The Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy hosted a discussion on racial justice featuring Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, and Tony Mason, president and CEO of the Indianapolis Urban League. Here are some of the key learnings from their conversation.
Use a “gumbo” strategy
During Morial’s time as mayor of New Orleans, he created “gumbo coalitions.” With a nod to culinary traditions of the area, he made sure to make his committees inclusive of many points of view: “The principal was that with gumbo, you can make it in many, many ways, and adding many ingredients.”
Work to meet the needs of the people you serve. Especially now.
Mason described the changes that the Urban League of Indianapolis has undergone since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic: “We’ve had to expand our services to meet the needs of the community in this moment. At the very beginning of the pandemic, one of the significant challenges that we had to undertake as the staff—and those of you who raise funds can appreciate this—was that we had to invest in outfitting our entire staff, laptops, and matching equipment. As you know, with a lot of nonprofits, we’ve got donated equipment here and there, and so it was a significant investment for us to do that.
“But maybe perhaps more importantly, as we started to transition to a remote operation, we began receiving phone calls from residents from the senior living communities located in the U.S., and the residents were expressing a concern about being able to have access to food. So we facilitated a partnership between the senior living communities, Goodwin Plaza. The calls kept coming, and so we embarked on conducting weekly drive-thru food and resource distributions … every Tuesday here at the Urban League. In essence, 28 weeks ago, we were not in the hunger relief business.”
Take advice from those who’ve been there before
According to Morial, there is much to be learned from our forebears: “But I think we should listen to our elders, our seniors, our seasoned citizens in the community, our established leaders who may have confronted a different time, and we should learn from them. We should learn from them, they have the broader perspective.”
Be intentional in your partnerships
Mason described ways that organizations can purposefully create inclusive work: “Starting with companies and other funders, you can successfully partner with your communities by simply being intentional. Just as (Lilly) Endowment was so extremely intentional about partnering with the Urban League here in Indianapolis and the coalition through the national org, you can do the same actually in 85 other communities and regions across this country. If the Urban League is not your cup of tea, there’s the NAACP. You’ve also got an organization like the Indiana Minority Health Coalition, and there are a number of great nonprofits that are doing work here in our city and in our state.”
There is much work to be done, says Mason, and no perfect solutions. Instead, just get going: “We all have work to do, we all have to be a part of the solution, we have to own this moment, we have to own this moment right now. We’re all responsible for what happens to Indianapolis over the next five, 10 years.”