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Irvine Senior Program Officer Liz Posey reflects on Black History Month and philanthropy

The Irvine Foundation is fortunate to have talented staff with diverse backgrounds and life experiences, and we want to introduce some of our colleagues to you. In this interview, Liz Posey, Senior Program Officer, shares what led her to philanthropy, celebrates the power of Black futures, and examines philanthropy’s role in dismantling structural racism. Responses have been edited for length and clarity. 

Tell us about yourself.  

I was born in Anchorage, Alaska. I have a big family with roots in the Midwest and the Gulf Coast region in the South. My background shapes how I see the world, both its challenges and its possibilities. My favorite memories involve cooking seafood gumbo with my grandmother and spending hours outside creating new worlds made up of snow with my brothers and sisters. 

Why philanthropy? How did you get into this work? 

I was drawn to philanthropy because I am committed to work that shifts the trajectories of Black communities. I have experience with community organizing, building multi-racial coalitions, and working in public policy and public health, and I know firsthand the failures of top-down strategies. To find a path to a different future, we must invest in strategies built from the bottom up and rooted in the knowledge and agency of the communities deliberately marginalized in this country. 

Our country has normalized the pain of Black communities and declares economic progress despite a historical rate of unemployment in Black communities that is consistently double the rate of White communities, while failing to account for persistent racial gaps in labor market participation. The most recent jobs report revealed that Black women were the only group to see their unemployment rates rise. The U.S.’s history of racism in the economy, democracy, and criminal legal system has profoundly shaped the economic and life outcomes of Black communities in distinct ways. To address it, we must resource and build up institutions in Black communities.  

What does it mean to be a woman of color in this field? And how does that inspire your work with the Priority Communities initiative?  

As a Black woman, I’m excited to bring the lens I have rooted in the lived experience of Black people and communities. I’ve been inspired by Black women in the field to approach this work as a continuation of the liberation and community-building work that our grandmothers have done for generations. It grounds me in a culturally rooted, historically situated, and creative approach to leveraging the resources we have access to in these institutions to do grantmaking that centers the humanity and lived experience of Black people.  

This approach is a necessary antidote to the deliberate erasure and dehumanization of Black people and how that translates into how we experience the economy, access to quality jobs, and our ability to self-determine our economic futures. It means interrogating how we approach our grantmaking and interpret our strategies using an intersectional analysis of power to address the range of experiences within Black communities and the distinct economic barriers. It also means listening for what’s unsaid, creating space for relationship building, and creating opportunities to deepen trusting relationships with communities where we are committing resources. 

What does Black History month mean to you?  

It’s important to understand our history both within this country and across the African diaspora through a generational lens. We’re living through a historical moment, between the 1619 Project, the racial justice uprising, and a worldwide pandemic that is both deepening and illuminating longstanding racial and gender inequities resulting in compounding health and economic impacts on Black communities.  

I love the Black Futures Month framework encouraging us to imagine the future we want to create and seed new possibilities. It’s important to understand the history and context of structural racism and how it got us to where we are, but it will take imagination to create something new that is rooted in a different value system. It requires taking risks and breaking from historical and current approaches that are rooted in a value system that dehumanizes, exploits, and limits the political and economic power of Black people that created these conditions to begin with. 

How do you see philanthropy (and/or Irvine) and its role in advancing racial equity? 

It’s imperative that philanthropic institutions commit to grantmaking using a racial justice lens and follow up on that commitment with significant, unrestricted, sustained investments in grassroots Black, Indigenous, and people-of-color-led organizations and leaders building power to dismantle structural racism. Anti-Blackness is deeply rooted in the bedrock of our democracy and economy. To address economic inequality, we need a commitment to addressing the myriad of ways that structural racism impacts Black communities.  

Race is a relational construct that enshrines a hierarchy of human value in our legal, economic, and democratic institutions. To understand the drivers of inequality in our economy we need strategies that are grounded in a clear understanding of the historical and current impacts our systems have on both Black and Indigenous communities. We must start from this foundation, or our analysis and strategies will only reproduce structural racism and settler colonialism. I’m glad that Irvine is embarking on this journey.