Race. It’s a topic that dominates our national dialogue today, emerging as part of our conversations at home, work, school and play. Regardless of individual ideology, we recognize the growing challenge to come together to support our long-championed belief that all are created equal.
Within the topic of race, we find challenging issues of equity and equality. As many philanthropists today are learning, these principles are not the same. Equity is giving everyone what they need to be successful. Equality is treating everyone the same. Equality aims to promote fairness, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same help.
American philanthropy is at a pivotal place in learning how to help move our communities forward in advancing constructive conversation and action in these areas. Here in Seattle, we see philanthropists amplifying their voices and investing their resources in programs, research and advocacy to do just that.
The Seattle Seahawks joined that cohort of philanthropists in fall 2017. The players, owners and fans united behind the newly formed Seahawks Players Equality & Justice for All Action Fund. The initiative builds on more than two decades of charitable giving by the franchise and individual players to create stronger communities across Washington and beyond. In addition to raising awareness and sparking conversations about race, the players wanted to do something concrete to support youth and people of color. The Seahawks chose to partner with Seattle Foundation, where they could benefit from our deep community insight and advising to find and fund promising programs.
Today, we need people and organizations willing to step out of their comfort zone, advocate for what’s right and engage our neighbors. The Seahawks players have done just that.
More than 1,000 fans from around the world have joined the players and staff in contributing to the fund. In addition, prominent leaders and businesses have made gifts to the fund, including Paul G. Allen Philanthropies, Coach Pete Carroll’s Carroll Family Fund, Seahawks General Manager John Schneider, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s Family Trust, Starbucks and the Starbucks Foundation.
In less than three months after launch, the Fund raised nearly $1 million. The players worked with Seattle Foundation to identify and select local organizations focused on education and leadership programs addressing equality and justice. They announced a total of $125,000 in the first round of grants to seven nonprofit organizations. Most of the grantees are small, grassroots organizations for whom the awards are a substantial investment.
Seattle Foundation is an ideal partner for the Seahawks in this first-of-its-kind effort, not only because we support the team’s community goals, but because we believe the decision to invest through us is an important recognition of our evolving approach to philanthropy and building bridges. At a time when political and social divisions dominate the national dialogue, the most effective community foundations are “leaning forward,” not just through their grantmaking, but through their roles as communicators, conveners, catalysts and civic leaders.
Seattle Foundation leads a number of initiatives in our region that are focused on addressing those inequities to create a stronger, more vibrant community for all. We make multi-year investments in high-impact efforts, host forums to spark conversations and incubate promising new initiatives. We are committed to raising awareness, living the courage of our convictions and taking thoughtful positions that advance the cause of equity and opportunity. Our approach is to look for solutions by working closely with individuals and community organizations most knowledgeable about the impact of inequities.
Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin helped announce the first awards and said he is proud of the collaboration between individuals and organizations. “…It’s the idea that we can have a huge impact on the communities that we live in, on our state, on the local level and then obviously, national as well, in ways that maybe nobody really fathomed before,” Baldwin said.
In awarding the initial grants, which ranged from $15,000 to $25,000, the Seahawks Players Fund invested in organizations advancing justice, particularly for people of color. One grant was an early investment in a nonprofit called Not This Time! The organization focuses on reducing fatal police shootings, changing the laws that govern the use of force, and rebuilding trust between communities and the police. Washington state voters will see the group’s first major effort on their ballots this November, when they vote on an initiative that will make it easier to successfully prosecute police officers over misuse of deadly force.
“While our policy work is incredibly important, it is also our mission to create a space for families who are directly affected by violence involving police officers,” says Andrè Taylor, who founded Not This Time! after losing a brother in a fatal police shooting. “We provide comfort, support and access to attorneys to guide them, standing with them throughout the lengthy legal process. It’s hard to grieve and fight at the same time.”
TeamChild, another grant recipient, focuses its efforts on youth and the juvenile justice system across the state of Washington. Serving about 1,000 youth each year, the organization works to prevent disciplinary removals from school or to help those impacted by juvenile court involvement.
“A suspension or expulsion can be a game changer for kids,” explains Annie Lee, the group’s executive director. “It can be incredibly hard to recover from the academic and social setbacks that come with time out of class, and systemic inequity and racism worsen the odds for kids of color, kids in poverty and kids with disabilities.” TeamChild is working to see school exclusions eliminated and replaced with alternatives that emphasize students, family and communities in partnership with schools. “We are so excited about the Seahawks players’ interest in ending harmful school discipline practices and their support of our community partners like the South King County Discipline Coalition and Every Student Counts Alliance in Spokane,” adds Lee.
The Seahawks’ other five grantees are: the SafeFutures Youth Center; Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission; Youth Undoing Institutional Racism/End the Prison Industrial Complex (part of American Friends Service Committee); Food Empowerment Education and Sustainability Team (FEEST) Seattle; and Being Empowered Thru Supported Transition (BEST). We look forward to announcing a new round of grants this fall.
Our community and our nation need people and organizations willing to step outside of their comfort zone, advocate for what’s right and engage our neighbors. The Seahawks players have done just that. We are working together and taking a stand because we see an opportunity to bring people together at a crucial time to build a bridge to positive change that transcends division and drives opportunity forward for all.
Tony Mestres is president & CEO of Seattle Foundation.