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Open Society’s History Fighting for Racial Justice in the United States

Racial justice has always been central to the work and mission of the Open Society Foundations.

In the mid-1990s, after spending years working to reform U.S. drug policies that unfairly target Black Americans, George Soros and the Open Society Foundations expanded their racial justice ambitions in the United States by investing in the movement against systemic racism—from ending the drug war to reforming systems of education and criminal justice to securing the right to vote.

Now, in 2020, and in response to the unprecedented wave of activism and organizing for racial justice that's spread across the world in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, Open Society is investing $220 million to build power in Black communities, promote bold new anti-racist policies in U.S. cities, and help first-time activists stay engaged.

1994: Launching Open Society’s U.S. work

George Soros launched Open Society’s work in the United States with efforts to reform U.S. drug policies that unfairly targeted Black people. These efforts soon expanded to the need for broad reform of a discriminatory criminal justice system, including the elimination of the death penalty. 

George Soros talking to reporters
George Soros speaks to the press in support of after-school programs in New York City in 1998. © Jason Kempin/Redux

1998: Focusing on Black Americans in Baltimore

The Foundations launched the Open Society Institute–Baltimore—an innovative effort to address three intertwined problems affecting the city’s Black population: drug policy, high incarceration rates, and obstacles that impede Black youth in succeeding both in and outside of the classroom. To date, Open Society has invested over $113 million in Baltimore. 

Students raising their hands in a classroom
Students of the Baltimore Community School, an accelerator school for students who have fallen behind their peers but wish to get their high school degree. © Open Society Institute–Baltimore

2003: Expanding Racial Justice Work

Open Society created the Racial Justice Initiative in the United States, a new grantmaking effort to address systemic racial inequality experienced by historically marginalized communities of color. The program addressed such issues as voting rights, public policy reform, civil rights litigation, housing segregation, and community organizing. 

A woman sitting at a table with a ballot box
An election volunteer and a ballot box at a polling location, in California, in 2004. © Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Getty

2007: Investing in Black Men and Boys

The Foundations launched the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, investing nearly $20 million over several years. The initiative connected local leaders and over 2700 organizations to share knowledge and resources aimed at improving life outcomes for Black men and boys. 

A group of young men talk during a training session.
Young men engage in an intergenerational session during an event to promote collaborations as part of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, in 2011. © Salahadeen Betts for the Open Society Foundations

2011: Fighting Stop and Frisk

Open Society helped develop Communities United for Police Reform, a New York City-based campaign to challenge—and substantially reduce—the police department’s racially discriminatory stop and frisk practices. 

Thousands of people join together and march.
Thousands participate in a silent march against discriminatory policing, in New York City, on June 18, 2012. © Nina Berman/NOOR/Redux

2014: Accelerating the End of Mass Incarceration

The Open Society Foundations gave a grant of $50 million to the ACLU to advance its efforts to reduce mass incarceration nationwide. 

A group of male inmates pray
Christmas Mass is held in a chapel at Men's Central Jail, in Los Angeles, California, on December 25, 2019. © Mario Tama/Getty

2019: Supporting the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

Open Society-U.S. invested $25 million in multi-year grants to state organizations led by and accountable to people of color, and gave $15 million to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in recognition of its 80th anniversary.

Protestors hold up signs
Protestors hold signs at a rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, in Washington, D.C., on June 27, 2019. © Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty

2020: Building Black Power

Open Society announced investments of $220 million to build power in Black communities, promote bold new anti-racist policies in U.S. cities, and help first-time activists stay engaged. 

A woman sings while surrounded by fellow activists
LaTosha Brown, one of the cofounders of Black Voters Matter, sings during an event bringing together several grassroots organizations, in Greenville, Mississippi, on August 24, 2018. © Rogelio V. Solis/AP

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