Philanthropy vs. Racism: Inside Kellogg’s Quest for “Healing and Transformation”

By Phillip Rojc, Inside Philanthropy,

For a long time, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation has been a steadfast philanthropic leader in the push for a more equitable society—and one that isn’t afraid to address race directly. In fact, it’s hard to think of a major foundation that’s invested more thought, energy and grant money in this area than Kellogg.

Last year, following a decade of grantmaking designed to foster racial healing and extensive stakeholder engagement on possible directions for this work, WKKF launched the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation initiative (TRHT), a project that it describes as “a comprehensive, national and community-based process to plan for and bring about transformational and sustainable change, and to address the historic and contemporary effects of racism.”

Last month, we gained a better sense of how this ambitious effort will unfold, as nearly $24 million in grants went out to partner organizations in 14 regions. The funding round is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to WKKF’s plans for TRHT.

The initiative takes its inspiration from the truth and reconciliation commissions undertaken by countries like Canada and South Africa to address past grievances. But TRHT pursues a more ambitious goal. According to Gail Christopher, senior advisor and vice president for TRHT, “It was very clear that for America, it’s not as much about reconciliation as it is about healing and transformation. That involves letting go of the idea of a hierarchy of human value.” That idea, often unconscious, is an underpinning factor behind racism.

Throughout her ten-year tenure at Kellogg, Christopher has been a key figure in the foundation’s voluminous work on race. She spearheaded America Healing, a program of funding and conferences meant to illuminate the biases and inequities that keep communities of color vulnerable. In the lead-up to TRHT, Christopher envisioned a similar project for the U.S. powered by the civil society sector.

But can one foundation, even a large one, meaningfully tackle what might be the most deeply entrenched social problem in American society? Actually, Christopher is optimistic. She believes that philanthropy has played a role in “a shift in the quality of the conversation about racism over the past decade.” She cites projects like WKKF’s work on policing equity, the Kirwan Institute’s work on implicit bias, and grassroots organizing through groups like Color of Change.

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The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity was established in 2003 as a center for interdisciplinary research at The Ohio State University. The Kirwan Institute works to create a just and inclusive society where all people and communities have opportunity to succeed.