Countless Southern Black women have helped build America and lead, working to uplift in civil rights, politics, education, social justice and other arenas. 

Now some Southern Black women leaders are using philanthropy as part of the fight for transformational change to benefit the South and the nation, overall.

The Women’s Foundation of the South is one of the newcomers. The nonprofit based in New Orleans, envisions a flourishing South where women and girls of color are healthy, safe, and well-resourced to determine their own destinies, and ensure that they and their families thrive.

Launched officially in August, the organization is led by Carmen James Randolph, a philanthropist, leader and former Vice President for Programs at the Greater New Orleans Foundation. She’s spent years working at the intersections of gender, racial and social justice. 

“It’s time to write the next chapter for womxn and girls of color in the South,” said the founding CEO/president of the Women’s Foundation of the South. “Our mission is to center and invest in [their] collective power, health, well-being, economic security, and leadership. We stand ready to lead the way.”

Led by women of color, the group is founded on the principle that solutions are often held by those closest to the issues and problems. WFS raises funds for active programs, services, and resources for women and girls of color and their families to stimulate building health, wealth, and power. It will serve women of color in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The organization has structured a three-year plan; it aims to be a permanent, endowed institution that serves as a gateway for donors, foundations, corporations, and individual investors to maximize the social impact of their investments in womxn and girls of color in the South.

Recently, the Women’s Foundation of the South kicked off first-round fundraising with a grassroots 40-day challenge, galvanizing the collective power of Black women working in philanthropy. The group raised more than $90,000 in donations with contributions from organizations that included: Texas Women’s Foundation, Marguerite Casey Foundation, Pierce Family Charitable Foundation, Schott Foundation for Public Education, United Way of Southeast Louisiana, Group Health Foundation, Minnesota Women’s Foundation, Schultz Family Foundation, and 4ever Young Foundation.

The collected funds will aid the work of the organization in ending the long history of institutionalized racism and disenfranchisement in the South and serve as a gateway for donors to expand their social justice footprint. Among recent endeavors, the group has aided families impacted by Hurricane Ida. 

Such philanthropic efforts are needed, according to a report from the Ms. Foundation for Women, titled Pocket Change. The name suggests only “pocket change” is being invested in women and girls of color, to fund and elevate their work.

It states in part: “Women, particularly women and girls of color, continue to navigate decades-old, complex systems of oppression and a daily onslaught of threats to their autonomy, safety, and well-being. Even in the absence of proportionate formal political power, women (especially women of color) have led and served as the backbone of nearly every impactful grassroots movement in the United States, including labor movements and the civil rights movement.”

Teresa Younger, President and CEO of the Ms. Foundation told ESSENCE women of color continue to do the most with the least amount of resources and support. 

For instance, the report revealed that the total philanthropic giving to women and girls of color is just $5.48 per year for each woman or girl of color in the U.S., accounting for just 0.5 percent of the total $66.9 billion given by foundations. For women and girls of color in the South, it’s even less, at $2.36 per year.

“Women and girls of color have been at the forefront of almost every social justice movement in this country, and now is the time to invest in our power.”

-Teresa Younger, President and CEO of the Ms. Foundation

“This report showcases what we knew to be true in the philanthropic sector: women and girls of color do extraordinary and invaluable work in their communities with limited resources,” said Younger. She noted that organizations which serve a specific subpopulation, like Black or African American women or girls, were more likely to have budgets under $50,000 and encounter barriers to funding. 

“Women and girls of color have been at the forefront of almost every social justice movement in this country, and now is the time to invest in our power.”

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To that end, the Ms. Foundation for Women created Ms. South, a multi-year grantmaking strategy to support the sustainability and leadership of organizations led by women and girls of color in the South. Younger said the Ms. Foundation wants to center the voices of women of color on the frontlines and bolster them through grantmaking, capacity building, policy and advocacy, leadership development, political organizing and more.

“Our ability to support the leadership of women and girls of color in the South is more critical than ever,” Younger said, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated an existing crisis in many communities. “As we continue to battle converging crises and systemic injustices, our ability to support women and girls of color in the South is of the utmost importance…Women and girls of color have been able to do so much with so little, imagine what we could do with more?” 

There are many Southern Black women in elected office and nonprofits doing a range of work across the board: from mayors, to Stacey Abrams of Fair Fight Action, to DeJuana Thompson, interim president of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. 

The Southern Black Girls & Women’s Consortium is among those advocates. The group is coordinated entirely by a community of Black women with deep roots in philanthropy, activism, empowerment of girls, and movement-building. 

SBGWC consists of four anchor institutions including the Appalachian Community Fund, the Black Belt Community Foundation, the Fund for Southern Communities, and TruthSpeaks Consulting. 

In 2020, the consortium kicked off a 10-year fundraising initiative to raise $100 million to financially empower the goals of Southern Black girls and women via the Black Girls Dream Fund. According to organizers who determined priorities based on research and listening sessions, funding will be used to advance everything from affordable housing, to entrepreneurial endeavors, legal assistance, mental and physical health, and more.

“We are radically reimagining how to support Black women and girls in the South,” said LaTosha Brown, founder of Atlanta-based TruthSpeaks Consulting; she is also co-founder of Black Voters Matter. 

“Through this initiative, spearheaded by Black women for Black girls and women, we are breaking the traditional philanthropic model to develop a new approach to fundraising that centers our voices and allows us to play a leading role in shaping our own destiny. This is vision and self-determination in action because if we change the future of the Black girl in the South, we change the South.”  

SBGWC raised $10 million in seed capital from the NoVo Foundation, and additional contributions include: Women Donors Network, Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, Lucy and Isadore B Adelman Foundation, Collective Future Fund, and the Momentum Fund. 

“This year has presented a moment of social reckoning, but Black girls and women are still fighting for the rights, resources, and recognition they deserve,” said Felecia Lucky, president of the Black Belt Community Foundation in Selma, Alabama. “Through the Black Girls Dream Fund, we aim to fill this vital funding gap and improve the quality of life for generations of Black girls and women.” 

“During a time when the mainstream narrative of being Black and a woman in America can feel overwhelmingly negative, we’re proud to shift these racist and sexist ideals by investing in the goals and dreams of the millions of Black girls and women throughout the American South,”  said Margo Miller, executive director of the Appalachian Community Fund in Knoxville, Tenn. “By investing in them and providing resources they have long been denied, we will enable Black girls and women to bring more of their magic into the world and fundamentally change the way the world views them.”

SBGWC will lead capacity building efforts in 12 states throughout the South. They have distributed more than $300,000 to organizations providing resources to Black girls and women experiencing financial uncertainty related to COVID-19.    

“We cannot ignore the injustices that Black women and girls face everyday,” said Alice Jenkins, executive director of the Fund for Southern Communities in Decatur, Georgia. “In the South, Black girls and women experience social, political, and economic injustices at higher rates than their white counterparts, yet they continue to be left out of philanthropic investments. The needs are there, but the investments are not. We are committed to changing this dynamic.” 

Younger agreed: “Our sisters of color in the South represent the future of this country, and we must shine a light on their enduring struggle and strength.”