Renisha McBride, a young black woman from Detroit, knocked on the door of Theodore Wafer seeking help. The 19-year-old had run her car off the road and was hoping that someone in the home would give her a hand. Instead, Mr. Wafer, a white man, took her life, shooting her at close range from behind a locked door.
Like Trayvon Martin, who was shot by a neighborhood-watch volunteer, Renisha was unarmed at the time of her tragic death.
Following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the man who killed Mr. Martin, President Obama and many of America’s leading philanthropies were inspired to start My Brothers Keeper: an unprecedented effort that now has attracted more than $300-million for a public-private partnership dedicated to responding to the racism that is devastating the lives of so many men and boys of color.
But questions remain: What if the epidemic levels of domestic violence against women of color were taken as seriously as violence committed by strangers? What if violence targeting all people of color—Renisha McBride as well as Trayvon Martin; women as well as men—inspired action?
Philanthropy has a key role to play in answering those questions and responding to the problems of systemic racism in our country.
Historically, especially during the 1960s, philanthropy has supported the nation’s expansive racial-justice efforts.
In recent years, however, foundations have taken a more narrow view of the problem that needs to be solved by advancing the idea that racism disproportionately harms men and boys of color and that investing in them is the best way to eradicate the impact of racism on all people of color.
This narrative was first established in philanthropy in the early 1990s when the W.K. Kellogg Foundation started the African American Men and Boys Initiative. Several foundations followed Kellogg’s lead, resulting in a philanthropic trend that is centered on the needs of black boys and men.
The surge has continued as documented in a report from the Open Society Foundations and the Foundation Center, showing that in 2011 foundations awarded more than $40-million in grants to support black boys and men, up from $29-million the previous year. Despite the overwhelming data that girls of color face the same and at times compounded set of obstacles as their male counterparts, no big foundations have major grant-making efforts that address their race- and gender-specific needs.
Foundation officials who focus on boys and men of color often say it is because boys are in crisis and girls are not. The data tell another story.