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New Kresge grants deepen racial and economic justice efforts in Fresno, Memphis, New Orleans

American Cities

$9.2 million in grants awarded to 26 frontline organizations confronting inequity, systems of exclusion and shaping community-driven solutions

The Kresge Foundation’s newest grant commitments totaling $30 million will deepen efforts to advance racial and economic justice in cities across the United States. This includes $9.2 million in new grants to 26 place-based frontline organizations working in Memphis, New Orleans and Fresno that are confronting inequity, systems of exclusion and providing solutions that are shaped in partnership with Black, Latino, Asian and Pacific Islander and Indigenous populations.

“Place is where the dynamics of accountability are possible, where issues of race and justice and injustice are so clearly manifest that you can name them and spot them,” said Kresge Foundation President Rip Rapson.

Led by the foundation’s American Cities Program, these new grants build on existing partnerships with local leaders and organizations that are working across sectors to define challenges and drive transformative change that expands opportunity for people living with low incomes.

“Innovative local leaders are organizing every day for racial and economic justice in Memphis, New Orleans and Fresno. These grants are our way of supporting their already impactful work,” said Chantel Rush, managing director of Kresge’s American Cities Program. “Interventions required to shape more just systems must be guided by community. Kresge’s investments are intended to provide leaders of color with additional resources to ensure communities of color participate fully in decision-making and have access to critical resources.”

Many of the 26 organizations are new partners to Kresge and include direct service and technical assistance providers, as well as organizing and advocacy champions.

An ecology that supports minority-owned businesses, wealth building and community organizing in New Orleans

Several grants to New Orleans-based organizations aim to build an ecology that supports small businesses owned by people of color through greater access to capital and targeted technical assistance.

Minority-owned businesses often serve as critical drivers of economic activity. They are more likely to employ under-represented populations and invest within their communities. But in New Orleans, Black, Hispanic and Asian or Pacific Islander entrepreneurs collect far fewer sales receipts than white entrepreneurs, thereby limiting the economic impact they can make in their communities.

Though 36% of all New Orleans businesses are owned by minority entrepreneurs, they only earn 2% of sales receipts. By comparison, nationwide, 29% of all businesses are minority-owned and earn 4% of sales receipts.

A grant to Good Work Network will deepen ongoing efforts to strengthen minority-owned firms, connect qualified businesses to anchor institutions and contract opportunities and operate an accelerator for high-potential firms.

NewCorp, a New Orleans-based Community Development Financial Institution, will receive general operating support to enhance its economic development lending in under-resourced communities. NewCorp’s efforts include providing loan funds for small business owned by people of color, boosting community development the city’s 7th and Lower 9th Wards and assisting renters and small business owners adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eleven other grants to New Orleans organizations will support community development organizations led by people of color, environmental justice advocacy, organizing for educational equity and criminal justice, immigration and wage policy reforms. Together, these grants total $5.3 million.

“The Kresge Foundation is proud to deepen our commitment to New Orleans, home to a powerful set of organizers and community builders,” Rush said.

Organizing and power-shifting in Fresno

Fresno has a history of disinvestment in neighborhoods where Black, Latino and Asian or Pacific Islanders reside. Despite being California’s fifth largest city, many residents in the city’s under-resourced neighborhoods grapple with the impacts of environmental injustice, inadequate safe and affordable housing and underdeveloped infrastructure.

According to 2018 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, in neighborhoods on the west side of Fresno, over half of residents live below the poverty line. In other parts of the city, poverty levels hover around 27%.

Several grants to Fresno-based organizations will support frontline organizations working to empower the area’s Black, Latino, Southeast Asian, Muslim and Sikh communities to advocate for more just housing policy and policing reform. These groups include the Council on American Islamic Relations – Central California, Jakara Movement and Hmong Innovating Politics.

Issues of environmental injustice are especially pronounced in the Fresno region where the unhealthy air and water disproportionately impact communities of color. Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability seeks to, “fundamentally shift the dynamics that have created the stark inequality that impacts California’s low income and rural regions.”

Leadership Counsel works in partnership with community leaders to address community-identified priorities through organizing and advocacy. In the Fresno area, these priorities include improved access to drinking water and wastewater service, transit opportunities, pedestrian safety, as well as more equitable land use policies, equitable investment programs and groundwater protection.

“When the acute crisis of COVID-19 is behind us, we look forward to returning to something other than ‘normal.’ Normal would be decisions that repeatedly and systematically elevate capital at the expense of neighborhood health in Black and Brown neighborhoods. Normal is a false dichotomy between climate justice and jobs for BIPOC communities,” said Veronica Garibay Gonzalez, co-executive director of Leadership Counsel.

Phoebe Seaton, fellow co-executive director of Leadership Counsel added, “Normal means perpetuating systemic inequalities. We can do so much better than returning to normal and we will.”

Together, these grants to Fresno organizations total just over $2 million.

“By providing resources to community organizers, we are helping tip the scales in favor of those who have lacked power and providing resources to deepen their advocacy,” Rush said.

Empowerment and equitable recovery in Memphis

Latino Memphis, a community engagement, advocacy and legal services organization, provides direct services to the area’s growing Hispanic population, while also promoting systemic change. As the city’s leading organization for issues impacting Latino communities, Latino Memphis serves newcomers, first-generation, undocumented, mixed-status families and people with limited English language proficiency.

This latest grant to Latino Memphis builds on existing support from Kresge’s Human Services Program to help the organization’s efforts to advance social and economic mobility, increase voter engagement, strengthen Latino-serving government and nonprofit human services agencies and provide legal aid to undocumented residents.

The Memphis-based Refugee Empowerment Program (REP) will expand its network of partners by building out its Equity and Advocacy team. By promoting acculturation over assimilation, REP celebrates diversity as an asset that strengthens society.

Much like New Orleans, minority-led business in Memphis experience disparate outcomes as compared to their white peers. Memphis, a city where 63% of residents are Black, Black-owned firms earn less than one-third of white-owned firms.

As a nontraditional not-for-profit lender, River City Capital fills a critical gap in Memphis’ financial delivery system by expanding access to investment capital, credit and financial services to predominantly Black and Brown-owned businesses in Memphis, with an emphasis on distressed and emerging commercial corridors.

Kresge support to River City Capital’s Road to Recovery initiative is deepening efforts to assist small neighborhood businesses owned by people of color in low to moderate income communities access capital needed due to pandemic-related disruptions.

Together, these latest grants to Memphis organizations total $1.9 million.

“The breadth of impact of these organizations is remarkable. But we know that many more are championing the causes of racial and economic justice in these cities,” said Rush. “This is just a start. Our support for these efforts will be ongoing and enduring.”

Fresno Grants

Memphis Grants

Boston, MA (work in Memphis)

River City Capital
Memphis, TN

New Orleans Grants

Enterprise Community Partners, Inc.
Columbia, MD (work in New Orleans)

Good Work Network
New Orleans, LA

New Orleans, LA

The Data Center
New Orleans, LA

The Power Coalition
New Orleans, LA

Urban League of Louisiana
New Orleans, LA

Vayla New Orleans
New Orleans, LA