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Righting Historical Wrongs through Philanthropy

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Tuesday, May 31, 2022   

There are $1 trillion in the philanthropy sector, but only a small amount of the money goes toward closing racial disparities across the nation.

Edgar Villanueva, author of the book "Decolonizing Wealth," said the sector should rethink how it gives. He pointed out less than a tenth of philanthropic giving goes to nonprofit organizations led by Black, Indigenous or people of color working specifically on issues of racial or social equity.

"We are still kind of thinking of philanthropy and giving in an old-fashioned way that is really about charity, and putting a band-aid on issues," Villanueva contended. "Versus funding organizations who are on the front lines of pushing for more transformative change in our communities, and especially around issues of racial justice."

Villanueva is the keynote speaker at a Montana Nonprofit Association summit this Thursday in Helena.

Villanueva acknowledged his ideas about redistributing money come from Indigenous wisdom about restorative justice. His book introduces seven steps to healing: grieving, apologizing, listening, relating, representing, investing and repairing. He noted the money philanthropic foundations have now, was built in large part on the slave trade and Indigenous land.

"To not return some of that wealth back to the descendants of folks who helped to build this wealth is an injustice, in my point of view," Villanueva asserted. "That's what healing looks like. It is about righting a wrong that would help to close a race/wealth gap that exists in our communities as a result of history."

Villanueva's book includes the story of a North Carolina woman who discovered her wealth came from land taken from Native Americans, and her family owned slaves. He recounted she wrote apology letters to their descendants, and decided to focus her philanthropy on supporting the communities her family had harmed.

"And not only has that been great for the folks who have received that support, but she has been transformed into this person who has just been liberated from sort of the guilt and shame of history that's connected to her family," Villanueva explained.

He added the woman now is one of 500 members of a donor community within the Decolonizing Wealth Project known as Liberated Capital. Four Montana nonprofits have received funding from Liberated Capital.

Villanueva emphasized anyone can make more meaningful choices about the causes they donate to.

"There are small decisions that we can make every day that would really help to address the hundreds of years of marginalization that a lot of our communities have faced," Villanueva concluded.


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