By Gillian Darlow, Polk Bros. Foundation CEO
I don’t think it’s a secret that Polk Bros. Foundation is committed to Chicago. For more than 30 years, our full focus has been on Chicagoans, trying to ensure everyone has access to the services and opportunities that can help city residents and their communities thrive.
Committing to Chicago has meant committing to the city in all of its beauty and in all of its pain.
It’s been just over a year since I reflected in our blog on some of the progress Chicago has seen during the Foundation’s first three decades and also on the agonizingly persistent racial disparities that are evident in every single quality-of-life indicator. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic is leaving a path of escalating trauma, joblessness, housing insecurity, learning disruption, and economic decline in its wake. That Chicago’s Black and Latinx communities are hardest hit by the pandemic and its catastrophic ripple effects demonstrates the systemic racism at work in our city and beyond. Today’s call for racial justice, and in particular for an end to anti-Black systemic racism, has become quite possibly the largest organizing movement in U.S. history, centering the world’s attention on longstanding racial injustice and setting historic changes in motion.
It would be easy to say that the pandemic has exposed deep-seated racial inequities in our society and in our city, but the truth is that they have existed in plain sight for a very long time. What has changed is people’s willingness to see them, and to do something more about them.
The message is clear: This is a catalyst moment. And it needs to be met with more resources.
Polk Bros. Foundation will be increasing grantmaking for our upcoming fiscal year by more than 30%. I am proud and grateful to share that our Board last week approved a spending increase for FY21 of up to $8.5 million (for a total of $33.5 million) and a projected payout ratio in excess of 9%, to help Chicago’s communities recover and rebuild from the pandemic in a way that ushers in long-overdue racial justice and equity. I am even prouder to share that, while the impact on our ongoing assets and long-term grantmaking capacity was carefully reviewed, the decision to direct more resources into Chicago’s communities now was not a difficult one for our Board.
The guiding principles of Polk Bros. Foundation reflect on our purpose, which is rooted in community, equity and an urgency to act, and our approach of deep partnership with organizations and communities that we join with and champion. We take the responsibility of these extra funds very seriously, and we have been listening closely to our grantee partners and community voices about what Chicago needs now. As a result, while our regular grantmaking will remain level, we will leverage our increased payout through new, targeted investments to build economic growth, community wealth, housing stability, and community safety in south- and west-side communities, to engage CPS students in learning that is responsive to this moment and supports their academic growth, and to tend to trauma and mental health, especially for CPS students. Equally important, we will work to support the strength and sustainability of BIPOC-led organizations and also to support grantees’ development of a racial equity lens in their work.
As we determine guidelines for this increased payout during the fall and throughout the year, we will be sure to keep you informed – but we wanted to share this news quickly in the hopes of encouraging other funders who may yet be on the fence about how to respond to the current moment. We hope funder colleagues will consider joining us and others who are increasing their investments now.
The kind of change we are all seeking for our city could actually be within our reach.