“For those of you familiar with the 2018 Marvel movie ‘Black Panther,’ Wakanda is a fictional African country where, in all of its glory, Blackness is centered, elevated, celebrated, and well resourced.”
Centered. Elevated. Celebrated. Well Resourced.
THAT’S what I’m talking about.
Right now, we’re far from that. We’re fragmented, embattled, and under-resourced. But let’s not dwell on the current state. The purpose of this exercise is to focus on the desired state – the place where we’re headed.
We are headed towards a state of self-sufficiency, ownership, and measurable, population-level change. That’s right, my fellow Black nonprofit professionals: in the end, this is all about results. It’s about creating a nonprofit ecosystem that is designed to live out its usefulness, not perpetuate its power and influence. We aren’t fighting poverty, cancer, mass incarceration, homophobia, climate change, or anything else, for its own sake. We don’t want to fight these things forever, even though we will if we have to. We’re fighting these things so that we can eradicate them, so that one day, whatever the fight may be, we no longer have to fight it.
So what does that look like?
First of all, it looks like us. “Us” being whoever the people are who are most affected. In this instance, when I say “us” I’m talking about Black people, and I reference our unique journey through slavery and oppression in America to distinguish us from other segments of the social justice movement.
That’s the first feature of Nonprofit Wakanda: We are centered. It’s about us. For us. It’s about our communities, and for our communities. It is about our people, and for our people. Black people. African Americans. I also include Caribbean Americans, whose colonizers simply landed a little farther south, and Native Americans, our kindred spirits, who were victimized by white oppression even before we were, among our number. But that’s it.
In Nonprofit Wakanda, we don’t have to ask white people for anything. Fuck a grant. In Nonprofit Wakanda, nonprofits have endowments, awarded as reparations for the struggle that I and my people have been through for over 400 years. This investment gives nonprofit leaders of color the stability and flexibility – the FREEDOM -- to be creative and innovative about how they pursue their missions. It allows them to become disruptors and change agents, instead of remaining complicit to the white power structure of philanthropy, for the sake of a balanced budget or a paycheck. It untethers them from the shackles of year to year grant cycles and the burden of managing ten, twenty or thirty grantee relationships while constantly having to build new ones.
Foundations are sitting on nearly a trillion dollars of wealth, much of it having been built on the backs of slaves and through centuries of organized, coordinated, and legalized oppression. In Nonprofit Wakanda, those dollars are OUR dollars, and our voices, BLACK voices, are at the table where grant decisions are being made. We’re in the room where grantmaking strategies are being formed, approved, and hopefully, reimagined. And not only are we at that table, we are the majority. The grantmaking landscape cannot reform or improve itself without our perspectives, our lived experience, our input and expertise. We are what is missing.
That’s the next feature of Nonprofit Wakanda: We are elevated and celebrated.
We are beautiful, powerful and magnificent. Even more so because of our struggles in this country and our dignity and resilience through them. Wherever we go and whatever we do, we add flavor – and, yes, color – to what came before us. We’ve seen it in every walk of life. All of the Black pioneers throughout history – entertainment, arts, science, sports, politics – somehow reinvented and elevated their craft. Now it’s our time, my fellow Black nonprofit professionals, to elevate ourselves in the work that we do. It’s time to put ourselves, our collective Self, before every and anything else. Only then will we reach Nonprofit Wakanda, which is not a place, but a state of being, in which Black-endowed foundations are funding nonprofits with Black leaders that provide programs and services for Black people in Black communities. For us, by us, about us.
In Nonprofit Wakanda we are unapologetic about our independence and self-determination. We lead with justice and righteousness and we are uncompromising in our commitment to achieving both – in ourselves, our communities, and society.
That’s the final feature of Nonprofit Wakanda: We are well-resourced.
We already have everything that we need to achieve this state. We don’t have to ask for anything from anyone. The resources are here. They are ours. Many of them lie within each of us, and the ones that don’t are ours for the taking. We are our best resource. Not only because of our lived and professional experience, knowledge, skills, and attributes, but also because of our legacy of struggle in this country, struggle that always ends in triumph. The only barrier between us and victory is the work that we have to put in to claim what is ours, so we can use our resources for the greater good. Because even though Nonprofit Wakanda is for us, by us and about us, it ultimately benefits everyone.
In 400 years, we have lost many battles. Many soldiers and martyrs have fallen, and there has been far too much collateral damage. But make no mistake about it: we are winning this war, and the tide is turning in our favor. Today we are fighting a battle for the heart, soul, mind, conscience, and resources of the nonprofit sector. Let’s go get it!