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On the Journey: The Critical Role of Community Leaders in Advancing Equity & Inclusion

The Community Foundation of St. Clair County recently announced a $100,000 gift into their Equity and Inclusion (E&I) Fund.

The Community Foundation of St. Clair County recently announced a $100,000 gift into their Equity and Inclusion (E&I) Fund to advance philanthropy in communities of color throughout the region – a gift that foundation leaders say was an unexpected opportunity to boost the efforts of their E&I Committee. 

According to the Community Foundation, after 15 years of equity and inclusion work that took a variety of forms and occurred at different levels, the E&I committee formalized their external efforts under the guidance of local community members.

The committee is one of 23 committees and boards under the community foundation.

The E&I Committee aims to engage in bold philanthropy that supports people of color in telling their own stories and becoming philanthropists in their circles of influence. The committee has also prioritized partnering with women- and minority-owned small businesses.

According to a press release, the E&I Committee is comprised of 15 community members with different backgrounds that bring new ideas and perspectives.

“Our committee members’ various backgrounds, professions and community ties help improve connections to our local underserved populations and provide an opportunity for our committee to work with these groups in the thumb coast region in new and impactful ways,” said Jazmyn Thomas, the first chair of the E&I Committee.

The Community Foundation described the importance of intentionality in building relationships and supporting local organizations doing great work that they may not be conventionally connected to through other channels.

“It takes a consistent mindfulness of opportunities to be more equitable and inclusive,” Kevin Totty, program coordinator at the community foundation said. “It’s also important to show that equity and inclusion matters in all areas of our work at the foundation, not just at the committee level. Our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) work does not rest exclusively on the shoulders of this committee. It is the responsibility of every committee and every board and staff member at the foundation."

The engagement of community members and the centering of relationships has become an important aspect of the foundation’s grantmaking. 

“That helps us to look beyond what is written in a grant proposal, that may not reflect the whole picture of impact an organization is making,” Totty said. “We ask how we might surround nonprofit partners with other resources and connections to make their work easier and sometimes even elevate their impact.” 

As one example of their impact in action, the committee recently awarded a grant to the Save Our Neighborhoods & Streets (SONS) organization to support college readiness, granted funds to support the dedication of a Tuskegee Airmen Memorial and partnered with Blue Water Indigenous Alliance to build a wigwam for the community

“E&I members have stated that they enjoy grantmaking and members have expressed that grantmaking is a portion of philanthropy, however the relationship building process is priceless because it knits us to the heartbeat of our community,” Totty said.

The committee will continue its work in the focus area of small business support for women and minority business owners and continue working to help more local students of color apply for scholarships.

Totty shared that the committee is excited about what’s next, including the creation of their first task force to begin a Minority Philanthropy Initiative which will operate as a giving circle. This giving circle will expand the opportunity to be a philanthropist and make an impact on more community members.

“The E&I committee engages in philanthropy that allows folks to tell their personal story. The members leverage their time, talents and treasures to produce hope,” Totty said.

The committee understands that the journey towards equity and inclusion continues.

“We definitely know that we don’t know it all and may not always get it right but we’re willing to have meaningful conversations to grow and keep learning,” Totty said. 

Want more?

Learn more about the E&I Committee. 

Staff working in development are invited to join your peers on May 11 for the Development Staff Roundtable to share insights and challenges from your work and crowdsource ideas from colleagues across the state.