A $220 Million Investment in Racial Justice
By Patrick Gaspard
I was a teenager growing up in New York when I attended my first protest against police brutality. A young man named Michael Stewart had been caught drawing graffiti with a felt-tip pen on a subway wall in the middle of the night. Police accosted him and took him to Bellevue Hospital. He died soon after. A review of his case would later conclude that he suffered, much as George Floyd did this spring, from complications as a result of force applied to his neck.
I’ve attended countless protests in the years since. But I’ve never seen anything like the power-surge of citizen activism we’ve witnessed this spring and summer, following Mr. Floyd’s murder. Millions turned out in demonstrations that touched every corner of the country, and communities all across the globe.
For me, this season has brought forth moments of despair, a weariness borne of fighting a battle—against police violence targeting Black people, amplified by the deep health and wealth disparities revealed by COVID-19—in which progress comes in fits and starts, when it comes at all. But my weariness is leavened by hope—the hope borne of marching alongside people from all walks of life, of all ages, religions, colors and creeds, who are determined make the police stop killing us, to attack inequities dating back to the days of slavery at their root, and to push our deeply imperfect union closer to its ideals.
I joined the Open Society Foundations because of George Soros’s deep commitment to racial justice. I am humbled now, as president of the Open Society Foundations, to help implement his vision and continue his work. Today, we are investing $220 million in response to the burst of energy we have witnessed from this extraordinary movement, in hopes of nurturing it and ensuring that it endures long after the media spotlight has moved on.
We are contributing $150 million to a set of organizations that we deem vital—organizations that have helped make this moment happen, and that have the vision, drive and determination to carry it forward into the future. They range from emerging powers to more established civil rights forces. Among them: Black Voters Matter, Circle for Innovations, the Rev. Barber’s Repairers of the Breach and the Equal Justice Initiative. Each of them play a crucial role.
Many people have donated to racial justice causes in recent weeks. Every bit helps, and the recognition and support is long overdue. But lasting change takes time. This set of investments, in the form of five-year grants, will give these organizations the space to dream big, act boldly, and plan for the long term.
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, we’ve seen communities across the country rushing to rethink and reimagine policing, the need to end mass incarceration and the ravages of racism in its many forms. We see cities as the laboratories of lasting change, especially at a time when our federal government has failed to lead—and in fact seems bent on embracing white supremacy rather than dismantling it. We are making new investments in cities, to help them develop and implement bold policy ideas for reforming our criminal justice system and advancing racial justice in new and lasting ways.
Another of our investments will go to helping the millions of first-time activists sustain their enthusiasm for civic engagement. The pandemic has devastated the job market and forced students online to pursue their studies, putting a damper on their ability to nurture their newfound political awareness at a crucial juncture. We’re investing in ways to help open new doors through fellowships and internships focusing on racial justice, democracy, and organizing to advance change.
We will be providing more detail on our investments in the coming weeks. You can learn more about this new set of initiatives here, and about the Open Society Foundations’ long history of racial justice work here.
It is an honor to be a part of an organization that places the rights and dignity of disenfranchised communities at the center of everything we do—and a special honor for me to announce these new supports to help Black leadership build power now, and for years to come.
Until December 2020, Patrick Gaspard was president of the Open Society Foundations.