest in people-centered contraceptive access initiatives that are built from the bottom up rather than the top down.  These endeavors require “thinking outside the box” and a willingness to fund projects that are lifted up by the communities meant to be served to solve problems identified by the communities meant to be served through promising interventions conceived and designed by the communities meant to be served.  In order to live our values regarding racial equity in reproductive health, we must be willing to change the systems and practices that hold racial inequities in place.


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The Census 2020 working group we are part of organized a conference for Grantee Partners and non-profit organizations serving hard-to-count populations. Participants had the opportunity to network and connect with members of the Complete Count Committee of their jurisdiction, brainstorm strategies to count vulnerable populations, and learn about the consequences an inaccurate count will have on the distribution of federal funds the next ten years.

We kicked-off the day with a keynote speech by Vanita Gupta, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights. In her remarks, Ms. Gupta talked about the unprecedented challenges and threats to accuracy the 2020 Census is facing. A last minute introduction of a citizenship question—still being contested—will make the population harder to count, but so too will major demographic changes over the past decade, a lack of predictable funding, and changes in the process that have not been tested adequately.

She assured attendees now is the time to get involved, to identify and engage trusted messengers in the community, and to spread the word about the importance of a fair count. While she acknowledged that the concerns of immigrant communities are very real, she also warned that boycotting the census is not the answer. It would only reinforce a concerted effort to construct a whiter electorate, diminishing diverse communities’ political voice and shared funding. For immigrant communities, participating in the census is about not being invisible. It is a way to say, “I am here, I count.” Ms. Gupta ended her statement making a call to philanthropy to join the effort and to invest in building capacity to engage in census outreach in community organizations that serve populations at risk of underrepresentation.

The Census 2020 working group is aware that funder engagement in support of the census is more important than ever. It is creating a space for funders to learn, strategize, and plan investments together and is actively creating resources and opportunities for grantee partners and non-profit organizations in our region to encourage participation among their staff, clients, families, and communities.

To keep the momentum going the working group wrapped-up the conference by opening a request for proposals for the fund Count DMV In, which will support projects related to outreach, education, and direct assistance focused on hard to count communities. It also released a set of fact sheets with information on basics you need to know about the census next year, including a timeline, ways you can help, and data on census tracks at risk of undercounting in each jurisdiction of the greater Washington region.

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Through our Young Women’s Initiative, we launched the Rock Star Fund to elevate the leadership of cisgender, gender-expansive youth, and transgender young women of color between the ages of 12 and 24 in DC. The Rock Star Fund provides a one-time award of up to $2,000 to invest in the learning, leadership, ideas, and community projects of cisgender, gender-expansive youth, and transgender young women of color living in DC. It goes beyond traditional grantmaking, it allows Young Women's Advisory Council fellows the opportunity to review applications and decide awardees. This strategy engages young women of color as agents of change in their communities on both ends of the grantmaking process. On one end, young women decide which projects to invest in, on the other, young women receive an award to make those projects happen.

The Rock Star Fund affords young women and girls the opportunity to engage in innovative problem-solving to address some of the most pressing issues affecting them including poverty, homelessness, education and workforce development, healthcare, violence, mentorship, and documentation and residency. It connects women of color mentors with awardees to provide them with the support and connections they need to advance their own development and/or community projects.

We’ve awarded 4 young women of color during this cycle. Their transformative projects are working to shift narratives and cultivate belonging; provide gender-responsive, culturally competent, trauma-informed youth-friendly services; lift up the lived experiences of young women of color; tap into the leadership of young women of color by engaging them in decision-making processes; and provide guidance and mentorship.

A culture of participatory grantmaking is important to advance gender and racial equity, center the experiences of young women of color, and to allow more funding at the grassroots level.


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Organization Information

Washington Area Women's Foundation

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @thewomensfndtn
Project Leader:
Emmy Torruellas
Development Associate
Washington, DC United States
$7,700 raised of $10,000 goal
162 donations
$2,300 to go
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