Musings from our Executive Director
March 7, 2023
After decades of institutional efforts toward “diversity, equity and inclusion,” we still lead segregated lives. At home, at school, at our jobs, in philanthropy, we remain fundamentally alienated across racial lines even while we approach each other with good intentions.
Change-makers who recognize this reality are shifting from a narrow DEI framework toward deeper ideas of re-creation and invention, and they’re not waiting for government funding or institutional shifts to make reparations a reality. They’re acting boldly in the places where small changes can be realized. These visionary approaches quickly reveal something vital that’s been missing from the conversation, and without which reparations can never succeed. For real societal change to happen, for change to happen within institutions, it must also happen at the personal and interpersonal level. When we bypass human relationships, we haven’t really confronted how supremacy operates within all of us. Any attempts toward true healing will remain incomplete.
“For real societal change to happen … it must also happen at the personal and interpersonal level.”
Over the next two years Compton Foundation is taking a twofold strategy with our reparation efforts, centering all those efforts in relationship-based repair. On one hand, we are continuing our grantmaking activity, funding a small portfolio of ecosystem builders and narrative change projects that embed person-to-person or community-to-community healing. We also are experimenting with a new approach that facilitates repair initiatives between wealth-holders and Black women entrepreneurs, innovators and visionaries.
I remain hopeful that one day there will be a federal acknowledgment and official apology for settler colonialism and slavery, not just in words but in the form of dollars and policies. Until then I place my trust in the plethora of practices emerging out of the labor, commitment, and love of so many activists, supporters, and organizers who have picked up this mantle of change. We celebrate you as we learn from you, and we intend to contribute ideas of our own.
Compton Foundation will spend all its assets and close operations in 2024. The conversations happening in philanthropy about choosing a strategic lifespan instead of existing in perpetuity are much more nuanced today than they were over a decade ago. As a frequent, featured speaker on the topic, my own point of view has expanded too.
At Compton, our decision to spend up was itself an act of repair, a symbolic step toward acknowledging the ways this money we hold has been generated and multiplied from harm.
More significantly, as we go through the process we’re looking at actions we can take in order to stop perpetuating the harm that comes through practices often accepted in philanthropy.
“Our decision to spend up was itself an act of repair, a symbolic step toward acknowledging the ways this money we hold has been generated and multiplied from harm.”
We’re particularly focused on wrapping things up well with our grantee partners through 2023 and 2024. For example, we’ve added an eight percent inflation increase to the 2023 grant awards and a compounded eight percent increase to the awards through 2024. We decided to implement this practice because our endowment has benefited from compounded interest on the multi-year grants we pay out annually. Up until now, we hadn’t thought to pass on those gains to our grantees. We had to confront why we hold this wealth the way we do rather than passing agency to our grantee partners, who could likely use the money over time to build cash flow reserves or other emergency-based holdings.
While Compton’s impending exit from philanthropy doesn’t allow us to experiment with this idea long-term, we share it in the hope that others in philanthropy will consider ways they can distribute or pass along their winnings to grantees, especially in years when earnings are strong. Shouldn’t “trust-based philanthropy” and “letting communities lead us” include new practices of shifting where control is held too? Without that shift—and the respect it signals from person to person, from leader to leader—how can true rebalancing and healing take place?
Our new experiments in repair engage Black women entrepreneurs, artists, creatives and activists who are willing to connect with cohorts of white wealth holders in a structured process designed to heal estrangement and redistribute financial assets. White participants are required to go through a preparatory phase of deep personal work before being invited to join these relationships. In the first experiment, wealth holders have made use of their gift tax exemption to transfer wealth to Black participants—re-creating the kind of no-strings, no-return-expected investments that often have supported white well-being and ambitions through the passing on of generational wealth. We’re documenting both personal experiences and financial impacts over the long term, and will use this information to produce a practice guide others can use.
This is the work that must be done to heal our ideologies of supremacy, separation, and segregation. Meaningful reparations require that we build intentional new relationships to fix our warped ideologies about who we really are. We know that in doing this work, we are joining others who have long been engaged in relationship-focused healing. We see our efforts as augmenting and amplifying what is already being done.
June Wilson, Executive Director of Compton Foundation, is a philanthropic leader in racial justice advocacy and alternative approaches to legacy and perpetuity, and a Board Member at the National Center for Family Philanthropy.