February 2020

By Mikaela Seligman


“We’re 7 white people talking about racial justice.”

Earlier this week at the Democratic debate, presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg declared this obvious reality.  The fact that it was obvious didn’t make his words any less compelling. In fact, perhaps it was the very in-your-faceness of it, the reality that all of the candidates of color, those who may have even started the race strong, were no longer up on stage.  And, all of that reflecting a much larger, deeper historical American reality.

Just a few weeks earlier in the same town where the debate was hosted — Charleston, SC — AchieveMission completed a year-long cohort program, which we launched in partnership with CrossRoads Anti-Racism Organizing and Training, precisely because we knew that this system-shifting work isn’t done alone.  Along with five other participating nonprofits from across the United States enrolled in this cohort, AchieveMission focused on anti-racist, adaptive leadership development and succession planning – because the path to change the face and composition of our organizations is to focus on who is there now, how they are supported and enabled to lead, and the barriers that we may put, wittingly or unconsciously, in the way of their success, and that we need to remove – with, rather than for, them.

Reflecting on my time in Charleston in Early February, I am conscious that this place was once the largest slave port in the United States.  And now in 2020, we have seven white people on stage as presidential candidates 341 years later.  This is the data.  We have work to do.

At AchieveMission, we believe that this work IS necessary, and not only for people who experience the world as white.  White supremacy is hidden deep in the crevices of our society and flagrantly positioned in our systems, in our institutions, in the ways we are conditioned to believe and behave. We have work to do to uncover what is often both obvious yet unsaid, and to put it fully at the center of organizational change work.  And, if uncovering and talking about it – without taking action — is all we do, we too will have failed.  We will continue to be 7, 700, 7,000 white people talking about racial justice in ways that completely miss the mark, precisely because we are talking and not transforming. More precisely for the nonprofit sector, The Building Movement Project’s Race to Lead reports of 2006 and 2011 found that, in the US, people of color in ED/CEO roles remains under 20%.  More recently, in BoardSource’s 2015 Leading with Intent report of nonprofit board representation, 89 percent of respondents identified as white.

AchieveMission is committed to transforming the nonprofit and philanthropic sector. This is what drives our work. As a hallmark of this work and approach, we are proud to be part of and to be building an ecosystem of providers in partnership with The Kresge Foundation and Community Wealth Partners.  Check out this Foundation Review piece that went live this week – sharing more about what it takes to build a thriving ecosystem like this and, yes, transform our sector.