CMF COMMUNITY VOICES
CMF Community Voices features a series of conversations and insights from leaders across our community of philanthropy. This curated collection of blogs and Q&As lifts up inspiring voices from changemakers providing reflections in the areas of Equity, People, Practice and Policy, with equity at the center.
Connecting Community Towards Equity
As we close out the month of May, we are reflecting on Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AA and NHPI) Heritage Month. As we continue to celebrate and reflect on the contributions of AA and NHPI communities year-round, two CMF members are sharing more about their lived experiences, learning journeys and how philanthropy can support and include AA and NHPI communities as we work to advance racial equity.
Sarah Lee, vice president of Marketing Communications at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, and Jennifer Jaramillo, chief talent officer at The Kresge Foundation, shared their journeys towards understanding the history of AA and NHPI communities and how they see themselves in the communities they serve.
“I am a Chinese Malaysian immigrant and I’m not originally from the United States. Even though I had an American education in my undergraduate, the history of AA and NHPI communities in the United States was not included in our curriculum,” Lee said.
Lee shared that much of her learning journey began in early 2020 at the growing height of anti-Asian violence. Since then, Lee has committed to a life-long journey of understanding the context of AA and NHPI history in U.S. history.
“One of the first things I noticed was that I wasn’t part of the conversation and didn’t understand the full context of why things were the way they were. Most of what I heard from the media was a concentration on tragedy and violence, and I wanted to hear more from people who could help me understand the context from a systems perspective,” Lee said.
Jaramillo shared that throughout her life, she felt a sense of not belonging, personally and professionally, and a need to assimilate into her environment.
“For me, this has been such a journey. To succeed, you really got a sense that you needed to assimilate into the environment and not truly be yourself. That was my mindset for quite some time, and I’ve had to do a lot of my own self-reckoning and a lot more celebration of who I am in all of my forms and identities,” Jaramillo said.
AA individuals represent 3.4% of the population in Michigan, and NHPI individuals represent less than 0.1%, according to U.S. census data.
In Detroit, the AA and NHPI population is 2%.
“The numbers are smaller, so it’s a population that is easy to make invisible and to forget that we’re here, which can be a very felt experience for a number of us,” Jaramillo said.
According to Lee, in Kalamazoo County, Census data reveals that 2% of the population identifies as Asian, which breaks down into several other identities.
“That’s still at least 4,000 people here in this community that identify as Asian. If we start working from a numbers perspective, and you think there should be at least a program supporting 4,000 people in this community, but there isn’t,” Lee said.
Recent research from Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP), a national membership-based organization and CMF partner dedicated to expanding and mobilizing philanthropic resources to AA and NHPI communities, reveals underinvestment of philanthropic dollars in AA and NHPI communities.
Lee shared that she looked at the local Asian American social organizations in Kalamazoo and learned that many did not have consistent leadership to continue to organize and receive resources.
“But nobody is looking at it that closely because, for example, I looked at it closely because it’s personal to me; it’s my identity. A lot of philanthropic organizations don’t have people who look quite like me in their organization, or they may not be in a position of power to influence or inform this work, I think it’s overall a systems issue,” Lee said.
According to Jaramillo, she feels a sense of responsibility in her role at The Kresge Foundation.
“I am the only Asian American at our leadership level, so I do feel a sense of responsibility to make my identity and my story known. Philanthropy is still a primarily White-led industry, I think it’s important to share our stories because they can be so different, and I want other people that don't identify with the dominant culture to feel like they can do the same,” Jaramillo said.
Despite this underrepresentation, Lee shared that there should be a strategy to inform how philanthropy can connect with AA and NHPI communities.
“At the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, although we don’t have it perfect, one of our key strategies is trust-based philanthropy, which is to build relationships with partners and not make our processes cumbersome to have those conversations to talk about partnerships and investments. More importantly, it’s about minimizing that power dynamic, we’re working to shift that balance by saying, ‘community, you’re closest to the issue; we need you to inform what is the best way to distribute the money we have,’” Lee said.
According to Lee, spaces need to be created that are dedicated to different identity groups in order to build solidarity.
“Sometimes we need to bring people together and start having the conversation about ‘what does the cross-racial strategy look like for racial equity?’ If we’re in competition with each other about who’s advancing what, that doesn’t help anybody because, at the end of the day, we’re all impacted by the same oppressive system,” Lee said.
Jaramillo shared that the AA and NHPI community is a part of the broader racial justice movement, and it’s important to raise awareness, celebrate and understand these communities to create that sense of belonging.
“If we approach this work as a collective, it makes the movement even stronger. What happens to another community of color is also really happening to my own community. So having that broader sense of community is so important because I think that is really what we’re all working towards,” Jaramillo said.
On May 31, CMF members will have the opportunity to hear from Brandon Hadi, director of programs at AAPIP, on the data illustrating the underinvestment in AA and NHPI communities, reasons why these communities are overlooked in racial justice strategies and the power of organizing identity-based spaces, as part of CMF’s Equity Signature Series.
Jaramillo and Lee were both instrumental in the planning of this session.
“I was thrilled to be a part of supporting the planning of this conversation for the broader CMF community because we haven't had this discussion enough. I think it’s important to raise awareness and understand the AA and NHPI population that exists in Michigan and to create a space for AA and NHPI-identifying individuals. People who share an identity are going to relate to one another in ways they can’t with peers who do not understand their experience,” Jaramillo said.
CMF members who identify as members of the AA and NHPI communities are invited to stay on immediately following the session for dialogue on exploring continued opportunities to stay connected with one another.
Register today and join us on May 31 for CMF’s Equity Signature Series.
Learn more about Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy.