In 1967, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed a Southern Christian Leadership Conference staff retreat, giving them a glimpse into his next goal: economic parity for black Americans.
By Ben Hecht, The Chronicle of Philanthropy
“We can’t solve our problems unless there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power,” King said. “Our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality.”
A focus on economic justice is as timely as ever as the racial wealth gap has been getting wider in recent decades. Fortunately, philanthropy has the power to close the racial wealth and income gap.
Philanthropy is built on capitalism, and that’s what keeps it alive. In 2017, foundations awarded nearly $67 billion, a 6 percent increase from 2016. Those dollars came from profits earned decades ago, and endowments grow because of investments— those endowments themselves directly benefiting from today’s capitalism. If we don’t consider the impact of racism and inequity in the very communities we serve, then those grants can perpetuate the system that oppresses people of color, rather than providing them the support necessary to reach economic parity.
This missed opportunity stands in particularly stark relief at times of U.S. economic uncertainty. The government shutdown, environmental catastrophes, and other challenges facing our nation send ripples through the economy, negatively and disproportionately affecting businesses owned by people of color.
But what if philanthropy played a different role? By embracing capitalism and centering racial equity in their work to sustainably support the economic well-being and contributions of black Americans, philanthropic organizations could realize King’s vision of shared economic power and contribute to a more resilient and just economy in this country. As we look ahead to where the global economy is shifting, it is more and more apparent that resilience is critical to ensuring the continued power of the United States in the global market.
I’ve asked leaders in philanthropy to share their thoughts on how they and their organizations are approaching King’s goal of economic parity. I invite you to read what they had to say. And afterwards share your thoughts on how we can lift as we rise in support of true economic equality.