A Note from David Addams, Our Executive Director: An Update on the Memorial Fund’s Equity Journey

The past five years have been a process of inquiry, discovery, reflection, and setting our eyes upon a new prize- achieving equity in education while being explicit about the impact of racism and poverty. We changed our mission, hired new staff into newly created roles, created a new grantmaking strategy, and debuted a new website. We’ve made progress yet we know that we still have a lot to learn in order to more fully and appropriately support equity work in Connecticut, especially in communities that live at the intersection of racism and poverty.

It is easy to imagine what we, as a historically white family foundation with access to resources, might think about what should happen in communities addressing oppression due to racism and poverty. Although the Memorial Fund is showing up to pour resources into the fray, these communities have been addressing these issues for generations with little to no support and much opposition. Learning how such communities are dealing with the triple challenges of survival, sustainability and success allows a deeper understanding of the needs of each group and community.

Making the grant process as supportive and user friendly as possible is part of our vision because we do not want to perpetuate the difficulties and obstacles which philanthropy has historically posed for communities which are under resourced and disadvantaged. In that vein, our recent grant cycle was designed to provide a clearer way to know whether there was a fit with our newly defined grant goals and objectives. It is important that we give as much information as possible to organizations so that we do not waste their time.

Our vision of building community power, disrupting racial and economic institutional inequity, and transforming systems is essential in order to frame our decisions in ways that are clear and consistent. Some of our vision will evolve as we learn what communities want and what works. Our core vision of building an ecosystem which sustains equity in education offers a lens or key measuring stick. If the efforts are not able to sustain an equitable educational ecosystem, we know something is missing. Maybe it is structural inequity in funding, or cultural deficiencies in curriculum, pedagogy and staffing. Maybe there are problems in people’s ability to provide safe, stable and healthy home lives for children which are key social determinants for educational success.

Many of these problems and more exist in most communities of color and low income communities. Addressing these problems as a part of the entire ecosystem which is affecting children is more effective than isolating one or two key issues such as school leadership or free lunches and breakfasts. Problems such as these are always a sign of bigger problems which will emerge in a myriad of ways if not tackled comprehensively. Philanthropic whack‐a mole is not a strategy and should end since we only waste time when we assume we can address one problem and expect that “fix” will sustain itself in a hostile environment.

We seek equity, justice and liberation but problems such as racism and poverty exist and persist due to their deep roots in our systems and our psyches.  We are committed to digging deep to uproot these evils. Our hope is that, as we offer opportunities and partnership for redressing these inequities, we will all learn more and grow in capacity to fulfill the promise of education by surrounding educational environments with equitable practices and values which allows equitable education to thrive and sustain as a vehicle for the liberation of communities of color and low income communities.