Takema Robinson.1

Takema Robinson

As we reflect on the passing of the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, compounded with this public health crisis, we must commit to an agenda that is rooted in racial and intersectional equity. We witnessed a billion-dollars pour into our city following Katrina, and while we supported individuals and organizations, we missed the opportunity to create long-term structural change.

According to the United Way's ALICE Report, COVID-19 is having the most significant impact on low-income households of color. Black New Orleanians are dying of COVID-19 at three times the rate of our White counterparts. More than 82% of evictions in New Orleans are Black residents, and 41% of Black businesses in New Orleans are closed. While these statistics are jarring, many of us are not surprised.

To move forward, we must tell the truth about the original source of the resources amassed in philanthropy. This must include an acknowledgment that much of this wealth was extracted from Black and Brown communities, and that the notion of charity has been used as a tool of White supremacy. Our own institutional biases and prejudices led us to overwhelming support White-led nonprofits serving communities of color.

Strategic philanthropy with a racial and intersectional equity lens recognizes the source and the cost of this accumulation of wealth, and radically shifts wealth and power to the communities most impacted by extractive capitalism and White supremacy. Regional and national funders launched the Greater New Orleans Funders Network following the 10th anniversary of Katrina to center the values of equity and justice through a platform for philanthropic partners to learn from and leverage one another, in order to identify catalytic funding opportunities that eliminate disparities and shift power.

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While we heard a similar narrative on supporting communities of color post-Katrina, we failed to fund the nonprofit and movement infrastructure necessary to dismantle systemic racism and support this shift. Philanthropy today must fund organizations that not only serve Black and Brown communities, but are led by people of these communities. Investments must be long-term, substantive, and as flexible as possible. Grantmakers must also hold a mirror to their own institutions to ensure they are actively deconstructing racism, both within their structures and within their portfolios.

However, philanthropy cannot do this work alone. Grant makers have a responsibility to work with public sector partners to integrate similar equity frameworks. Far too often, philanthropy is asked to fill the gaps created by public systems.

We must center organizing and power-building at the core of our investment strategies to create better outcomes for communities of color. We must cultivate and trust leaders of color to identify strategies and provide resources without strings attached. We must hold philanthropy accountable, because New Orleans’ future depends on it.


executive director, Greater New Orleans Funders Network

New Orleans