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Learning from Our History: Investing in Women and Girls of Color

// July 22, 2020

Camisha Lashbrook headshotI recently attended a small group tour of History Colorado’s new Hecho en Colorado exhibit, led by exhibit curator and Latino Cultural Arts Center founder Adrianna Abarca. In the span of an hour, Adrianna led us through centuries of Native, Mexican, and Chicano history – the history of much of our state and of my family.

A Mayan-inspired bronze serpent, sculpted by Denver artist David Ocelotl Garcia, welcomed us to the gallery. As we walked through, beautiful paintings, intricate woodworkings and textiles, handmade musical instruments, worn books and photographs, clothing, murals, and graffiti told the stories of generations of Colorado communities too often overlooked.

Much like the historic and cultural missions of the Black American West Museum, Colorado Dragon Boat Festival, and Denver Indian Center, Latino Cultural Arts Center and Hecho en Colorado make undeniable the Indigenous, Mexican, and Chicano communities’ essential contributions to our state, preceding and in spite of colonization.

Knowing our history is a gift. It gives us the opportunity to learn from our achievements and from our mistakes to create a better future. And it is the only way to correct the injustices that still plague communities of color today. Like our ancestors, in spite of centuries of structural racism and oppression, people of color in 2020 continue to make tremendous contributions to our communities, to the health and well-being of our state, and to our economy.

Creating a Better Future

The Women’s Foundation of Colorado’s vision is a future where Colorado women and girls of every background and identity prosper. Women of color know what that future can be for their communities and how to get there. They know their communities’ histories, their assets, and their needs. Through lived-experience and expertise, women of color are leaders of transformational movements, yet they are undervalued and underinvested in. Ms. Foundation’s new research, “Pocket Change: How Women and Girls of Color Do More With Less” found that women and girls of color receive just .5% of all philanthropic dollars.

Philanthropy, too, has an ugly history that we must confront. In a recent report and New York Times article, Echoing Green and Bridgespan, two leading philanthropic organizations, argue that “racial inequity is built into philanthropic norms.” Black- and Latino-led organizations face significant disparities in revenue, assets, and acquired funding. Gender only compounds these disparities, despite the monumental achievements of grassroots, women-of-color-led initiatives. As the only community foundation in Colorado focused on Colorado women and their families, it’s up to us to change that.

Colorado women and girls of color have inherited rich, proud histories as well as racist, oppressive systems designed to deny us agency, voice, and economic opportunity. I am proud of WFCO’s work to invest intentionally in women of color through our WAGES grantmaking, research, and public policy advocacy; our Women’s Impact Investing Giving Circle; as well as our giving circles and donor-advised fundholders that are helping to right those wrongs and recognize the skills and assets of communities of color. Directly investing in women and girls of color creates pathways to prosperity where there were once giant boulders. A system of trust-based philanthropy is rooted in the agency and voice of the community. That’s why this this spring we made a deeper commitment to invest in and collaborate with women of color, girls of color, and nonbinary people of color through the establishment of our Women & Girls of Color Fund, a field-of-interest fund dedicated to supporting women of color who are leading initiatives that create economic opportunities for women and girls of color.

Listening, Learning, Taking Action

We want to do this to the best of our ability. So throughout this summer, we are listening and learning. We’ve hired a committee of women of color embedded in racial justice and gender equity work who will help WFCO staff develop an innovative, equitable framework for the formation of a community advisory council and a trust-based, asset-based grantmaking process.

We also need your help. We invite you to take our survey and share with us the assets and needs of women and girls at all intersections in your community and what you would like to see from the Women & Girls of Color Fund. Please forward the survey to your networks!

Facing our past can be difficult, but The Women’s Foundation staff and board are committed to accountability and transparency and we look forward to sharing what we learn along the way. Thank you for being a partner in this work.

Hear why WFCO President & CEO Lauren Y. Casteel wants your feedback; learn more about our process, commitments, and principals; and take the survey.

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