The Lasting Campaign for Black Male Achievement
By Ken Zimmerman
For a society to be truly open, it must ensure that all of its members have full and equal access to economic, social, and political opportunities. A core element of our work at the Open Society Foundations is to challenge and confront those barriers that undermine such opportunities—particularly for communities that are historically marginalized and vulnerable.
Over six years ago, the Open Society Foundations expanded its historic support for racial justice in the United States by initiating an effort specifically targeted at the challenges confronting black men and boys: the Campaign for Black Male Achievement (CBMA). The reason was simple: the United States cannot realize its aspirations as a society without tackling head-on its legacy that limits the potential of African American males.
Over the intervening years, CBMA has led us forward, and we are excited to announce that the campaign will now spin off to continue its work as an independent organization in a new and enhanced form.
When CBMA first launched, there was precious little philanthropy dedicated specifically to addressing the special racial and gender barriers preventing boys and men of color from achieving their economic, political, educational, and social potential. In recent years, a number of foundations have become joint leaders through efforts, such as the California Endowment’s Sons and Brothers campaign, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Forward Promise initiative, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Black Male Engagement work, among others.
Today, in part due to CBMA’s efforts, there is an unprecedented number of organizations dedicated to carrying this banner—including the recently formed Executives’ Alliance to Expand Opportunities for Boys and Men of Color, a coalition of more than 40 foundations (including the Open Society Foundations, which continues to play a leadership role on the steering committee). And earlier this year, President Obama announced the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, putting black male achievement on an even more prominent platform for the remainder of this administration and beyond.
The work done by CBMA’s leaders, Shawn Dove and Rashid Shabazz, has helped start to change the narrative—and create a black male achievement movement in this country. This has involved identifying and lifting up innovators and building and expanding a network of leaders and organizations dedicated to this cause. By spinning off as a standalone organization this January—a step first suggested by Shawn several years ago—CBMA is poised to move to the next level.
Open Society has spun off more than 300 programs in its history. As our president Chris Stone has said, “The cause of justice … is strengthened by the combined power” of the parent organization and its new progeny. We certainly believe that will be the case with CBMA.
The new entity has a new web address. But it will keep the same name, and the same focus: to help foster the growth, sustainability, and impact of organizations working to improve the lives of black boys and men. And it will incorporate the work of the Institute for Black Male Achievement, which was created in late 2012 with a grant of $4 million from Open Society and eight funding partners.
Tonya Allen, CEO of the Skillman Foundation, will serve as CBMA’s founding board chair, and will be joined on the board by Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone and board member of Open Society’s U.S. Programs; William C. Bell, CEO of the Casey Family Programs; and Wendell Pritchett, interim dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School. The Silicon Valley Community Foundation will serve as CBMA’s fiscal sponsor.
We send Shawn and Rashid on the next leg of their journey with a new grant of $10 million over the next five years. This substantial grant is meant to convey our confidence in their endeavor; we look forward to collaborating further with CBMA as they get underway.
But the grant is also an indication of our ongoing commitment to racial justice, a component of virtually all the U.S. work we do—including our efforts to end mass incarceration, to reform policing and the juvenile justice system, to preserve and protect voting rights, to close the racial wealth gap, and to advocate for alternatives to harsh school disciplinary policies.
This month we invested $2.5 million to support frontline community groups in Ferguson, as well as develop a national database on the police use of force—both to better identify problematic practices and examples of effective, responsive, and accountable policing.
We are excited about CBMA’s future as a vital aspect of our continued work in this area. We are proud of the work they have started and look forward to the opportunities ahead for the newest member of our extended family.
Until January 2018, Ken Zimmerman was the director of U.S. Programs.