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City Limits: Racial Justice Means Changing The Process At The CNY Community Foundation

Central New York Community Foundation

Millions of Americans flocked to city centers across the country demanding racial justice after the killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis. As a response to the call, the Central New York Community Foundation launched its Black Equity and Excellence Fund.

In the announcement, the foundation pledged a minimum of $1 million to Black-led organizations.

Program Officer Dashiell Elliott oversees the Black Equity and Excellence fund. She says community members have played an active role in all parts of this process from ideation to the first grantees.

“That’s what really gave us a really cool insight into the minds of our community members when it comes to the things that they may be thinking of when it comes to the projects they’d like to work on,” said Elliott.

A total of 12 organizations won grants in the first round, covering a wide range of issues (as announced on

  • Dunbar Association received $60,000 in operating support to help address the existing racial inequities in health outcomes among African Americans.
  • Syracuse Community Connections received $53,000 to expand its free therapy sessions for the Black community in partnership with the Marriage and Family Therapy Center at Syracuse University.
  • Village Birth International received $50,000 to hire Black doulas and purchase materials for Black maternal health community outreach and education.
  • Juhanna Rogers LLC (Fiscal Sponsor: WCNY) received $40,000 to produce and publicize the second season of the public TV series, “Behind the Woman,” which provides leadership training tips and advice for young women of color.
  • Community Folk Art Center received $20,000 to host virtual Black-art exhibitions and virtual art classes for the community.
  • Sankofa N.E.S.T. received $11,850 to launch the Griot Guide Project, which is a culture-centered initiative for Black youth.
  • The Creators Lounge (Fiscal Sponsor: Syracuse Community Connections) received $11,000 to support its Black-Owned Impact Fund that help generate economic activity in the local Black-owned business community.
  • Hope 4 Us Training Program (Fiscal Sponsor: Funds for the Environment) received $10,080 to provide workforce training and certification assistance for Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises (MWBE).
  • PGR Foundation received $10,000 to launch its Back to School Pandemic Preparation Workshop series to encourage COVID-19 safety best practices to its mentees.
  • Artwork by Jaleel Campbell, LLC (Fiscal Sponsor: Community Folk Art Center) received $10,000 to support its “Feel the Funk Experience” and doll-making workshop to help bring local Black artists and entrepreneurs into the same space to build and grow among one another.
  • Kilpatrick Media and Marketing (Fiscal Sponsor: Joan Hillsman Music Network) received $9,400 to create a new podcast to elevate Black voices by providing the platform for individuals to share their stories.
  • Focusing Our Resources for Community Enlightenment received $7,365 to host virtual CPR training and disaster preparedness in the Black community.

Elliott says changes to the application process and decision making brought new ideas and initiatives into the mix. But the application isn’t the only part of the fund that was adjusted to combat racism. The decision makers for grants are an appointed advisory council of seven Black community leaders.
They are leaders in economic development, the arts, healthcare, and social justice. Elliott says the council is a way to ensure that communities of color are getting what they need most.

As a foundation, it can kind of look like we are making decisions in silos or we may be, it could look like we might be a little disconnected from our community,” said Elliott. “And so by having the council in place, these are members who are directly related and connected into the community in their various respective areas."

The advisory council is currently reviewing applications for the second grant round, and Elliott says they have even more applications than in the first round. Those grants will be announced sometime in early December.

Katie Zilcosky is WAER’s All Things Considered host and features reporter. She also co-hosts WAER’s public affairs show Syracuse Speaks. As a reporter, she focuses on technology, economy, and identity.