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Our commitment to advancing racial equity

Last month, the Irvine Foundation’s Board of Directors affirmed our understanding of and commitments to advancing racial equity. This includes a statement that will help guide our decisions and enable us to be accountable as we work to become a more anti-racist organization.

It grew out of more than a year of our staff and board learning together, reflecting, and discussing our nation’s, and state’s, sad history of erecting barriers to economic opportunity for people of color. Personally, I’ve learned a tremendous amount, filling in gaps of understanding about systemic and structural racism as well as the generational trauma it has caused. And I know I have more to learn and do.

The Foundation has also been evolving. I’m not speaking for our staff, many of whom joined Irvine with long histories of personally and professionally fighting for racial justice. But, as an institution, we acknowledge that we need to better understand, speak out about, and actively work against policies and practices that block and impede people of color from economic opportunity.

This includes the recognition that philanthropy, as a sector, also operates in and can benefit from systems that continue to exclude people of color and exacerbate racial disparities. I believe acknowledging this is important.

Many of the leaders, organizations, and efforts we have supported do incredible and important work to advance racial equity and confront racism, but Irvine did not, historically, frame our institutional priorities as focused on these things. In fact, in moments of redefining our strategies and priorities we did not acknowledge the role race plays in our economy and society — and did not adopt an intentional point of view on, and commitment to, advancing racial equity.

That has changed. We cannot reach our North Star — a California where all low-income workers have the power to advance economically — without acknowledging and actively addressing the ways structural racism impedes economic outcomes for Californians of color.

Our work focuses on all low-wage workers in California, and we understand that factors beyond race — ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and identity, geography, disability, and more — impact economic opportunity in California. But we must act boldly and think differently when three out of four low-wage workers in California are people of color — and when people of color experience profound disparities in income and wealth compared to White workers.

In 2020, we committed and went on to disperse an initial $20 million over 18 months to support efforts that confront anti-Black racism and advance racial equity. We know, though, that it will take more time, resources, and commitment to change ways of working, funding, and thinking. And it requires specific actions we hold ourselves accountable to take.

That led to the commitments in our statement and specific goals for diversity, equity, and inclusion in all our departments. We will be transparent about our progress but also know that we need to deliver, so that our grantmaking, staff, and time actively advance racial and economic equity.

This is an institutional priority but also personally important to me. As a White man — and CEO of a foundation — I feel a particular responsibility to replace my blind-spots and fear of saying the wrong thing with greater empathy, commitment, and leadership to advancing racial equity in our work and in the broader field of philanthropy.

I’ve felt humbled in my personal learning experience these past two years, and I am incredibly grateful for the leadership of our staff and board in determining how we can advance equity in all that we do (and how we do it). And I appreciate all our grantees and partners who are making good on this commitment to make California a more equitable place.