Last year, the Fund for Our Economic Future’s leadership voted to add Juneteenth to the holidays observed by our organization. This year marks the first official observation of this important day, though its significance has long been recognized by those in our country whose family history is marred by the horrors of slavery in America. On Monday, June 20, our office will be closed to commemorate the anniversary of the celebration sparked on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, as enslaved people learned of their emancipation.
That event marks an early step in a journey toward racial justice in the United States that continues today as we work to acknowledge and dismantle the structural racism that excludes Black Americans from many of the freedoms, opportunities and power afforded to white citizens. This reality permeates every facet of society, including individual and broad economic influences in Northeast Ohio that sit at the center of our mission at the Fund.
As this holiday enters the mainstream—declared a national holiday just last year—it’s important for us to remember that truly honoring the struggle that Black people have faced and continue to overcome cannot start and end at Juneteenth. We at the Fund are eager to celebrate this important day. And then to return to the work of driving real change in our region’s racial disparities.
More than a century and a half after the first Juneteenth celebration, our Fund defined the realities and implications of systemic racial exclusion in Northeast Ohio’s economy in the 2018 report The Two Tomorrows. This research exposed the stark choice ahead of our region’s leaders, funders and policymakers—stay the course and deepen the inequities that hold us all back, or steer out of the ruts in the road and chart a new course that enables good jobs and rising incomes for everyone, regardless of race or place. Tomorrow comes either way—but we can have a say in what it looks like. (For more information about the specific racial inequities surfaced in The Two Tomorrows, including income, wealth, and employment, download the report.)
The Two Tomorrows was a watershed moment for the Fund—a blunt affirmation of the influencing factors impacting our work since our founding. In the years since its publication, we have been working to follow our own advice and to make meaningful progress on our commitment to addressing systemic inequities—in the work we fund, the leaders we engage, the policies and practices that guide our operations, and the dialogue we initiate in the region.
A few years ago, we intentionally restructured our board to bring in more leaders of color through a civic path to engagement, with the same voting power and leadership influence of organizational funders (which at the time were disproportionately helmed by white leaders.) Since this move, we’ve been encouraged to see other philanthropic institutions across the region welcome new leaders representing the Black and Latinx communities as more funders see the critical need for more diverse perspectives in leadership roles. Making more seats at the table was a start—equity, inclusion and belonging enabled by this greater diversity remain goals we progress toward.
The work we drive around job access, job preparation or job creation is universally rooted in addressing systemic racism—whether it is finding ways to solve the transportation paradox that disproportionately keeps residents in Akron neighborhoods excluded from good-paying, suburban career opportunities, elevating the experiences and opinions of Black residents across the region around Covid’s impact on their lives and livelihoods, beating the drum for business development that serves and includes nearby residents of the Opportunity Corridor, or naming and addressing the holes in the talent pipeline that fail to connect workers of color to better opportunities.
The work ahead for our Fund builds on the progress we’ve made through this work. In the immediate future, we’re digging into the Where Are the Workers data to define the disparate impacts and deepened inequities produced by the pandemic for non-white residents of Northeast Ohio so employers, workforce practitioners, funders and policymakers can make informed decisions to help address those gaps. Follow along at thefundneo.org/watw.