Nearly three years ago, Lindsay Hill, a program officer here at the Raikes Foundation came to work and was despondent. The day before, a white supremacist massacred nine parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, an historic African-American institution in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. No one in the office was talking about it. And Lindsay, the sole Black member of our staff, felt alone. But she saw it as an opportunity.
She came to me and wanted to share her feelings with the staff via email and asked my permission to do so. She poured out her sadness and frustration and forced the team—and me—to see the connection between this horrible tragedy and the work we do here. If we could move through our day relatively unruffled by a white supremacist murdering Black people in a Black church, how could we credibly claim to understand the lives of young people who have been marginalized? Lindsay came to the Raikes Foundation to focus on equity—it was in her job description—but we weren’t really doing the work.
That email started our organization down a path that has at times been difficult but was overdue, necessary and galvanizing. We all had a lot of blind spots and being faced with your own inadequacy and lack of courage can be demoralizing and frustrating. But we have kept at it and we have improved.
The Raikes Foundation is more diverse now and will continue to diversify. And we will never go back to a time when we don’t think about that in our hiring. Equity is no longer a buzzword for us, as it once was and can be in white-dominant philanthropy—a box to check, a thing you say. It has meaning and purpose for each of us. We are intentionally working to dismantle our own internal white supremacy culture.
As we continue this work – and there is much left to do—I am pleased to announce that the woman who catalyzed our commitment to equity will be the Raikes Foundation’s first director of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Lindsay Hill. You can see Lindsay’s powerful commitment to equity for yourself from her recent TEDx talk.
We often say about our grantmaking that equity can’t be bolted on to an existing strategy or program—it must be built into the foundation. That’s why I’m so gratified that our trustees have invested in a full-time role to ensure that we are putting equity at the center of everything we do. Lindsay’s role will ensure that we are applying an equity lens to every aspect of how we do business—from what contractors we hire, to our benefits package, to the grantees we select and more.
We will continue to share what we learn on this journey—where we stumble and where we succeed—and want to hear from our partners who are helping us along the path toward a more just and equitable future for young people.