Celebrating Black History Month
Observed throughout February, Black History Month provides an opportunity to recognize the many achievements of Black Americans and their central role in U.S. society. The celebration is also an opportunity for the Venable Foundation to renew its commitment to achieving meaningful change in our society and to work towards eliminating barriers to success. And so, in honor of this important period of observation, we are highlighting some of the Foundation's grantees, who are doing stellar work on behalf of communities of color throughout the United States. We look forward to continuing to support their efforts in the months ahead.
After her release from federal prison, Carmen Garcia (pictured, above left) was living in a halfway house when she decided education was the key to starting her new life. She found that the systems in place to support her reentry efforts failed her.
"It was a battle, even just trying to convince probation and the halfway house to let me go to school," Garcia said. "But I didn't give in—I kept pushing and pushing… I didn't give in, but some people do."
Garcia, now the executive director of Root & Rebound (R&R)—a national reentry advocacy organization that addresses racial, economic, and social inequities within the criminal justice system and reentry process—eventually enrolled in classes at City College of San Francisco while living at the halfway house.
"At R&R, we empower people to know their rights," she said. "If you face barriers, whether it's unemployment or access to education, we make sure those barriers are addressed, and if your rights are violated, we step in."
Based in California, R&R is dedicated to restoring power and resources to those most harmed by mass incarceration through legal advocacy, public education, policy reform, and litigation.
"The Black community is overrepresented in our jails and prisons and supporting them in reentry is key if we want to make changes—if we want to put a small dent in ending poverty and advancing racial justice," Garcia said. "The work that we do… supports and helps the community we serve, which is predominately Black and Latino, unfortunately."
The organization's capacity to provide holistic reentry support at scale is rapidly growing, as its client base increases by nearly 30% each year. Funding from the Venable Foundation has helped R&R provide free legal support to justice-involved Californians. With a legal advocate by their side, those navigating reentry can get past the barriers to employment, housing, and economic opportunity; meet their self-defined goals; and become thriving and contributing members of our shared communities.
The U.S. incarcerates people at a rate five times higher than that of any other nation in the developed world, and those incarcerated overwhelmingly come from low-income communities and communities of color. Though Black and Latinx people make up approximately 32% of the U.S. population, they comprised 56% of the U.S. prison system in 2015, according to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
After serving their time, formerly incarcerated individuals encounter a web of collateral consequences (ongoing implications of their criminal record)—legal and regulatory restrictions that limit or prohibit access to employment, housing, voting, occupational licenses, education, and other opportunities—at the local, state, and national levels.
R&R uses a holistic approach and scalable model composed of public education, legal support, systems reform, and narrative change. The model is based on the idea that through the democratization of legal information, support, and advocacy, attorneys can support and empower communities to successfully navigate systemic barriers and dismantle racial and economic inequity.
"Criminal records are a form of discrimination and we know that the majority of people with criminal records are people of color," said Garcia. "A person of color has already been labeled, boxed, and judged because of the color of their skin even before they went to prison, and therefore the barriers for that one person are enormous."
Other Grantees from Around the Country
Urban Teachers recruits, prepares, and retains diverse educators for schools in Baltimore and Washington. Guided by commitments to anti-racism, lifelong learning, and service to children, this teacher development organization builds a robust pipeline of well-prepared educators who help close opportunity and achievement gaps. In 2020, Urban Teachers launched its Black Educators Initiative (BEI), which works to significantly increase the number of Black educators through financial and programmatic support. Support from the Venable Foundation has helped Urban Teachers recreate its core program as a meaningful virtual experience, enabling the organization to continue recruiting, preparing, and retaining effective educators.
Dance Theatre of Harlem
Established out of the turmoil of the civil rights era and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) began as a community school for the allied arts and expanded to include a professional touring company of African American and other racially diverse artists. DTH continues to be a strong economic and cultural anchor for Harlem today. Funding from the Venable Foundation has helped DTH increase its in-person capabilities while continuing to offer online programs.
Us Helping Us
Us Helping Us, People Into Living (UHU) works to achieve health equity for underserved and marginalized populations in the greater Washington, D.C. area. The organization's mission is to improve the health and well-being of Black gay and bisexual men through innovative programs and services and—through a vision of inclusiveness—to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS in the entire Black community. Support from the Venable Foundation has helped UHU develop and foster culturally relevant clinical, behavioral, and social support services for individuals vulnerable to or living with HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.