Earlier this summer, we joined people across the country in mourning the death of George Floyd. That killing is bringing worldwide attention to racial injustice and police brutality. And yet it goes on. The recent police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, has led to days of protests and unrest. Just this week, we took part in an Anchorage rally and march in support of racial justice.
As president of Alaska’s largest foundation, I lean into the values of the Rasmuson family in crafting our own response. One such value is embracing the diversity within Alaska. And without that guiding light, we cannot meet our mission: to promote a better life for Alaskans. That means all Alaskans.
Over the course of Rasmuson Foundation’s 65-year history, adherence to these values has led us down some challenging paths as we have strived to live up to our promise as an organization. From alcohol addiction to homelessness to inequity in health care, Rasmuson Foundation has a history of digging into some of the most entrenched societal issues because the alternative would mean leaving a significant portion of our fellow Alaskans behind. That is simply not acceptable.
We’ve long known that one of our founders, Elmer Rasmuson, was a lifetime member of NAACP. But recently we learned things about him we never knew, which have led us to strengthen our own commitment to racial justice. When he was Anchorage mayor, the city created the Human Relations Commission and passed its first fair housing law outlawing discrimination. As his term neared an end in 1967, he said that one of his biggest accomplishments was peaceful progress on civil rights and equality for all, at a time when racial strife was tearing the nation apart.
At our recent board meeting we discussed race and racism in Alaska, particularly against the Black community. Our board members are committed and ready to act. We’ve amplified our internal discussions with published op-eds about where we stand. And we are turning words into action by dedicating nearly $500,000 to take on systemic racism in Alaska.
This initial commitment includes:
1) Investment in nonprofits that are specifically led by or serving people of color: We are investing $375,000 to support Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) led nonprofits serving our most diverse populations across the state. Many of these organizations have never received support from the Foundation. By intentionally partnering with these organizations, we aim to build deeper connections to their work and the people they serve. These awards, in amounts from $5,000 to $25,000, are unrestricted to allow the nearly three dozen recipients across Alaska to use them wherever their need is greatest.
2) Speaking up and sharing out: With our partners at the Mat-Su Health Foundation and The Alaska Community Foundation, we will invest in an ally campaign featuring Alaskans across the state who stand in solidarity with the Black community. We believe it’s important that the Black community know Alaska is a state they can be proud to call their home.
Another media project will feature members of the Black community, connecting them to the broader public by highlighting our shared humanity. The goal will be to move past common stereotypes, showing our fellow Alaskans that those who may look different, are in so many ways like the rest of us. Undoubtedly, there will also be an element showcasing their unique experiences of being Black in Alaska. The project will rely on photographs and/or videos for storytelling.
3) Convenings: Our board prides itself in incorporating diverse perspectives in its thought processes. We commonly convene groups as part of our learning process and prioritize building partnerships. We have been meeting with leaders in the Black community since the beginning of the year. We believe these relationships will lead to additional opportunities in the future.
We realize these actions are not a cure for racism, but rather a start of a long-term commitment to effectuate change.
In an op-ed published in June, our board chair Ed Rasmuson said, “we are living in a time where both action and inaction are statements about who you are and what you value.” Rasmuson Foundation won’t pretend to have all the answers, but we will always choose action.