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The Black Fund: From Concept to Creation

“I think the origin story of The Black Fund starts at the 1928 master plan and the creation of the Negro District. Others may say well before then.”

Kendra Garrett wasn’t the first to ask why there wasn’t a Black Fund in Austin, but she was among the first to move the conversation from concept to creation. Now a co-founder of The Black Fund at Austin Community Foundation, she is eager to invite philanthropists in Central Texas to invest in the work that Black people have been doing for years to support their community despite limited resources in the face of oppression.

Kendra Garrett (left) poses with one of her co-founders, Meme Styles.

When asked about working with Austin Community Foundation for this project, Garrett said, “When you ask the universe (and friends), sometimes the universe speaks.” With two successful community impact programs—the Women’s Fund and Hispanic Impact Fund—already established, local expertise and infrastructure in place for impactful grantmaking, and a mission to serve the wider six-county region of Central Texas, the Foundation became a great choice for The Black Fund. So, in 2020, feeling the heavy impact of the pandemic on their community, Garrett and her co-founders, Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette and Jameila “Meme” Styles, began developmental conversations with Austin Community Foundation leadership.

An important question throughout this process was, “How can a white-led organization step up and step back to support a Black-led initiative?” Garrett’s answer to this question is to continue asking it. “It has to stay front of mind and continually be asked and answered… to do this work, and to do it well.” She notes that every opportunity for a challenging conversation is a chance to call into question our biases and reevaluate our roles as we work to create a system, built in solidarity, where everyone can thrive—one that is equitable, loving, and just.

When The Black Fund began taking shape, the first order of business was to build a steering committee of Black leaders with diverse experiences, networks, and knowledge to guide the way. One of the biggest challenges faced by this team was narrowing the scope of their work. “There is a lot of passion and validity to every issue, but we can’t do it all,” said Garrett. Assembling a list of focus areas was all about finding the right cross-sections by listening to the community’s needs and using a data-informed approach that nurtures the growth, economic security, and wellness of Black people. With four impact areas in place and the fund successfully launched, Garrett looks forward to seeing the dollars dispersed throughout the community during The Black Fund’s first grant cycle in 2023.

She hopes that as time passes, The Black Fund will continue to challenge traditional philanthropic systems and establish relationships built in trust and solidarity with Black-led organizations and the Black community at large. “We aren’t just giving money to maintain the current social order… we are funding systems change. This is a movement, not a moment!”

In that spirit, Garrett emphasized the importance of adding new voices to The Black Fund on a periodic basis through a rotating steering committee and continually evaluating the Fund’s effectiveness as it evolves. For Garrett, this is critical for making the fund sustainable, helping it adapt to evolving community needs, and supporting change-making work for everyone’s benefit.

So, what is the ultimate significance of this launch for our community? Throughout history, systemic barriers have forced Black-led organizations to operate in scarcity and survival mode. The creation of The Black Fund, and with more than one million dollars raised, makes a clear statement that investing in the Black community is critical, both right now and for generations to come. We invite the community to join us on this journey ahead.