America's Problem: A Call to Action to Our Peers in Philanthropy

Description: The words Black Lives Matter in large yellow font on a black and white photograph of people at a protest. Image from
Description: The words Black Lives Matter in large yellow font on a black and white photograph of people at a protest. Image from

The William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund believes unequivocally that Black Lives Matter.

The William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund calls upon our peers in philanthropy to join us in acting swiftly and consistently to put racial justice at the center of everything that we do. We invite critical feedback about how we can better live into our equity mission and recommit to being a part of the larger circle of philanthropies actively working to radically address the white supremacy inherent to philanthropy. This is not only a statement addressing the hideous atrocities committed by our public servants and fellow citizens against African Americans and other marginalized communities, but a call to action.

Although the Memorial Fund intentionally chose a Mission focus addressing racial equity five years ago, we know that we have a long way to go in our journey to redress oppressive systems which we participate in and influence with our dollars and decisions.

We recognize that institutional philanthropy exists as a result of racial injustice. Racial oppression and racial violence are the foundation and continued source of American wealth. Any steps which philanthropy takes which do not redress America’s debt to people of color, especially Native American and African American people, is only further reinforcement of the racial hierarchy that flows from a system of concentrating wealth in the hands of people whose privilege is defined, in part, by their white racial identity.

As the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund continues to activate our equity agenda, we know that we must ground our decisions in the needs and lived experiences of people who are oppressed by the white supremacist and capitalist systems we benefit from and sustain with our choices. This includes our investments of most of the wealth that we hold in oppressive structures causing the very problems we say we want to remedy. We are working to reinvest our money in communities and in ways that promote racial, educational, and environmental justice and human rights.

Our equity grants support work by communities of color to redress the social determinants of education disparities (housing, health, political access, basic needs, etc.) and to directly transform education and all systems affecting how disadvantaged communities are able to benefit from education as a liberatory process.

Our frames for doing so are focused on:

1) building the power of the communities most impacted by systemic inequity,

 2) supporting work that disrupts inequitable systems, and

 3) transforming key systems as a way of achieving equity. 

In this current crisis, we are also increasing grant support to our core grantees, supporting basic survival with grants for food, safety and health for disadvantaged communities. We are also working to increase support for advocacy with grants and to develop a comprehensive strategy to more effectively leverage our voice in solidarity with the communities most targeted by racism and poverty. We are seeking to support communities while working for the systemic, structural change that is needed.

We will not shy away from addressing these issues because of the violence which has erupted in the streets along with the protests against police violence and oppression. We are reminded that Dr. King said,

"Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned . . . But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? . . .it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. …And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention."

Access the full speech here

Our responsibility is to stop the greater violence of white supremacy that has led to these protests. Our call to action implicates our responsibility to listen, learn and leverage our privilege and power in solidarity with the unheard. We also publicly commit to the complex work of changing the traditional power dynamics that have existed between foundations and grantees. Our grants are designed so targeted communities are supported in being heard and being engaged in the changes which directly impact their communities and destinies. Philanthropy must ground itself in intentional anti-racist practices if we are to make change; if we do not, we only reinforce the systems of racial oppression.

We seek partnership in this call to action so we can share our learning and support each other’s growth. We know and expect these partnerships to be challenging: the work of anti-racist transformation requires tenacity to stay engaged through the disruption, discomfort, and critical reflection. But we must let go of the white supremacist status quo which has harmed billions of people around the world and hundreds of millions in our hemisphere alone.

We need you to be with us in this work - to hold us to account and to be held to account. Together, and in service-partnership with communities, we can make the changes to realize educational and racial justice.

We call on our siblings in philanthropy to join with us in:

  • Moving our endowments and holdings into socially responsible & mission aligned investments
  • Actively addressing our internalized white supremacy at every level of our organizations
  •  Funding community-based solutions
  • Making long-term commitments to community organizers & their agendas
  • Working to create more equitable relationships between foundations and those we are serving
  • Demanding state and local government center basic needs, human rights, and the demilitarization of communities most impacted by racism, poverty, and Covid-19

None of us can do this alone; together we can.

We look forward to continuing the partnerships that we have developed which are committed to equity and hope to build even more as we strive to be a part of the solution. Please join us and Maryam Elahi of the Community Foundation for Eastern CT and Laura McCargar of the Perrin Family Foundation on June 29th at 3pm for a call to take the next step in doing the anti-racist work we must do. Please RSVP to Patti Faustini at and please engage a trustee to join your CEO/ED on this call. More details are coming soon.

-The Trustees and Staff of the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund