Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on February 11, 2021.
This past summer, before the announcement of Kamala Harris as the nominee for Vice President, Latosha Brown received a phone call from the soon-to-be Vice President. The phone call was in response to an article Brown had published in Essence called Reimagining An America That Uplifts Black Girls. Vice President Kamala Harris wanted Latosha Brown to know that she shared her hope that America could reimagine the country so that all girls will be lifted up.
“Vice President Kamala Harris called me to say she had read the article, and that she too was committed to women and girls all across the country,” said Brown, in a recent phone interview with Philanthropy Women.
“She didn’t have to do that,” added Brown, suggesting that the type of leader we have in Kamala Harris is the type of leader who naturally aligns herself closely with women of color leaders across our country pushing for a more equal America.
“Now that she’s in a position of power and authority, it truly makes this a unique moment, and a unique period, in our history as a country,” said Brown.
Unique Moment For Activists, Advocates, and Donors
We also know how unique this time period is, said Brown, because of the recent election results, showing how the votes of Black women for Democrats played a key role in several recent election victories.
“Georgia would not have been possible without Black women. Biden-Harris would not have been possible without Black women,” said Brown.
LaTosha Brown is a nationally recognized political organizer as well as co-founder of Black Voters Matter and a fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics. More recently, Brown has also launched new funding efforts aimed specifically at helping Black women and girls.
Brown observed that the remarkable thing about Black women’s recent political action is that, “We didn’t just say it, we put it into action.”
In response, Brown wants to see donors put into action their verbal commitments to equality, particularly for Black girls.
“We all witnessed the tremendous contribution that black women have made in our political process,” she said.
Brown referenced the fact that Black women are facing unprecedented issues with unemployment in the COVID economy.
“67% of black women are wage workers,” said Brown. “We are literally catching the brunt of the displacement, yet we continue to show up.”
“Black women are often doing work and protecting the interests of people who have far more resources than them,” she said.
What does Brown want progressive donors to do? “I want to see radical changes in their portfolios that are reflective of the power and leadership contributions that black women have made. When they are able to look at their portfolios and say they accurately reflect the give-back they owe to Black women, I will be satisfied. But until then, no. They should be ashamed.”
Changes to the Tax System
Brown also asserted that one of the biggest hurdles to racial and gender justice remains our tax system, which has contributed significantly to the growth in inequality in the US over the past several decades.
“The notion that we are all dependent on whether the rich want to give the money up or not, that’s not fair to us and it’s not fair on them,” she said. “That notion is fundamentally flawed.”
Brown wants to move toward a society where everybody has more choices and options, not just the rich. She suggested that we need to shift the frame on this discourse so that the wealthy also recognize that they, too are being deprived by a system that allows them to amass so much resources.
“They are in the prison of their own wealth, dependent on their wealth, and many of them then become paranoid and try to wall themselves off,” she said, which just leads to further divisiveness and alienation for everyone.
“It’s not healthy for anyone,” she said. “Even for those who have wealth, a world where you have less poverty, better safety, better health, is a world that is actually better for all.”
Brown noted the research showing that communities with more equitable distribution of resources have less violence. Their people feel less disconnected and experience less day-to-day stress.
Black Women Represented at Every Level
Brown also spoke about the need for Black women to be in more positions of leadership. “There should also see more Black women on boards, corporate and nonprofit. They should be in more positions of oversight and able to shape the work. That is what makes the difference.”
Brown pointed to the research showing that Black women are ambitious opportunity-takers, yet they don’t get the recognition and power that goes along with their efforts.
“Black women are in college at a higher rate. So there, we participated in process. Black women vote at a higher rate. So again, we showed up. Black women have started their own businesses at a higher rate.”
“We did everything America told us to do, so why are we at the bottom? If you’re a farmer, you invest in your best crop. When you invest in Black women, we yield. We have yielded in the midst of sexism and racism. Yet we continue to be underfunded and denied opportunity.”
Black Girls Dream Fund and more Action Steps for Donors
Brown had some specific suggestions for where donors can put their funds right now, as we head into the next four years of the Biden-Harris presidency, a time when doing more for women and girls will be rewarded, rather than punished, by the political climate.
In September 2020, the Southern Black Girls and Women’s Consortium (which Latosha Brown leads) kicked off a 10-year fundraising initiative to raise $100 million to empower Southern Black girls and women in the US. Contributing to this fund, said Brown, is a way of capacity-building to support organizations working with Black girls on the ground.
Brown also encourages donors to support a new Black Girls Defense Fund, which will provide support for girls who are involved in the justice system and need legal support.
She also has opportunities for donors to participate in a Partnership Fund. “My ultimate goal is every philanthropic institution in this country to have some investment in women and girls,” said Brown. The Partnership Fund provides matching grants to help more foundations and donors join in funding women and girls and maximize their impact.
Finally, Brown is looking for support for an Innovation Fund. “How can we fund the ideas of black women who want to innovate?” she asked. This fund works to “expand economic opportunity for black women in the South,” said Brown, by partnering with businesses and investors.
Self Care for Black Women: Affirming Each Other in the Midst of Racism, Sexism
One final question I had to ask. Since I am an avid follower of LaTosha Brown on Twitter, I am well aware of how hard she works, and how omnipresent she seems to be in the movement, particularly this past fall during the critical election cycle that ousted one of the worst Presidents in US history.
So I wanted to know, how does such a powerful Black woman stay charged up and practice self care?
“What black women have taught me is the power of sisterhood,” said Brown.
“There is a culture that black women have created to respond to racism and sexism. Because we were not seen as the darlings, as feminine beings, because we sit at the intersection of racism and sexism, we were able to develop the love for our own beauty.”
She spoke about how women at every level she finds Black women will reach out with a supportive comment or an affirmation, even if it’s just commenting on a nice pair of shoes or an outfit that another Black woman is wearing.
“There is something about being in relationship with other women that affirm you. You can share the fullness of who you are,” she said.
“When it felt like others hated us, we found a way to love ourselves fiercely through our sisterhood. That’s part of the beauty and power of this work.”