Juneteenth, we celebrate the anniversary of the end of slavery. On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger led a force of soldiers to Galveston, Texas to announce the Executive Order ending slavery in the American South. While it took time to enforce the order into practice everywhere, Juneteenth (a portmanteau of June and nineteenth) became a day of celebration for formerly enslaved Americans. Celebrations of Juneteenth were repressed by white plantation owners and overseers who didn’t believe in emancipation, as the holiday was celebrated primarily by Black Americans. It wasn’t until 2021, 156 years later, that Juneteenth was made a US national holiday by President Joe Biden.
Juneteenth is a time for all Americans to reflect on the shameful history of slavery and the practice of anti-Black racism that persists to this day. Donors particularly can educate themselves about this history and address the inequalities that hold all of us back from realizing the beloved community. Learning and reflecting are key first steps, but donors can also use this occasion to discover and support Black-founded and -led nonprofits doing impactful work often under difficult circumstances.
We spoke with the leaders of three organizations that exemplify the important work that Black-founded nonprofits across the U.S. do every day to uplift our communities.
Bringing Lived Experience to Bear: Generation Hope
Nicole Lynn Lewis, Founder and CEO of Generation Hope, was an honor roll student and a teen mom. “I’d always been on the college track, but when people found out that I was pregnant, they told me my life was over, and I would be a failure.” When Nicole got her college degree, four years after she began, her daughter walked the graduation stage with her. Nicole beat the odds, but she knew better than anyone that it wasn’t easy. “When I saw the statistic that fewer than 2% of teen mothers earn a degree before age 30, I knew that an organization like Generation Hope needed to exist in the world”. Now, Generation Hope provides broad support for parents in college to help them graduate.
Generation Hope’s programming and approach are informed by Nicole’s experience as a young, single mother in college. “Having lived this mission has given me a greater and deeper appreciation for the voices of the people we serve. My voice matters, and the voices of our families also matter. So we’re pretty serious about centering the voices of those who are most impacted and ensuring those voices shape our work, set our strategy, and enhance what we do each and every day.”
Like many Black women, Nicole doesn’t feel welcome in her field: “I’m operating in a space that doesn’t always see my value or trust my expertise.” However, Nicole pictures a better future. “I want Generation Hope to be an organization that I would have wanted to work for when I was a single mother.”
Generation Hope is just one of many Black-led nonprofits that benefit from a founder who has personally dealt with the issues their organization was created to solve. Black founders like Nicole are the experts with the knowledge and connections to make an impact in their communities.
Doing More With Less: Urban Ed Inc.
Roxanne J. Williams, President of Urban Ed Inc., is used to thinking creatively to stretch a small budget for significant impact. For 23 years, Urban Ed has leveraged technology to improve the economic prospects of low- to no-income children, youth, and heads of household. Urban Ed focuses on providing STEM education through certification programs, which are cheaper and faster than traditional degrees. Roxanne explains that “the IT sector embraces certifications over college degrees and therefore, it has a lot of potential for higher wages, job stability, and career advancement.” The goal is lifelong financial independence and intergenerational success for low-income Black families.
Roxanne is straightforward about the budgetary constraints that Urban Ed faces: “We have to be creative all the time to figure out how we can keep pace with community demand and needs while balancing the unfair expectations of the funding community that nickels and dimes nonprofits with small contributions.”
To cope with noncommittal funders, Roxanne says that every member of staff “has to wear multiple hats” and she alone holds the roles of “all ‘C-levels’”. In particularly hard times, she has done all of these jobs for free.
When she and her staff can’t do everything themselves, they bring in outside support. “Expert volunteers” help with IT training. Instead of reinventing the wheel, Urban Ed leans on existing resources: “We utilize several global corporate educational partners like Cisco Networking Academy, uCertify, and Microsoft to help us leverage curriculum and instructor resources in the development of training materials and curriculum development.”
Urban Ed’s lean budget and creativity are common among Black-founded organizations, which typically have small operations due to the giving gap. However, despite disinvestment, these organizations are making a big impact.
Overcoming Barriers: Quest Community Development
Leonard L. Adams, Jr., President and CEO of Quest Community Development Corporation, is acutely aware of the extra barriers he and other Black leaders face. According to Adams, these are the same ones that “have haunted Black Developers for decades”. Adams highlights “the continuous proving of oneself, ability, intellectual and business acumen” as a particularly frustrating barrier. Adams’ education and experience are often discounted, as is Quest’s track record. Since 2001, Quest has helped over 16,000 families as one of the few housing developers in Georgia focused exclusively on housing residents at the lowest income levels. And yet, Adams shares that “Each deal I find myself starting at square one as if I’m the new kid on the block with a new idea”.
How does Quest deal with donors who must be convinced? “Quest has worked to overcome funders’ skepticism by going the extra mile, jumping through additional hoops, performing, and taking on community ills other groups won’t address.” This continuous effort to prove himself, and his organization, worthy of support wastes precious time and resources. While Adams and Quest persist in spite of these barriers, a testament to their strength and resilience, they could accomplish much more if donors stepped up to support them. Adams’ experience has made him an expert in what a good donor looks like. As he puts it, a good donor is:
A donor that gives at scale (with at scale meaning a sizable gift that could include multiple years) in their areas of interest.
A donor that is open to new or expanded old ideas while providing the capital needed to get the desired outcomes.
A donor that understands most community issues are not fixed overnight and that nonprofits need support over a period of time to revitalize, drive change, and transform their particular areas of impact. The donor must be willing to be committed to the vision as well.
A non-Black donor who looks internally and makes sure they are inclusive in their giving practices.
A Role for Funders
In spite of their significant contributions, only a tiny fraction of charitable giving is directed to Black-founded charities. Donors can step up to close the giving gap, using Adams’ advice as a starting point. Black-founded and -led charities face unique challenges and offer unique solutions. Your support can help to fund some of the most impactful work being done to address our most pressing social issues.
In addition to the charities highlighted in this article, this list of highly-rated Black-Founded Nonprofits is a great place to find new charities. Giving Gap also elevates Black-founded nonprofits doing good work in their communities. Wherever you find new organizations, you can use Charity Navigator to vet charities so that you can give with confidence.
Juneteenth is a single day, but don’t forget Black-founded organizations the rest of the year. As Adams shared, recurring donations are one of the best ways to support organizations, particularly Black-founded nonprofits. Black-led charities often suffer from boom-bust cycles, and donors who are intentional about sustaining support to these organizations can help provide the stability that these charities need to thrive and grow. You can set up a recurring donation through a charity directly or manage all of your giving, including recurring donations, through the Giving Basket.
America’s history of slavery and the ongoing discrimination against Black Americans have created many injustices and inequalities. This Juneteenth, start or reinvigorate your long-term journey to be part of the solution.
This article was made possible by contributions from Heather Infantry, Interim CEO of Giving Gap.