Op-ed: The Black Lives Matter Movement and representation in the charitable sector

Openness to starting conversations is the first step for philanthropic leaders to become more effective in delivering their work in meaningful ways

Editor's Note

This article originally appeared in the 2020-21 Giving Guide. Read the full publication here.


When you look around, what do you see? Rather, who do you see? Do you see people who look and sound like you? Have they shared in the same or similar opportunities? Are people telling their own stories and experiences or are they the stories of others? Stop and take a moment to think about this; and then, think a little bit more.

The aim of this piece is not to tell you what to think, rather simply, to take the time to think. 

By now, most everyone has heard, seen or felt the Black Lives Matter Movement in one way or another. The depth of it all may have come to fruition more recently for some. Others may not think it’s relevant to them, and many have lived through this experience their entire lives.

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As a Black woman, the BLM Movement is all too familiar to me, even if it wasn’t always called Black Lives Matter. Now, as the executive director of a local registered charity (the Education Foundation of Ottawa), I ask myself, “How can my skills and diverse experience lend themselves to this important work?” One glaring way for me to do so is to use my voice; not as a choice, but as an obligation. 

Representation matters

The charitable sector is designed to create and inspire social impact and change, regardless of the charity’s cause. It is about building relationships, sharing impactful stories and serving our community. Grounded in compassion and empathy, where does the Black Lives Matter Movement fit into it all?

While registered charities and nonprofit organizations exist to benefit the many facets of our communities, let’s not only think about who they serve. Consider as well who comprises the organizations and their governing boards. Are they representative of their community? Do they simply check the “diversity box” by saying “we have one of those” or is the concept of inclusion even considered at all? Are the voices of those served infused in the program and operational design? Is one’s lived experience considered just as much (or more) of a valuable asset when recruiting those who will carry out the organization’s mission?

I can’t answer all of these questions for you, but I can tell you one thing: representation matters.

Are conversations being had within your organization’s structure? Real, honest and tough conversations grounded in respect? Who is involved in this dialogue? Are there practices in place that provide a safe way to share experiences, opinions and perspectives?

The practice of active listening coupled with reflection may just help us move forward as we gain the knowledge we need to keep the concept of equity and equality alive. When we do, let us all be free of judgment and guilt; willing not only to learn but to unlearn. If we are open to start the conversation, we have taken the first step toward becoming more effective in delivering our work in a meaningful way. 

In what capacity can you make a change? Delving into the questions proposed in this article can be a start. Decide on what piece of this matters to you; ask yourself why and then figure out the how. Take things one day at a time; this is a substantial and important task. Learn about and pay attention to the implicit biases within and around you. Who and what is getting in the way of the change you would like to see? Find relevant local organizations and groups that are making a difference and help to raise awareness about them. Ask questions and seek information; they want to share it with you. Survey friends and colleagues about their thoughts on the Black Lives Matter Movement and discuss where they see themselves and the charitable sector in it all. 

The Black Lives Matter Movement is about dismantling systemic oppression, building community and fighting against racial injustice and inequality. Regardless of your cultural identity, know that this is more than just a Black issue, it is a human issue; one that requires us all to be responsible to do better. As John Lewis said, “If you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something about it.”

Clarissa Arthur is the executive director of the Education Foundation of Ottawa

Read the full 2020 Giving Guide:

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