Dalian Yates, Momentum Fellow
Remember that saying, “It takes a village to raise a child?" Growing up in the projects in Tampa, Florida, that was the absolute truth. I had a large family and we were a part of a tight-knit community. Every time I would get in trouble for misbehaving in school — yes, I was quite mischievous as a child! — by the time I got off the school bus, I had a line of family members and neighbors waiting and ready to discipline me. I am thankful. That village saved this southern boy from a tumultuous life of violence, addiction and multigenerational oppression.
There's also another saying: "Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps." That may have worked for you or your parents, but many of those "bootstraps" are no longer available today. The village, the neighborhood, that place where people looked out for each other and supported each other, sharing joys and sorrows, good times and bad times, especially in many black communities, is no more. And we're paying a really big price for that loss.
Today, black people and communities of color are pawns in the game of politics. I’ve spent most of my professional career working with adjudicated and at-risk teens; most have been black and Latino, all from broken homes and broken communities. Many have ended up in prison. These are boys who could have realized and achieved their dreams, had their families and communities rallied by their side like mine did. Instead, not only did their families and communities fail them, but so did the promise of the American Dream.
Black Lives Matter
I was still living in Tampa, Florida in 2012 when Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old black, unarmed teenager, was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman. This was a defining moment for me. I knew that I had to move my sons — young black boys — out of the south to keep them safe and alive. And in many ways, the end of Trayvon’s life was the beginning of my own. His death sparked purpose. I wanted to be a part of the movement that declared "Black Lives Matter."
In 2014, as my family watched from our home in Eugene, Oregon, the world bore witness to highly-publicized killings of more black boys and men. Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York. Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio. Collectively, their deaths symbolize the larger realities that black men and boys face: consistent experiences with racial profiling, disproportionate rates of arrest and incarceration, lack of educational opportunities and resources, and inadequate job prospects.
Black men were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by the police in 2015. Despite making up only 2% of the total US population, black men between the ages of 15 and 34 consist of more than 15% of all deaths currently being investigated for the use of deadly force by police. Those numbers are staggering — we have to take notice. As a nation, we must collectively agree that black lives matter in order to end the long standing structural inequities that have resulted in decades of poor life outcomes for black men and boys.
A Growing Movement
While there is a growing movement around the country actively seeking solutions, we can do more. I transitioned from social services to the philanthropic sector and joined Philanthropy Northwest's Momentum Fellowship to do just that — more. I have lost faith in our government officials that they can truly take a common-sense approach to social justice; thus improving the life outcomes for black men and boys. However, I am very hopeful that philanthropy is poised to do so with vigor and haste. Philanthropy can move us from increased attention on structural inequities to increased investment that creates lasting progress for black men and boys.
Foundation funding explicitly designated to benefit black men and boys has increased in recent years, rising from $28.6 million in 2010 to nearly $64.6 million in 2012. We must continue this trend. We know what works. However, the majority of philanthropy's work falls outside the framework of a black male initiative or portfolio. As such, work that claims to serve black males but does not make a targeted effort to reach them often works well for every population except black males.
My five recommendations for the philanthropic sector:
- Philanthropy needs to understand that what is happening to black men and boys requires an urgent response by the philanthropic community. Foundation executives need to “shake things up” by hiring more black individuals to leadership positions and appointing more black professionals to their boards. What I know is that black leaders will address black issues.
- Philanthropy needs to diversify its donor base. No one gives to black issues and the black community more than black philanthropists. Black Americans have produced the steadiest growth of new identity-based charitable funds over the last four decades. Simply put, let’s lean on black Americans and black philanthropist to give to black issues and rebuild their communities.
- Philanthropy should increase and sustain investments that strengthen the field of black male achievement. This includes a program/initiative within the institution and/or grantmaking guidelines that require funding for black men and boys and black communities. It must be explicit funding targeted directly to black men and boys.
- Philanthropy should increase investments in strategic communications and messaging efforts about black men and boys. We need an alternative to the narrative that presents black men and boys as liabilities or threats to our society.
- Philanthropy must disjoint and disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline for black students. For far too many students of color, entering the bars of incarceration begins with a referral from the classroom to the courtroom. In order to drastically alter the school-to-prison pipeline, philanthropy must take strategic action.
Black men and boys are assets to their communities and our country. As a nation, we cannot truly prosper when any group of people are left behind and forced to exist on the fringes of society. The well-being of black men and boys has a direct influence on the strength of their families, communities and our nation as a whole. Our communities will only prosper if all of us can succeed and reach our full potential. I know that’s what I want for my boys, my children. What about you?
I've been asked to share the personal sacrifices I made to be a part of the Momentum Fellowship, but I refuse to do that. This fellowship opportunity is bigger than my trials. Instead, I would like to give a special “shout out” to my wife, Kelli. She is my hero in all of this and I cannot do what I do, day end and day out, without her commitment to my professional development/career and our family. She is a stay-at-home mom (and the love of my life) literally raising our four boys — ages 16, 14, 10 and 4 — and 6-month-old baby girl by herself while I work on the Oregon Community Foundation's equity, diversity and inclusion team.
Kelli, I love you very much! Thank you for being such a great mother, wife and friend. Thank you for the daily sacrifices you make, allowing me to do what I do.
Dalian Yates is a Momentum Fellow hosted by the Oregon Community Foundation. Read more about the Momentum Fellowship on our website, and stay tuned for more blog posts from our first cohort.