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Heinz Endowments Chief: Philanthropy Faces Critical Test on Racial Equity


The country once again is grappling with racial tensions after this month’s shooting deaths of two black men in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights at the hands of police. Then a sniper opened fire during protests against police brutality in Dallas, killing five law enforcement officers. Politicians, artists, civil rights groups and many others have spoken out on the issue.

And while philanthropy has remained relatively quiet about the events, one foundation leader has not: Grant Oliphant. He’s President of the Pittsburgh-based Heinz Endowments, which is among the 50 largest foundations in America. They give away more than $70 million annually, mostly in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Oliphant recently published two blogs in response to the fatal events. In the first, he writes:

I am not entitled to my silence. None of us are, not now, not in the face of this.

…Why do we have to say #BlackLivesMatter? Seriously? Because apparently we have forgotten that in this country, if we ever knew it. Because apparently it needs to be said out loud, loudly and forcefully enough for the shootings to stop and the otherizing to stop.

…This is what I have to give: To say on behalf of our institution, yes, yes, we see it. We see it and it is not ok. To say, we will do our part. To protest, along with you, “Enough, stop it, no more.”

Read Oliphant’s second blog here.

Oliphant speaks with Tiny Spark about philanthropy’s responsibility in addressing racism and inequity — when the industry itself is predominately white. He also addresses the criticism that philanthropy has received for shying away from contentious issues.

“If we don’t respond to the fault line around equity in our society right now, particularly around race, around poverty and the widening divide between those who have and those who don’t, we are going to fundamentally fail in any mission we have — being it the environment or the arts or education — because this will tear us apart,” he says.

Featured photo: Grant Oliphant (courtesy of the Heinz Endowments)

Additional Resources

Oliphant’s Twitter

Kevin Jennings, executive director of the Arcus Foundation, in the Chronicle of Philanthropy: A Month After the Pulse Shootings, Where’s Philanthropy?

1 Comment

  1. Grant-
    Well said and so on point.
    Thank you.
    Rebecca Harris

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