What the next generation of nonprofit leaders of color are doing today

Will anything really change?

This is the question that haunts the current racial moment. To a great extent, the question of the pace and scope of change depends on broad and unpredictable factors:

  • Can the newfound breadth of white support be sustained?
  • Will institutional policy reform take hold?
  • What will the backlash look like?
  • Will our short attention span society turn to the next thing?

I do not purport to have any special insight on how these factors will play out, either in the short or long term. However, while the pace and scope of change possible in any given moment is dependent on these broad factors, the persistence of ongoing advancement for people of color rests on a narrower factor.

The long history of racial justice movements in our country shows that the persistence of change depends on raising the next generation of leaders of color. Racism is too entrenched to be solved entirely by one moment, no matter how many broad societal factors converge. Every generation must continue the work, and every generation needs people of color to lead the way. Even when extraordinary opportunities for change open up in a given historical moment, this only can happen because the flame was kept alive and passed across generations.

Passing the leadership flame to the next generation of leaders of color is the particular contribution Silicon Valley Next seeks to make to our sector. Our program was deliberately aimed at cultivating leaders that reflect the communities being served (10 of the 12 identify as fully or partially “non-white”).

Our most recent monthly retreat was dedicated to the role of race in the leadership callings of our Fellows. It was an emotionally intense and authentic time. Stories, feelings, and tears were shared freely. Most of all, what was shared was the commitment to practice courageous leadership in their current leadership positions.

Below is a sample of their commitments in their words. These examples are encouraging both in depicting the change happening today, and also the change that will happen tomorrow. We don’t know what will happen in the future with those broader factors of change listed above. But we do know that these leaders will be there tomorrow, building and growing on what they are accomplishing today.

As a Black male, I’m a rarity in the nonprofit world that is so often composed of white women. From my unique leadership position, I can be a bridge between those I supervise and those who supervise me. SVN has been great about diving head first into tough issues that affect me as a leader (managing anxiety, race issues) and has pushed me to go deeper. I want to keep being open and pushing myself.

As a LatinX male, I am leading an initiative in my department – which is predominantly made up of Latinx – to work on the anti-Blackness that is present in my own community.

Today’s brave conversations reminds me that I have to find the courage to initiate a tough conversation with my peers and my boss to update our strategic plan around racial justice.

There is a racially problematic picture in our agency’s media materials that is widely used. We should not be using that image any more and I am going to ensure that we don’t. I will lean into my authority to get that photo taken down next week. 

I am committing to starting a racial equity committee, as a top priority. Although DEI is not my training and expertise, as the only Black person in my organization, I realize that if I want to see change in that world, I have to step up and make it a priority.

As a white man in education, I always feel a little like I should step aside in leadership to make way for POC leadership. With the help of my peer coach (who is LatinX), I see how that idea is flawed and there is room for all our leadership. It’s not about me leading versus someone else leading. We all need to lead and create more opportunities for people to lead at once. We often don’t talk about the WHY of our work, but The WHY is deeply tied to race and class and we need to be having these discussions with students and staff. I can start tomorrow.

I’m excited to be working on racial justice grants and using that as a way to push our programs to be doing more in this area. I’m thinking a lot about the intersection of philanthropy, education and racial justice and will be offering a series of topics for learning about this together. I want to be leaning into discomfort.