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To Advance Racial Justice, Philanthropists Will Need to be Courageous

Philanthropists are responding to America’s racial tensions and police-related killings in several ways. In our last podcast, we spoke to Heinz Endowments president Grant Oliphant, who acknowledged that his foundation — one of the 50 largest in the nation — needed to do more to advance racial equity. “To think about the work that we have done and to realize that, as proud as we may be of it, it isn’t sufficient. And it hasn’t changed the experience on the ground, and we need to do more.”

Now we speak with La June Montgomery Tabron. She leads the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which gave away more than $370 million last year and focuses on racial equity, community engagement and children’s well-being.

Tabron herself was raised in a family of ten children in inner city Detroit, and says growing racial tensions in the U.S. are profoundly affecting her. “I have two African American sons. And as I watched one of the CNN broadcasts where this woman stood up and talked about how she fears for her son’s life, that’s something that’s very personal to me. And in fact, I have had lives taken from my family in an urban setting in Detroit.”

Tabron concedes that despite the diversity at the Kellogg Foundation and the comprehensive racial equity training its staff receives in, tensions have emerged. “We have worked on this issue for decades, yet in this moment, we became the nation, we began the same behaviors.”

Tabron also talks about the difficult conversations her staff are having about race, and philanthropy’s own diversity challenges, where people of color comprise just 8 percent of foundation CEOs. Tabron says there’s one word she has been preaching to herself every day in light of recent events: courage. “If you don’t have that, you don’t have the building blocks to get this done.”

Additional Resources

Tabron speaks out after the death of Michael Brown: Chronicle of Philanthropy: After Ferguson, Grant Makers Seek Solutions to Racial-Justice Issues

W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Enterprise (TRHTE)

Tabron and several other foundation leaders signed onto the recent #reasonsforhope campaign

Inside Philanthropy: Mixed Messengers: On Foundations as Moral Cheerleaders

The Center for Effective Philanthropy’s study, African American Foundation CEOs: A Look at the Leadership of the Largest Foundations (2015), found that the numbers of black foundation CEOs are low overall, but they are higher among the very largest foundations.

W.K. Kellogg Foundation on Twitter

Tabron’s mentor Jo Ann Morris, a longtime executive coach and organizational change consultant. She’s co-founder of the group White Men As Full Diversity Partners, which guides leaders in creating and sustaining inclusive workplace cultures.

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