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Social Justice Scammers: Why D&I Funding Won’t Make it to Black Businesses

Since BLM protests shook the nation in early 2020, there has been an outsized response by corporations, government agencies, and philanthropic groups in the direction of supporting programs working to promote the upskilling and economic inclusion of Black Americans. Billions of diversity dollars have been pouring over an otherwise perpetually drought stricken fundraising landscape—and while Lightship and other legitimate educators, funders and builders of underrepresented entrepreneurs and ecosystems have been 100% here for it—unfortunately so have the culture vultures and shady speculators.

It’s been raining diversity dollars, and everyone is outside with a bucket…

With corporations like Walmart, Bank of America, Microsoft and so many others mounting massive D&I funding initiatives, along with American Rescue Plan dollars earmarked for minority businesses via SSBCI funding— my inbox has suddenly been flooded with collaboration requests from the definitely not Black leadership of pop-up programs backed by reputable, nationally recognized organizations asking Lightship Foundation to “co apply” with them so that they may receive what they perceive as their share of this federal and corporate diversity funding windfall.

That’s right. There are majority led organizations who want in on the inclusion cash, too. Suddenly, they are leading accelerators, incubators and boot camps that focus on underrepresented founders, and are actively going after federal grant dollars, local foundation dollars—all diversity & inclusion dollars. And for those of us who have been out here sacrificing our time, and honestly, our actual spiritual energy to move this needle—this sudden influx of gilded do-gooders is highly questionable and really, a serious slap in the face.

Indecent proposals?

For example, one organization approached us to co apply with them for a $100k grant, proposing that they keep $80k to run their program virtually, while offering us $20k to do the actual, in the trenches work— all proposed on a last minute deadline and based on funding they would never be able to receive if not for our participation in the application process. Basically, they came out of absolutely nowhere, at the eleventh hour of a D& grant application deadline, offering us, the actual inclusion focused team, less than 20% of the funds to do the majority of the work. While I’m uncertain if the intention was for this correspondence to be taken as a blatant disrespect of our time and value— it was.

I have zero desire to capacity build for my majority peers, and neither do any of the leaders I know who are out here doing the real work.

When these “allies” identify a funding opportunity, they should simply be sending it our way rather than asking us to be a pass-through for pay. It’s seriously insulting, because frankly, we are no longer asking to move from the back of the bus to the front—we are driving that bus while giving these opportunists a tour of what truly dedicated community ecosystem and wealth building actually look like. Yet, they seem to feel that we should be flattered, honored, and jump at the opportunity to be table adjacent— not even have a seat— when in fact, the table belongs to us.

This is an interesting time for Black VC and Black business, altogether. We are creating our own lanes and working to become less dependent on those performative, often predatory invitations for collaboration and support which are so historically American in practice. In the end, I didn’t even respond to the above proposition or any one like it, because to the disadvantage of such speculators-- I happen to be fully aware that we don’t simply add value— we are the value.

Written by Candice Matthews Brackeen, Lightship Foundation Executive Director and Founder

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