Protesters march June 1, 2020 in Pittsburgh's East Liberty neighborhood, demonstrating against racist violence by police. Image by Joshua Franzos for The Pittsburgh Foundation.

The Pittsburgh Foundation is launching a new $1.5 million Grantmaking Fund for Racial Justice, to swiftly help organizations that are led by and serve communities of color in Allegheny County. So far, 53 organizations have been invited to apply, and grants will be awarded in early November.

One organization invited to apply is the Black Urban Gardeners and Farmers Co-op (BUGS).

“One of the reasons we started Black Urban Growers Pittsburgh is because we were being left out of grants as Black growers,” says Raqueeb Bey,  founder and executive director. “White-led urban agriculture groups would get supply grants for thousands of dollars, while some of us in the Black growers’ community were just chipping in out of our pockets. Programs like this new fund help us create our work and pay salaries and stipends to sustain our work as well.”

To receive support, organizations must have a mission to meet the needs of low-income residents, and/or work to accomplish systemic change by eliminating differential outcomes by race and socioeconomic status.

The need was urgent and obvious, says Pittsburgh Foundation President and CEO Lisa Schroeder, and was brought to the foreground with the recent police killings of people of color.

“We are as a society and a nation are seeing an extremely painful crisis around racial justice,” says Schroeder. “In addition to that, we are experiencing health consequences from Covid-19 that are impacting basic needs and human services in our communities of color. This is a confluence of negative forces that have been in place for a very long time, but that are currently in a state of crisis. We feel like The Pittsburgh Foundation specifically, and philanthropy generally, have a strong obligation and responsibility to respond.”

The $1.5 million fund will provide for grants of up to $100,000 to organizations that previously received funding from The Pittsburgh Foundation, and grants of up to $50,000 to organizations that have never received funding from the Foundation before.

Goals include strengthening and expanding the capacity of Black and Brown-led organizations doing racial justice work, and supporting efforts to build civic, cultural, economic and political power in communities of color. Transformative solutions are sought for complex problems — like finding alternatives for those having a mental health crisis other than a police response, for example.

“In this case, we need to move faster and more deeply,” says Schroeder. “We believe that in order to provide the best quality of life for everyone in the region, we need to dramatically increase our grant-making to provide equitable support and fight for racial justice, specifically.”

A review of the Foundation’s grant-making portfolio from 2015-19 showed that grants to nonprofits led by people of color were far fewer than those given to white-led nonprofits. The goal is to eliminate the barriers of time and process for potential recipients, says Schroeder.

“We just started,” says Schroeder. “The invitations have just gone out … this is a brand-new program. What we hope is at the end of October, we will have a really dynamic, effective and exciting list of grant awards to share.

Organizations involved in racial justice work that want to be considered for future networking, funding and engagement can enter their information here.

The Foundation also keeps growing its investment in the Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh program with the Heinz Endowments, which has awarded $6 million to Black artists and organizations for exhibitions, performances, residencies and operating support.

The Pittsburgh Foundation, along with the Heinz Endowments, Richard King Mellon Foundation and Henry L. Hillman Foundation created the Emergency Action Fund, which awarded $9 million in coronavirus relief over a 15-week period this year.

“With that support we were able to award over 300 grants to nonprofit organizations who were providing basic needs and human services related to the Covid-19 crisis,” says Schroeder. “It’s really a thrilling example of a community coming together to make things happen fast.”

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.