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Black Fund organizers unveil plans for grants with first $1M raised

Wednesday, August 31, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

A new fund aimed at helping Black-led organizations in Austin has raised its first $1 million, with plans to begin awarding the first block of grants totaling $350,000 early next year.

The Black Fund is an effort organized by leaders of several Black-led groups. The Austin Community Foundation handled much of the administrative and support duties necessary, in addition to contributing $200,000. Other initial donors to the fund include Notley, Google and Indeed.

Larger discussions around the need to support Black-led nonprofits and businesses began to coalesce in early 2020, with several leaders expressing frustration that the needs of Black communities weren’t adequately addressed with the funding available to representative organizations.

Pamela Benson Owens, a co-founder of the fund and CEO of the Six Square nonprofit, said Black-led organizations tend to receive a quarter less donor revenue than equivalent white-led organizations.

“The reality is historically, Black-led organizations have been underfunded. The resiliency level and the ability to do a lot with a little is phenomenal,” she said. “The challenge becomes there’s not an awareness of the organizations and the work being done, and in Austin everyone gets in their own bubble and does not realize there is not an equitable distribution of funds and support for these organizations.”

Education, health and wellness, power building and organizing, and wealth building are the focus areas for the first round of grants. Those issue areas were selected based on data showing that 34 percent of Black Central Texans have zero net worth, and that only 29 percent of Black Central Texans have attained a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 54 percent of the area’s white population.

The need to gather major donations for Black-led groups is becoming more critical as the local Black population continues to decline, with recent data showing just over 6 percent of the city’s population is Black compared to just over 8 percent in 2010.

Meme Styles, another co-founder of the Black Fund and president of the Measure nonprofit, said she regularly works with Black-led groups that struggle to handle basic business and administrative steps because they lack the staffing or other resources needed to operate at full capacity. She said the initial goal of the fund is to create a sense of unity among the more than 100 Black-led organizations in the Austin area.

“We’ve seen so many issues that have shed light on the disparities that Black-led organizations and entrepreneurs face every single day,” she said.

“The entire spectrum of our existence has been unfortunately stripped away with so many disparate outcomes, and my thought was, why don’t we come together as Black folks to create a collective giving circle where we’re truly supporting each other to be sustainable in Austin.”

The kickoff announcement for the Black Fund was set to take place at a press conference today at City Hall, though there is no formal city involvement in the effort. The city did, however, recently issue an update on its progress on a study of Black dispossession in four communities: Clarksville, Wheatville, Red River and East Campus.

Mike Nellis, CEO of Austin Community Foundation, said proposals for possible grants will open after the announcement, with the goal of addressing needs in the four core areas.

“Leaders of the Black community came to us several years ago and informed us they wanted to start a Black fund, and so we worked with them to put the pieces into place,” he said. “The goal of the fund is to unleash the power of Black-led organizations and uplift solutions for the Black community in Central Texas. This work is driven by data … that demonstrates disparities, and the beauty of the Black Fund is members of the Black community have determined where they want this capital to be placed.”

Meme Styles is on the board of the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, which is the parent nonprofit of the Austin Monitor.

Photo by Lars Plougmann from United States, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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