Working Toward Shared Prosperity in Rochester, NY

Working Toward Shared Prosperity in Rochester, NY
Photo by Clark Rasmussen on Unsplash

This story was written as a collaboration between CFLeads and Rochester Area Community Foundation. Thank you to Simeon Banister, VP, Community Programs and Maya Crane, Program Officer, Equity, for their insights.

Rochester, NY, a city that has seen the effects of systemic racism and segregation over time, is charting a new path: one toward shared prosperity.

Rochester Area Community Foundation is one of many organizations working to address the city’s disparities and create more equitable outcomes for residents. The foundation’s mission to advance racial equity started about 12 years ago, though it did not name it until 2014. Thanks to its long history of work in this space and a clear vision from Jennifer Leonard, the foundation’s president and CEO, the foundation did not need to do a hard pivot to make racial equity a named priority. In fact, it focused on the question, “are we doing enough?”

Rochester Area Community Foundation further committed to racial equity in 2019 by participating in the CFLeads Equity Network, a year-long program requiring significant time from the foundation’s CEO, staff, board and external community partners. In addition to helping the foundation develop an action plan to further its racial equity work, participating in the Equity Network also allowed the foundation to form several important relationships that helped it respond to the overlapping crises of 2020: COVID-19 and the nationwide calls for racial justice.

The protests that erupted following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis were further exacerbated in Rochester following Daniel Prude’s death. With growing calls for racial justice and pressure on organizations across sectors to act, the staff of the Rochester Area Community Foundation took the time to reevaluate how the community foundation talks about racial equity and racial justice. With so much already invested into its racial equity work, the foundation wanted to be intentional and clear in sharing its obligation, its responsibilities, and how the community can hold it accountable.

Now on its website, you can find detailed information about how the foundation is working towards racial equity, dating back to 2011. Its promise to the community is to listen, learn, and act:

If there is one thing we have learned since our equity work began in earnest a decade ago, it is that we need to be thoughtful about our approach and work with humility to ensure that we do not exacerbate our community’s challenges. We lead with listening, we learn from what we hear, and then we take sustained action.
Rochester Area Community Foundation

Rochester Area Community Foundation is clear about the asset-based approach it takes to racial equity, seeing it not as a problem to be solved but rather as an opportunity to be leveraged. The 2020 “Hard Facts Update: Race and Ethnicity in the Nine-County Greater Rochester Area,” published by the foundation along with its initiative ACT Rochester, documents the racial disparities confronting Black and Latino populations in the Rochester area and seeks to create a deeper knowledge of the drivers. The report ends by proposing specific individual and collection actions to develop a deeper understanding of Rochester’s startling inequalities. It proposes establishing action plans to reverse these inequalities, including the concentration of poverty and deep residential segregation in the community.

Rochester Area Community Foundation also demonstrates an asset-based approach to racial equity through its funding. The new Racial Equity Growth Fund invests in Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) nonprofit leaders by amplifying and establishing their innovative solutions, building their networks and positioning them to assume greater leadership roles. In Monroe County, nonprofits generate $4.25 billion in income. This fund will encourage a greater per capita share of those dollars to go to BIPOC leaders and nonprofits working in communities of color.

The Racial Equity Growth Fund will also support racial equity education and training, primarily for small businesses. Many small firms lack the resources to establish diversity, equity and inclusion programming in-house. Investing in racial equity education and training will help create economic benefits for the BIPOC community, moving Rochester, NY closer toward the goal of shared prosperity.

In July 2021, the foundation announced the first of its grants from the Racial Equity Growth Fund. Both BIPOC-led organizations selected for a grant had projects that focused on proactively bringing services to those who need them rather than simply referring folks to services elsewhere — and hoping they follow through.

To learn more about Rochester Area Community Foundation and its ongoing efforts to advance racial equity, visit racf.org.

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