Leaning into the Power of Black Leadership: A Call to Support King County’s Black-Led Organizations

Seattle Foundation honors Black History Month by celebrating Black-led Organizations and their ability to uplift community. We invite others in our community to join us – not just during Black History Month, but all year long.

By Senior Program Officer Jonathan Cunningham and Senior Philanthropic Advisor Cedric Davis

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the death of Ahmaud Arbery, the 25-year-old jogger whose devastating last moments in a Georgia suburb were captured on video. On Saturday, a parade will be held in his honor, while the three white men who pursued and shot Arbery await their trial for murder. In the months after his death, cell phone video posts gone viral on social media forced the world to witness the injustices faced on a daily basis by the Black community. The deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Toni McDade and, locally, Manuel Ellis allowed everyone to see the injustice faced by African Americans. Their deaths reignited a call to action, echoing the chant “Black Lives Matter!”

This week also marks the end of February, which is Black History Month. An annual celebration that aims to uplift the work of African Americans and celebrate their central role in United States history. Over the course of a tumultuous year, overshadowed by a pandemic that compounded the pain of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, Seattle Foundation chose to lean into a stated promise of increasing our support for Black-led organizations in King County, building on the momentum from our pilot project launched in 2019.

In June 2019, Seattle Foundation launched the Black-led Organizations (BLO) Cohort as a pilot project to cultivate deeper relationships with community organizations and learn more about their work. We invested in ten King County BLOs and assembled them for monthly conversations with local Black leaders. This allowed us to hear first-hand about their strengths, challenges, and needs.

Along with partners Byrd Barr Place and Cardea Services, we invested in a research project entitled “The Case for Investing in King County’s Black-Led Organizations,” which was pursued to gain insight into the work and experience of BLOs and their leaders. These organizations have also advised Seattle Foundation on how we can significantly increase our support to Black-led organizations and initiatives—helping us to take corrective action against century-long injustices—by fostering relationships and directing philanthropic investments to the organizations doing critical work within these communities. This work is ongoing; we continue to learn and modify our investments in response to what communities tell us. The initiatives and targeted efforts we have shared in this piece are critical, but our work does not end there. Seattle Foundation recognizes we need to be intentional about supporting BLOs and increasing funding for the Black community throughout all of our work.

Over the past four weeks, Seattle Foundation has provided a glimpse of this effort through a series of social media posts lifting up the stories of Black-led efforts in our region. We asked each leader within the Black-led Organizations cohort to provide a synopsis of their mission in their own voice, which we are continuing to share with our broader community. You learned about more specialized efforts, such as the CD Forum, which works to empower Black artists and build community through art. We celebrated the achievements of Community Passageways, an organization working to divert youth from the criminal legal system and into opportunities for growth. You also heard about efforts like the Black Future Co-Op Fund, which was launched in 2020 by four Black women to connect Black residents and communities across Washington to support each other in healing, sharing ideas, and building a common agenda for change.

Seattle Foundation celebrates these organizations and their ability to uplift their community, usually without the traditional financial backing of philanthropy. We are also investing resources and support into these groups and similar organizations. We are making these investments through a variety of Seattle Foundation funding initiatives, to help scale their progress and get them immediate resources, including through our COVID-19 Response Fund.

As we reflect on the challenges facing the African American community – the worst seen in the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Manuel Ellis, and countless others — we see the harsh reality of anti-Black racism impressed upon minority communities for centuries. In the face of so much adversity, the Black community has been even more resilient. We will continue to build deep relationships with Black-led organizations and move critical resources to support their work because, together, we can create a more equitable region where everyone thrives.

Paying attention to, and making investments in, the Black community is not something that should occur only in February—the shortest month of the year. This is reparations work that requires ongoing support. To learn more about Seattle Foundation’s work to invest in Black-led organizations, such as those mentioned in this piece and more, as well as how you can invest in this work, please contact Jonathan or Cedric today.