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Reflections on Irvine’s racial equity work

A year ago, Irvine stated that racism is a persistent obstacle to our vision of a California where low-income workers have the power to advance economically. In the summer of 2020, we announced our racial equity commitment in response to the death of George Floyd and ensuing racial reckoning. We recognized that if Irvine were to effectively rise to the moment as a grantmaker, we had to examine our knowledge and understanding of race across the institution.

As a Black man, my racial identity is always present in how I understand the world and how the world understands me. To me, this work is important because when we don’t name race, it not only diminishes my lived experience but also limits our effectiveness as an organization.

Although Irvine is at the beginning of our journey, and we don’t want to be performative about our experiences so far, we heard from our partners the importance of communicating more about the trajectory of our racial equity commitment. This humble offering shares our current thinking.

To guide our efforts, we asked: How do we address racial equity within our North Star? In response, we committed to an intentional process to embed racial equity in our programs, operations, and investments and grant $20 million to confront anti-Black racism and advance racial equity.

Much of Irvine’s grantmaking already invests in organizations and efforts with a clear racial equity focus and outcomes, but I believe for Irvine to become an anti-racist organization and achieve the change we seek, we must do racial equity work across Irvine, not through grantmaking alone. We focused on:

  • Learning and coaching
  • Grantmaking
  • Developing a racial equity case statement

We established a board-staff steering committee, chaired by our CEO and Irvine’s Board Chair, to serve as ambassadors and guides, and I lead our staff support team, which includes Rajib Guha, Michelle Lo, and Danielle Taylor.

Learning and Coaching

As a leadership team, we felt it was critical to develop a shared understanding of the historical context of race and racism in the U.S., its impact on economic opportunity, and the four levels of racism: individual, interpersonal, institutional, and structural.* Our friends at ProInspire are facilitating learning and coaching with leadership and staff. Staff also have professional development resources to support their individual learning.

Through this process, I’m grappling with:

  • Tension in shepherding learning that is advanced enough for staff who have a depth of understanding from their lived and/or professional experience while not leaving behind those who are just beginning their racial equity journey
  • A need to protect BIPOC staff from carrying the “teaching” load while creating an environment for White leaders to step into their allyship and
  • Exploring what a board and leadership commitment to racial equity means for working at Irvine


While many of our grantmaking staff use a racial equity lens as part of their work, it was the racialized outcomes of the pandemic and murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Aubrey that pushed the Foundation to be more explicit, intentional, and consistent in how we will embed racial equity in support of leaders and organizations.

Through our Racial Equity Project grantmaking over the past year, we strengthened the focus of our investments in BIPOC leaders, supporting efforts that embed a racial equity analysis, and centering those most impacted by structural racism. We are recognizing that:

  • Irvine cannot achieve our North Star by funding in a race-neutral way. This fails to address that structural racism is a substantive driver of lack of access to economic opportunity.
  • We must support solutions that intentionally repair the harm done by racist policies of the past.
  • We must center racial equity by expanding our networks, listening to current and new partners, and adapting our structures and practices to be responsive to their needs.

Racial Equity Case Statement

We will engage our partners for feedback on a statement that will:

  • Articulate a commitment to the work required to be an anti-racist organization and why it is critical to achieve the change we seek in the world
  • Guide how we operationalize racial equity in our departments, not just our grantmaking
  • Hold us accountable to our partners, grantees, and board

What does this mean for how we partner?

We envision strengthening our efforts to center the voices of BIPOC communities by:

  • Continuing to fund power building of BIPOC low-wage workers
  • Funding transformative economic justice policy and systems change efforts led by BIPOC leaders and allies
  • Using our platform to lift up the voices of BIPOC leaders and amplify the voices of marginalized communities

We look forward to sharing updates as we continue our process and, as always, welcome your input.


*adapted from Race Forward