By Mandi Moshay
The Northwest Area Foundation (NWAF) of St. Paul, MN, awards grants across eight states to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable prosperity. NWAF has made grants to nonprofit organizations in the Northwest that support the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), a unified group that is creating a common agenda for launching bold policy initiatives to create social and economic well-being within the minority community. The AALF movement has shaped access to employment, community development, and transportation. We’re pleased to be able to share some of the successful outcomes of NWAF’s works with the AALF in Portland, OR, Seattle, WA, and Tacoma, WA, – these initiatives account for over $340,000 in grants from NWAF since 2009.
Portland, OR: Closing the Employment Gap
Struck by the inequities in white and black employment levels revealed in The State of Black Oregon report, the Portland AALF mobilized to close the employment gap.
“The report revealed chronic disparities in African-American unemployment levels at a time when the mainstream workforce was doing well,” said Portland AALF director Cyreena Boston Ashby. “We found elected officials were approving policies that were standing in the way of improvements, and in some cases, were making it worse.”
Armed with powerful numbers showing bias in hiring and promoting, Portland African-American leaders advocated for an equity officer to provide transparency and accountability. Their persistence influenced Portland to create a new bureau, the Office of Equity & Human Rights. Since then, PAALF members have been invited into meetings with municipal leaders where they’ve been given greater access to employment data.
Portland has adopted a new racial equity strategy and is working with Portland AALF members to increase African-American hiring rates and improve policies such as housing discrimination and police accountability. AALF leaders are expanding the discussions to include equity officers in public schools, regional government, and the Oregon Department of Health and Human Services.
Seattle, WA: Gaining a Voice in Development
Few things have as large an impact on housing, jobs, and economic development as transportation. Seattle is on tap for light-rail expansion over the next decade that will send trains through the heart of minority and immigrant communities and members of the Seattle AALF are participating in the planning and advocating for transit-oriented development so people of color can equally benefit from opportunities.
“When the current rail line was planned years ago, the construction displaced homes and businesses, and has now raised property values to the point that affordable housing is no longer available to many of those previously displaced,” said Liz Word, coordinator of the Seattle AALF. “We are working upstream, being proactive instead of waiting downstream to see what comes our way.”
Through broad networking, AALF members secured representation on the Equity Network Steering Committee of the Growing Transit Communities Partnership. Their goal is to increase involvement of African-Americans in transit-oriented development planning and policies by sharing information they’ve rarely had before. AALF members are working with the Puget Sound Regional Council to apply a social equity framework to development of transit stations and nearby neighborhoods.
Tacoma, WA: Raising Black Leadership to a New Level
The civil rights conflicts of the 1960s mobilized black leaders in Tacoma to action. The Tacoma Urban League and the Black Collective are two of the many organizations spawned from that movement. Over the years they’ve successfully advocated for better policies and representation on the local level. However, there’s never been a platform to break down the silos and increase their synergy – until now. The two are partnering to become the Tacoma African American Leadership Forum.
“The African American Leadership Forum will act as the convener to bring all the groups together under one umbrella,” said Victoria Woodards, president of the Tacoma Urban League. “We will be better equipped to make systemic change by increasing collaboration and harnessing all of our energies.”
The Black Collective, which has been meeting weekly for 43 years, is a volunteer leadership organization engaged in addressing equity issues affecting the Black community. The Tacoma Urban League, formed in 1968, is devoted to empowering African-Americans and other disenfranchised groups to enter the economic and social mainstream. Backed by increased resources, the Tacoma AALF will work to build a unified policy agenda to address challenges within the community.
Philanthropy Northwest commends NWAF and the African American Leadership Forums they support for their remarkable achievements. To learn more about NWAF and the impact the organization is making in the region, visit www.nwaf.org.