The Download

The Download

February 15, 2021

Monday, February 15, 2021

Michigan Recognized as National Leader in Addressing COVID-19 Racial Disparities

Michigan’s leadership in addressing racial disparities linked to COVID-19 is being lifted up at the national level. A report by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy highlights the effectiveness of the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities in reducing COVID-19 related cases and deaths among African American residents.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer established the Michigan COVID Task Force on Racial Disparities in April, appointing Dr. Marijata Daniel-Echols, program officer at The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, to serve on the task force along with other leaders from the health sector, academia, government and nonprofits.

As CMF has reported, according to the state’s data, the average number of new cases for African American residents in Michigan dropped from 176 per million population per day in March 2020 to 59 per million population per day in October 2020.

The task force has become a national model that also inspired the Biden administration’s new equity task force. Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the chief medical executive and deputy director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), who served as chief strategist of Michigan's coronavirus response, was appointed last week to serve on the federal health equity task force.

As efforts continue at the federal level and across the country to address the challenges of COVID-19, the national report highlights key successes through the leadership of the Michigan task force and the state.

The report points to Michigan’s work in several areas including:

  • The distribution of 6 million free masks through the MI Mask Aid Initiative.

  • Administering more than 24,000 free COVID-19 tests in previously underserved communities across 21 neighborhood testing sites.

  • The governor declaring racism as a public health crisis.

  • The state requiring implicit bias training for all state employees.

  • Increasing compliance with public health recommendations within African American communities.

  • Improving the quality of data reporting on racial disparities.

  • Funding 30 community organizations through the Rapid Response Initiative which is used to fund initiatives that respond to community needs associated with the impacts the virus has on communities of color.

  • Responding to social determinants of health by providing resources to quarantined individuals, reducing housing insecurity through the Eviction Diversion Program and expanding eligibility for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for residents who were formerly convicted of drug felonies.

“Our administration took swift action to address the pre-existing racial inequities in health that were dangerously exacerbated by the pandemic and we are proud of the progress we’ve made towards eliminating COVID-19's disproportionate impact,” Whitmer said.

The national report outlines the key features that have made the Michigan task force model successful:

  • Leadership: Michigan’s task force draws from a variety of perspectives when recommending and implementing solutions to address disparities throughout the state of Michigan.

  • Sustainability: Governor Whitmer has institutionalized two units under this administration – the Black Leadership Advisory Council and the Michigan Poverty Task Force – that will continue to address underlying inequities throughout the state after the COVID-19 racial disparities task force concludes its work.

  • Short-term and long-term partnerships: The task force has established partnerships with industry organizations, civil rights organizations and community-based and faith-based organizations.

During the task force’s meeting in early February, they discussed COVID-19 vaccine distribution efforts which task force leaders say will be informed by their equity-centered recommendations and lessons learned in relation to testing accessibility and resources, as well as the work of the Protect Michigan Commission.

Want more?

Read the full report

Access the latest information from the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities.





On the Journey: Kalamazoo Community Foundation's Anti-Racism Transformation Team

The Kalamazoo Community Foundation (KZCF) has been on its diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) journey since the early 2000s, formally declaring the community foundation as an anti-racism organization in 2010 and establishing DEI as a core value. Since that time KZCF has also named anti-racism as a core value, deepening their understanding of the impacts of structural racism both within the institution and in the community as a whole. 

The community foundation shared that in 2018 KZCF developed the Anti-Racism Transformation Team (ARTT) with a goal to transform the institution by creating strategies to dismantle racism, develop an identity based on anti-racist values and redesign structures to be more accountable to people of color and other oppressed groups.

The team is composed of approximately 10 to 15 members of diverse identities, cultures, races, genders, religions, ages and life experience with members from within the community foundation and from the community.

As KZCF continues to expand its ARTT with community members and other stakeholders, Sandy Barry-Loken, senior community investment officer at KZCF and Elena Mireles-Hill, DEI director at KZCF, shared with CMF some key elements of this work.


CMF: What has this work looked like in action?

KZCF: We’re exploring ways to change policies and practices to center anti-racism values like love, creativity, joy, abundance and inclusion with support from staff inside the community foundation and partners from our community. These practices are being elevated in how we want to embody these values in our culture, how we develop a shared analysis around anti-racism between staff and board, how we reconcile our history as a white dominant culture institution steeped in power and privilege, how we navigate real issues of power in the organization and how we name and interrupt our socialization in upholding white supremacy culture in our institution. We understand our influential role in the community and we are in a strategic role to impact how vital resources are distributed to those hurt most when we let racism go unchallenged. We have an opportunity to dismantle barriers and rebuild our institution so that it can include all voices of our community. The ARTT partnership is our best strategy to deconstruct the structures and barriers deeply embedded in our organization.


CMF: What are some direct bodies of work that have been influenced?

KZCF: The majority of our board has completed anti-racism training and we’ve advanced conversations and a DEI curriculum for them as well. Our board also recently passed a board policy to prioritize individuals with diverse and oppressed identities as members of our board. ARTT has advocated for institutionalizing a DEI director and KZCF hired its first DEI director, Mireles-Hill, in March 2020. We’ve increased our spending policy to respond to dual pandemics and prioritize investments in Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities.


CMF: Please share some toplines from KZCF’s learning journey with ARTT.

KZCF: The work is really hard, messy and emotionally labor-intensive but necessary to build toward greater transformation from the inside out. External community members have been the “secret sauce” of the model in holding us accountable and deepening our analysis across the organization. Foundational to this work is relationship and trust-building and it takes time.


CMF: What would you want other organizations who are seeking to further their own journey in being an anti-racist organization to know?

KZCF: This is long, slow, complex work. It is critical to have support at the board and leadership levels. Naming and owning responsibility for historical harms requires humility, courage and integrity. This work requires deep relationships and a culture of trust. Truth-telling is emotional and yet healing. Begin with doing some shared anti-racism analysis training and building with a critical mass of people and key leaders across your institution. Awareness of the key issues at play and naming them is an important first step before proceeding to solve issues at hand. 


CMF: What are some of the initial steps organizations who are considering a model such as your ARTT journey may want to consider?

KZCF: Research your organization’s policies, practices and behaviors. Who do they center? Who inherently benefits? Who inherently is ignored, left out or made uncomfortable? Also, check out the Continuum on Becoming an Anti-Racist, Multi-Cultural Institution and see where your organization falls. How can you move toward being fully inclusive? Talk to other organizations on the journey.


CMF: What’s next for the ARTT?

KZCF: In 2020, we were intentional about prioritizing the recruitment of more people of color staff and white community members. We’ve added some exceptional new voices and perspectives to shape our work and look forward to the next phase of our work. We’re focused on how we can increase investment in BIPOC individuals and institutions; be transparent about historical patterns of harm to advance healing; embedding anti-racism into our day-to-day practices, policies and structures; advancing and retaining people of color in our institution; and monitoring the capacity and wellness of our ARTT members to do this work over the long-term in sustainable ways.

Want more?

Learn more about KZCF’s ARTT.





Tonya Allen: 5 Lessons from My Experiences in Michigan Philanthropy

A note from Kyle Caldwell, president and CEO of CMF: We often say that philanthropy is more than grants. This is very true and frequently we hold up the many examples of our investments, our partnerships, our deep learning and expertise and our impact all as part of our contributions to bettering our communities and society. There is one more important contribution we make and is our most valuable asset ─servant leaders. As our community continues our collective equity journey and efforts to advance our love for humankind, we welcome reflections from Tonya Allen’s years of equity-centered leadership in Michigan philanthropy as she begins a new chapter at the McKnight Foundation. Tonya is one of our servant leaders who has moved us with her words and actions over the years, redefining collaboration and showing us the power of possibilities. She has been an incredible collaborator, partner, ally and for me personally an honest, ethical and devoted friend. She has always genuinely shared who she is with our CMF community, inspiring us, challenging us and energizing us as we all lead with love in our hearts for Michigan and the communities we serve. We will miss her as she geographically moves her focus but always know that her contributions and radical love of Michigan, Detroit and our children will endure. 

Reflections from Tonya Allen, former president and CEO of The Skillman Foundation

In December 2020, I made the difficult decision to announce that I was stepping down as president and CEO of The Skillman Foundation to lead the McKnight Foundation in Minneapolis. I had built a family, a career, and a personal mission around Detroit, including 16 years of service at The Skillman Foundation.  I never imagined myself leaving my hometown. But I’m committed above all to advancing racial equity, and to do so from the site where our country lost George Floyd, Philando Castile, and so many others—and where a major city wrestling with real policy issues—is something I could not turn away from. It was a calling I could not ignore.

Michigan is a special place with a strong philanthropic sector. I am privileged to have started my career in philanthropy here. Before joining The Skillman Foundation in 2004, I worked as a program officer for both the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and the Thompson-McCully Foundation. I founded the Detroit Parent Network, a parent membership organization dedicated to improving educational options for children. And I led the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Rebuilding Communities Initiative in Detroit.

I’ve had the honor and privilege of working with partners across Michigan philanthropy. I’ve learned from seasoned veterans as well as from newcomers who bring new life to the field. These lessons can be applied to all Michigan philanthropy, from hyper-local foundations to those with both state- and nationwide reach.

I now leave home to begin my next chapter, with full confidence that the current and future generations will lead Michigan to a more prosperous and equitable future. I can’t wait to see the innovative and far-reaching impact the philanthropic sector will continue to have.

Lesson One: Change the Odds
Over decades, a narrative arose about Detroiters—and, especially, Detroit children—needing to overcome the odds. According to this narrative, Detroit children must surmount the odds stacked against them. If a Detroiter went on to earn a college education, start a business, or obtain another goal, they were labeled as “beating the odds.” They had overcome barriers like poverty, violence, and struggling schools that are said to be synonymous with their identity. The “beat the odds” narrative defines Detroit children by the obstacles they face, rather than by their abilities and aspirations, and it reinforces the factors that limit children’s potential, rather than reducing them. Instead of wondering how someone achieves greatness despite such hurdles, we must wonder why the hurdles exist in the first place.

Philanthropy should understand the challenges facing a community by listening to those impacted and use its resources to address those challenges. Philanthropy is uniquely positioned to help communities remove barriers in education, economic prosperity, health and other pieces of happy and healthy lives. We can come together to influence leadership, industry and policy (e.g. Launch Michigan) to reshape systems for the better. If we want to change lives, we must change the systems that negatively affect those lives and create a clear path for all people to achieve their aspirations.

Michigan philanthropy can play a lead role in changing the odds for all Michiganders. For the betterment of our state, philanthropy should focus on improving the systems that have a heavy determination in life outcomes for Michiganders.

Lesson Two: Balance Content and Context
In the field of philanthropy, there is an often-unstated tension between national and local philanthropic organizations. This tension usually hinges on the differences in philanthropic approaches and the geographic scopes of their respective work.

Generally, national philanthropy focuses on being content experts. They are populated with smart people with smart ideas. They master their subject matter, building a depth of knowledge regarding what strategies have worked. Then, they pursue efforts to replicate and share their ideas by finding communities that are ready for investment and are most likely to succeed in replication. Generally speaking, in many ways, they can assess conditions and glean lessons on what will help constitute success by comparing organizations, capacities and communities, which is not easily available to local foundations that are confined by geography.

Many local foundations focus their attention on context— such as building relationships, understanding the environment and navigating politics. These are time-consuming endeavors and complex work that often leaves little attention or capacity to build extensive content knowledge. These foundations may rely on the content expertise housed at national foundations without a strong understanding of how it applies in their local community. The best of local philanthropic organizations become good at learning and operating within their local context. This context knowledge provides them unique wisdom regarding how to implement strategies.

My statements are generalizations intended to illustrate and emphasize this important tension between content and context that is crucial to successfully address social issues, including changing conditions for children. Content, despite the substance and fidelity of the subject matter, doesn’t always translate within local contexts. This is especially true for Detroit, as many national models have attempted to expand to Detroit and have faced significant challenges as they have underestimated the conditions of the local environment and frailty of its public-serving systems. Likewise, those who focus more on context often are mired in the challenges of geography and are less likely to spend significant time ensuring that the work they are supporting is grounded in sound research and is implemented with fidelity.

To be successful, we must balance the two—we must get stronger at marrying content knowledge and expertise and wiser context experience and considerations. And we need to practice this—by having the national foundations in our state and those who choose to work here be more collaborative and respectful of our local philanthropies that are embedded in and craving respectful partnerships.

Lesson Three: Power is a Tenet of Change
There is a common saying in community organizing: “Power is organized people or organized money.”

Power provides the ability to reimagine and remake the rules. This is exactly what is required for philanthropy to successfully change systems to enable and expand opportunity for Michiganders. Philanthropy’s awareness of power is not about self-aggrandizement; it is about the ability to advance change through influence, knowledge, expertise, relationships and shared will.

The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy offers a useful philanthropic framework to think about how power can be built, shared, and wielded to make positive social change.

  • Building Power: Philanthropy’s efforts to produce system change is enhanced by funding civic engagement, advocacy and policy work and community organizing to ensure that the voices of children and families are evoked and included in important community issues.

  • Sharing Power: Philanthropic organizations hold prestige, privilege and power as a result of deciding who receives grant funding and who does not. Additionally, philanthropy’s power is enhanced because of its capital, community standing and high-profiled board membership. We have learned that a foundation’s impact is stronger when it is willing to relinquish and share its power via reciprocal and trusting relationships as well as by co-creating solutions with stakeholders.

  • Wielding Power: Philanthropy doesn’t just enable change, it is an actor in creating it as well. Thus, it is important that we exercise public leadership beyond our grantmaking to create equitable, catalytic change.  

Embedded in these values is the democratic engagement of Michiganders in the co-designing of systems that affect their lives. Be it organized people or organized money, power is the only way to reform systems to produce equitable outcomes.

Lesson Four: Keep Equity at the Forefront
We have a responsibility to ensure equity is at the center of everything we do as a sector and as a state.

I often assert that Detroit is the birthright to Detroit children. I have worked to ensure that not only do the city’s children benefit from Detroit’s recovery but that they help lead it. There are many other American cities that have risen from low points, but none have yet figured out how to do so inclusively. A city and state where legacy residents are displaced and social issues of hunger, homelessness and struggling public schools remain is not a success story. We have a chance to do it differently; to do it right. Detroit and Michigan can become a place of prosperity, where all people are given a fair shot.

In the world of education—which The Skillman Foundation and many of our Michigan colleagues invest in—we often hear of the achievement gap, the idea that certain populations don’t perform as well academically as their more-affluent peers. But the issue is not the achievement of students; the problem is that there are inequitable opportunities for all children to be successful in the classroom. There isn’t an achievement gap; there’s an opportunity gap.

Michigan philanthropy is primed to create a more equitable state for all residents. We cannot throw the same solutions across our state and expect the same results; we must treat every community and every person as an individual with different needs. We must fight to ensure that everyone can succeed and thrive, regardless of the circumstances of their birth and living conditions.

Lesson Five: Do It with Love
I grew up under the wing of my grandmother, a neighborhood organizer and activist, whose work, rooted in the gospel, came with great sacrifice and scrutiny. Her example showed me the importance of place and dedication to the majesty of this city.

My mother struggled and sacrificed to make ends meet. As a result, I have lived in every section of Detroit and attended eight different public schools during my matriculation. My mother taught me the value of hard work and persistence. But, most of all, she taught me that love is the greatest motivator.

Etymologically, philanthropy means “the love of humanity.” But in its highest form, philanthropy should seek to embody  “radical love.” “Radical” is to champion significant social change. “Love” is to act in favor of others, for the betterment of people. Radical love is about enabling social change and promoting equity that sparks transformation.

Philanthropy is about more than grants, policies, and strategies. It’s about love for the places and the people who make us who we are. It’s about working alongside people and communities to ensure they can achieve their ultimate greatness. It’s about spreading love from person to person, place to place, generation to generation so everyone feels that love and wants nothing more than to share it.

Michigan is a special place, full of innovation, ingenuity, and spirit. Michiganders are a proud people, eagerly willing to tout their state and its successes to anyone who will listen.

Nevertheless, our state and its citizens need people who are dedicated to building a more just, prosperous, and equitable future. I take solace in knowing that in the darkest hours—during economic hardships, civil unrest, and environmental crises—we come together to reach a brighter tomorrow.

The many people I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from are full of grit and determination to make the lives of others better through giving, advocacy, policy, practice, and love. From watching my grandmother be a rock for her community to watching our CMF community push toward a more just and equitable future for all people. This is the spirit that made me. And I leave knowing that you carry it forward for our state.

Lead with love. It will take you, and others, far.

Tonya Allen





New Zoning Ordinance Unlocks Opportunities for Grand Haven Area Community Foundation's Affordable Housing Efforts

The city of Grand Haven and Housing Next, an organization that’s supported by the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation (GHACF) and the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area (CFHZ), worked together to update local zoning ordinance to reduce barriers to building affordable housing.

The new zoning ordinance was approved by the Grand Haven City Council in January and is aimed at improving housing choice and supply across the city, promoting greater mobility choices for residents, providing more equitable access to wealth creation and streamlining the zoning approval process for developers, among other key changes.

GHACF helped create Housing Next, which is a pilot program of the Greater Ottawa County United Way, through a five-year grant. Hadley Streng, president of GHACF, co-chairs the leadership council with CFHZ.

The updates to the zoning ordinance unlock more opportunities to support affordable housing projects.

One of those projects is Robinson Landing. GHACF, in partnership with the city of Grand Haven, Michigan Community Capital (MCC) and the Ottawa County Land Bank created the new development, Robinson Landing, to ensure new homes are affordable for households that earn less than 80% of the area median income.

Patty MacDonald, vice president of finance and administration at GHACF, guided their Impact Investment Committee toward an investment with MCC which resulted in the ability to move forward with the new development.

Robinson Landing will include approximately 32 single-family housing units on 7.58 acres of vacant land on the north side of Comstock Street in Grand Haven. The neighborhood will have a mix of homes that range in size to support various incomes and household sizes.

The community foundation shared with CMF that they have been intentionally focused on affordable housing for several years.

Holly Cole, vice president of grants and program at GHACF, works with their community partners, including the collaboration on the responsive grant committee, which is a part of the Housing Initiative Fund held at the United Way and creates or funds innovative projects with local partners. Grants are awarded by a panel of funders and housing experts assigned by the Housing Next leadership council.

Housing Next also helped to secure funding for zoning consulting services, helped to draft the new ordinance and provided resources and input throughout the process. According to the Grand Rapids Business Journal, the new Grand Haven zoning ordinance includes the following changes:

  • Adds accessory dwelling units — secondary housing units on a single-family residential lot — and two-plus unit dwellings to more districts with a streamlined review process to improve housing choice.

  • Reduced minimum lot size and dimensional standards to allow for more housing supply in established neighborhoods.

  • Requires bicycle racks in all commercial developments to promote greater mobility choice.

  • Establishes pop-up shop regulations to encourage small-scale entrepreneurship and more equitable access to wealth creation.

  • Provides accommodations for electric vehicles to support sustainability.

  • Streamlines the zoning approval process and makes it more user-friendly.

  • Offers optional work sessions for commercial land uses and planned developments to support developers.

  • Increases the zoning administrator’s authority to approve minor changes and improve efficiency for builders and developers.

  • Requires all parking lots use low-impact development methods and stormwater best management practices to support sustainability.

  • Establishes community garden regulations to enhance community building.

  • Allows for the requirement of a health impact assessment for development in sensitive areas.

  • Reduces parking requirements to allow for shared use and proximity to public parking.

Want more?

Read more about the project.

Learn more about Housing Next.

News type: