Many cities have policies and procedures aimed at combating individual and institutional racism. Meaningfully addressing structural racism can be much more challenging. An innovative funding stream in Seattle called the Racial Equity Fund is working to do just that.
The Racial Equity Fund offers yearly technical assistance grants to coalitions that promote racial equity on a structural level. The grant funding was adopted by the city council in 2012 largely in response to community organizing efforts. The Fund has been included in the budget for the past three years at an amount of $60,000. This year the Seattle Office for Arts and Culture has contributed $15,000 in additional funding through a new partnership, making the total amount now $75,000.
Housed within the city’s Office of Civil Rights, the Racial Equity Fund is part of the city’s Race and Social Justice Initiative. In order to spread the word about this unique funding opportunity, the Office of Civil Rights reached out to all its networks and listservs as well as partnered with other organizations. Each year, the number of applicants for racial equity funding has increased, which is a testament to effective outreach and community engagement. In fact, one of the most unique aspects of the Fund is that the Office of Civil Rights very purposefully engaged with community in order to develop a process for distributing funds in a way that would model equity.
Instead of simply soliciting prospective grantees through an RFP (Request for Proposal) and ending the process at that point, the Racial Equity Fund also holds a symposium for groups and organizations interested in receiving funding. At this event, information is presented that helps applicants develop a shared vocabulary and deepen their analysis of the differences between individual, institutional and structural racism. Applicants share their draft grant proposals and receive feedback from peers as well as the Proposal Review Committee. Groups are then able to connect with others in the room who are doing complementary work, in order to build stronger coalitions. The Racial Equity Fund selects its grantees from these coalitions, rather than individual organizations or projects. Granting to broader-based coalitions promotes structural racial equity work as well as helps the grant dollars stretch further.
Gabriella Sanchez-Stern of the Office of Civil Rights says that the biggest challenge in implementing the Racial Equity Fund has been figuring out how to support as much of the work as possible with the amount of money allotted.
Gabriella stated she would advise other jurisdictions interested in doing a similar project to develop a very clear strategy for growing funds over a period of time, and to be transparent about that strategy with grantees. In addition, she advises engaging people both inside government and outside. Gabriella states it is critical to really listen and respond to feedback about how to make the process more equitable for everyone. In this way, the Racial Equity Fund seeks both to increase structural racial equity by funding coalitions, and also to model equity to the community and government.
Applications for the current funding year have been accepted and are currently being reviewed. Here is a list of the grantees from the 2013-2014 funding year: