Facing the Future Together
Thoughts on Black History Month from Robin Hood CEO Richard Buery
Black History Month is an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments, creativity, and determination of Black Americans; to applaud those boldfaced names who have shaped our nation’s culture, but, more than that, to honor the many millions of Black Americans who have helped to build and sustain our nation over the centuries.
For me, Black History Month is particularly critical this year as so many Americans are focused on ignoring, diminishing, or intentionally misunderstanding that history. From misguided critiques of critical race theory and the 1619 project; to efforts to memorialize Confederate leaders but ban books and coursework that teach the truth about America, we are reminded that Black History month remains essential.
The struggle to understand Black history, and therefore to understand American history, is as urgent today as it has ever been. Understanding is essential to progress. According to Maya Angelou: “You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been.”
Bryan Stevenson, the founder of EJI and the National Memorial for Peace Justice, has a powerful quote about this. He says: “We have committed ourselves in this country to silence about our history, to ignorance about our history, to denying our history. And that’s the first part of this relationship that has to be repaired. We’ve got to be willing now to talk honestly about who we are and how we got here.”
American history is so fascinating because it is so complex. There is so much to mourn and so much to celebrate. We can simultaneously reflect on how far we have to go on the path to racial and economic justice, and marvel at how extraordinarily far we have already come.
At Robin Hood, we believe in the importance of being guided by data, and the data tell us that poverty in America is deeply intertwined with race in America. This is not an accident, and as a result, it is impossible to fight poverty in our country and our city without understanding the role that racism plays in excluding so many Americans from opportunity.
That’s why I am so proud of the efforts Robin Hood has undertaken to explore the role that race plays in perpetuating intergenerational poverty, and to adapt our practices and programming as a result.
For example, in the summer of 2020, Robin Hood launched the Power Fund pilot to invest in leaders of color who are reflective of the communities they serve. We knew that over the last twenty years, only 10% of philanthropic dollars had gone to organizations led by people of color, despite philanthropic giving increasing nearly 400% over the same period. We also knew that leaders of color have been overlooked and underfunded. The Power Fund seeks to address this critical funding disparity while elevating leaders of color who bring perspective, proximity, and expertise to the fight against poverty. Since its launch, we’ve provided catalytic funding and self-directed leadership support to 23 remarkable organizations led by leaders of color, in addition to investments in field building and research to deepen our impact.
And in 2021, Robin Hood helped to launch the NinetyToZero initiative — in partnership with CEOs and organizations from across business, nonprofit, philanthropy, and academia — to begin to close the 90% racial wealth gap between white and Black Americans. Partner organizations — including Starbucks, Goldman Sachs, the ACLU, etc. — committed to a set of seven expert-driven, needle-moving actions to advance racial equity by growing Black talent and investing in Black businesses.
These initiatives, though, should not exist as siloed parts of Robin Hood’s work. Investing in leaders who are reflective of the communities they serve and building equity can — and should — be a constant consideration in our work. So as we go, we integrate the key learnings from these pilot programs into everything that we do.
We have tons more to learn and tons more to do on this front, but I am excited about the journey we have started and look forward to sharing our progress along the way.
This month, I feel particularly energized in the fight to elevate New Yorkers from poverty; to build a more equitable city; and to create the “Beloved Community” envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., where every New Yorker cares for each other, a community free of poverty or hatred.
And I feel blessed to be a part of this community, the Robin Hood community, where our mission is to bring together New Yorkers from all walks of life to do just that.
When Dr. King accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, he shared that he had “the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up.”
In 2022, let’s have audacity together.