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Leaders of Color Collective

On February 29th, over 40 nonprofit leaders of color convened at Chicago Art Department in Pilsen for a kick-off celebration to share space, build community, and discuss what the future of the nonprofit world could look like. The Leaders of Color Collective is an initiative to provide executives and senior staff of color with a community, support, and access to resources in order to maximize personal potential and actualize their organizations’ missions.

This undertaking began after a series of RDLF grant assessment interviews with people of color that had recently been “promoted” to lead their organizations. What seemed clear was that although the individuals were talented and rightful holders of their new positions, their own boards, and in some cases retiring founders, were limiting their powers and exhibiting a less than welcoming and supportive backdrop to their new jobs. These new leaders of color were also regularly being met with distrust or unreasonable expectations by philanthropic organizations. 

Unfortunately, while these leaders were experiencing similar things, they didn’t have the opportunity to come together and speak about these issues as a group. This is when the RDLF Board and Staff decided they should step in as resource partner to assist in community building and advocacy.

Jamyle Cannon, RDLF board member and Executive Director of The Bloc, joined the initiative and was a great asset in evolving the mission and bringing folks together by leveraging his unique position in the nonprofit community. Jamyle’s network and connections helped to bring in a diverse group of leaders to this well-attended inaugural gathering.

At the event, Jamyle talked about how nonprofit leaders of color often feel like they’re pitted against each other as competitors, rather than celebrated as leaders of their communities. A group discussion highlighted how it felt to be in a room full of other leaders of color, what the participants wanted funders to know, and what they wanted other nonprofits to know.

There was a lot of passion and energy in the room from both young and seasoned leaders. Across the wide variety of different organizations, identities, and experiences, everyone agreed that the simple act of convening felt supportive and beneficial. “Pride”, “gratitude”, “comfort”, “worthiness”, and “curiosity” were words used to describe being in community with their peers.  

Leaders spoke about how philanthropic funding practices take away from the actual work, and how organizations are often forced to act with a “scarcity mindset”. They agreed that they don’t want to maintain the status quo, and that perhaps change could be possible when organizations act together. What it would mean to act together, and with what goals, is something that they hope to explore in future events.

Attendees have also shared that they don’t want this to be the only event. There were ideas circulating about meeting quarterly, doing round table and panel discussions, and creating shared resources. There have been enough convenings that felt like empty talk—the hope is that this initiative can bring a shared and continuing vision to fruition. 

While supported by the RDLF*, the Leaders of Color Collective is not restricted to current grantees and partners. It is open to all nonprofit leaders of color in the Chicago area. If you’re interested in learning more or participating in future events, please reach out to jessica(at)logafdn(dot)org.

*The whole Team at the RDLF made contributions to the success of this convening, but we make special mention of Jessica Jones-Lewis, Preeti Veerlapati, Sabrina Boggs and Mustafa Abdul Maboud.

Group photo at the Leaders of Color Collective event.