Five Questions with Casey: Sophie Dagenais on the Baltimore Unrest and the Way Forward

October 27, 2015, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

As director of the Baltimore Civic Site team, Sophie Dagenais oversees Casey’s community-based investment strategies and grant-making activities in Baltimore. She also advises the Foundation on investing in the East Baltimore Revitalization Initiative, a major community and economic development project aimed at transforming an 88-acre East Baltimore neighborhood.

Prior to joining Casey, Dagenais served as chief of staff for Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. A member of the New York and Maryland Bar Associations, she previously worked as a partner at Ballard Spahr LLP and as general counsel and chief administrative officer at a real estate investment-banking firm in New York City. Dagenais graduated from McGill University Faculty of Law in 1988.

In this Five Questions edition, Dagenais discusses the importance of bringing all Baltimoreans to the table — particularly those with limited access to opportunity — to achieve lasting, positive change.

Q1. What role can foundations play after civic unrest or during times of community stress?
Foundations can help provide support and a safe space to bring people together for healing. We should also look at ourselves, and philanthropy more broadly, to see how our own processes and procedures may undermine fairness, access and opportunity. As long as children like Freddie Gray and their families are disconnected from decision-making processes, and as long as systems and communities are not aligned and informed by each other, it will not be possible to achieve large-scale social change.

Q2. The Casey Foundation has invested in Baltimore’s struggling neighborhoods for decades. How did the unrest change your team’s approach to its work in the city?
Although Casey is a national foundation, Baltimore is our hometown. We have a long history of supporting pivotal civic organizations and an ambitious agenda to improve conditions for children and families in East Baltimore. In response to the events following Freddie Gray’s death, however, we are amplifying our work throughout Baltimore.

For instance: We have accelerated planning efforts for a national project — set to launch in Baltimore — that will aid older youth and young adults from low-income families. This summer, we also bolstered enrichment opportunities and jobs for city children and youth and increased our support for community organizing and engagement, in addition to building young people’s capacity to advocate for themselves and their communities.

Q3. What community needs are you hearing about now — five months after the events of the spring?
The needs haven’t changed, but the way we hear them and seek to better understand them may well be changing. We know that we can’t address the root causes of injustice by leaving any part of the community out. Yet structural racism and a persistent disconnect between systems and the people they serve have undermined the community for decades — if not for our city’s entire history. Most recently, we’ve expanded our conversations with youth, residents and civic leaders. At the same time, we’ve been working internally and with our partners to ensure these vital community voices are informing our decisions and policy agendas.

Q4. What is the Foundation’s strategy for responding to the unrest earlier this year?
As a Foundation, we have been working to address inequality and promote inclusion through such efforts as Race Matters and Race for Results. And we know that bringing successful approaches to scale requires evidence and a relentless pursuit of equality. The unrest in Baltimore and similar events around the nation tell us that it’s critical to focus even more intently on this work.

Q5. If the unrest presented an opportunity moment for Baltimore, what should be different five years from now to show that real change occurred?
Here’s where we are now: Recent data suggest that 34% of Baltimore City’s kids live in poverty, and this poverty rate jumps to nearly 50% for kids in Freddie Gray’s neighborhood. We also know that the unemployment rate is high — 35% — for black youth ages 16–24. For their white and Hispanic peers, this rate is much lower — 11% and 12%, respectively.

Here’s a potential path forward: We must support policies and strategies that connect families and youth to economic opportunities, which can help substantially reduce these disparities in the next five years. Another must-have is persistent engagement so that, five years from now, people feel that their voices have been heard and that they are a part of the solution. That’s the call to action.

Read this blog on The Annie E. Casey Foundation's website.

 

February 28, 2020

NFG Newsletter - February 2020

February is Black History Month and, in this newsletter, NFG honors Black resistance. Given the persistence of structural racism and the legacies of segregation, NFG has mobilized philanthropy to support POC-led organizing for equitable development since our start 40 years ago. Through our member-led and local advisor-led programming, we are lifting up how Black communities are reclaiming land ownership and addressing the racial wealth gap through grassroots power building.

At the beginning of the month, NFG’s Amplify Fund staff and steering committee spent a day with local organizers, non-profit leaders, and organizations in Charleston and Edisto Island, South Carolina — one of Amplify’s eight sites. Both national and local grantmakers learned alongside some of Amplify’s grantees, including the Center for Heirs’ Property PreservationLow Country Alliance for Model CommunitiesCarolina Youth Action Project, and South Carolina Association for Community and Economic Development, which are bringing together Black, Latinx communities and youth in the region to fight for community power, land rights, and environmental justice in the face of corporate power, criminalization of communities of color due to gentrification, and land theft.

This week, NFG’s Democratizing Development Program (DDP) hosted a two-day Health, Housing, Race, Equity and Power Funders Convening in Oakland, California. Over 100 participants grappled with how anti-Blackness and xenophobia fuel the complex housing & health crisis and community trauma, and heard examples of concrete organizing wins led by Black women from Moms 4 Housing and Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. Organizers from around the country urged grantmakers to significantly invest in long-term general operating support, community ownership models, POC leadership, and 501(c)4 funding for Black, Indigenous, and POC communities engaging in policy and systems change around housing affordability and justice. 

From Amplify’s funder collaborative to the DDP convening’s planning committee, funders organizing other funders has been a key part of our work. Funder members: how are you stepping up as an organizer and moving more resources for power building in Black, Indigenous, and POC communities? We invite you to connect with NFG staffprograms, and upcoming events — including our National Convening — and be part of our community where we bring funders together to learn, connect, and mobilize resources with an intersectional and place-based focus. 

Onwards,
The NFG team

Read the full newsletter.

January 23, 2020

NFG Newsletter - January 2020

Animated fireworks with the text "40 Years Strong"

This year marks NFG's 40th anniversary. During our early years, NFG was one of the few spaces in philanthropy specifically focused on people of color-led, grassroots organizing, and power building as the key to effective social change strategies. Today, NFG continues to be many funders' political home at a time when moving resources to struggles for justice is critically important: communities of color are bearing the brunt of the housing crisis, growing wealth and income inequality, and climate change; white nationalist backlash is rising; and our democracy is profoundly threatened. NFG is a space to draw support, deepen relationships, and find co-conspirators as we propel philanthropy to shift power and money towards justice and equity.

In 2020, the NFG network is continuing to explore structural racism in health and housing, racial capitalism, migrant worker justice in rural areas, reimagining community safety and justice, and more. We will also return ‘home’ to NFG’s founding city — Washington, D.C. — for our 2020 National Convening.

As we celebrate 40 years, our dynamic community of grantmakers and grassroots leaders is what makes us strong. This newsletter spotlights The Libra Foundation, an NFG member that shares our commitment to organizing funders in moving more resources to frontline communities and movements.

Keep reading below for more opportunities to engage with NFG. Whether you are new to NFG or a long-time member, we look forward to collaborating with you to accelerate racial, gender, economic, and climate justice.
 
Onwards,
The NFG team

Read the full newsletter.