New Commonwealth Fund

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This Fund Wants to Dial in on Discriminatory Justice Policy in Massachusetts. Can It Succeed?

Jan. 17, 2023

Is it possible to track systemic racism and its impact, specifically in terms of youth justice? That’s one of the questions Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research is hoping to answer with the support of the New Commonwealth Racial Equity and Social Justice Fund (NCF) and United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley

The Center for Antiracist Research (CAR), headed by author and activist Ibram X. Kendi, works to develop “novel and practical ways to understand, explain and solve seemingly intractable problems of racial inequity and injustice,” according to its website. With the new funding, CAR will focus on neighborhood and school-based policies that funnel Massachusetts youth into the criminal justice system. CAR previously created a national Racial Data Tracker to compile pandemic-related racial data. The new tool will focus more narrowly on discrepancies in the treatment of Massachusetts’ young people of color in schools and the criminal justice system.

CAR is a new grantee for the New Commonwealth Racial Equity and Social Justice Fund, which was founded in 2020 by a group of Black and brown business executives from Massachusetts. NCF’s goal is to support the state’s BIPOC entrepreneurs, innovators and nonprofits. These leaders and organizations have traditionally received only a small fraction of philanthropic funding, and NCF aims to close that racial funding gap, as my colleague Martha Ramirez reported in 2020. 

NCF may be just a few years old, but it is making its mark: Since it was created, it has given close to $8 million to its nonprofit partners and provided support to 81 entrepreneurs, innovators and nonprofit leaders.

Makeeba McCreary, NCF’s first president, has been on the job for a year and a half and bristles with ideas and plans for potential partnerships. She recently approached Kendi to find out if CAR could design a tool to track state-level data on criminal justice and policing policy and its impact on Massachusetts youth. Kendi was enthusiastic about the idea. Next, she asked Bob Giannino, president and CEO of United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, if he wanted to join NCF in backing the project and he was immediately on board. 

“One of the things that NCF really wants to illustrate and mirror is that we’re about being collaborative; nobody has to own a space,” McCreary said. “In particular, if we’re going to be successful in supporting the dismantling of systemic racism, whether it’s at the programmatic or policy level, we absolutely cannot go it alone.”

Together, NCF and United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley are providing $600,000 to support the development of the new tool. “With this funding, the Massachusetts Racial Policy Tracker can analyze and challenge racially disparate policies that impact the young people in our most vulnerable communities,” Kendi said when the project was announced. 

Read full text in Inside Philanthropy.