Hope for a Brighter Future

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

This new year has caused me to pause and reflect over the past 12 months. The events of the past year have made me even more aware of hope that I have for a brighter future for me, my family, and the youth that I have the honor of working with at Elevated Thought, an art and social justice organization based in Lawrence, MA.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

This past year has been shaped by a global health crisis, the prevalence of anti-Black racism, and an election plagued by misinformation and white supremacy. It has also emphasized that this world is fragile and its inhabitants are finite beings that often dance with the opportunity of embracing truth, yet ignore the love, justice, and morality that truth produces.

I know and believe at my very core, that my own child and every child, everywhere should have this opportunity; to love, to ask questions, to believe and disbelieve, to dream and experience those dreams coming true through each brushstroke.

I believe that every child should have an education where they can dream in the classroom, hug trees while walking in the woods, and be handed the world as an empty canvas to paint, all while being given the simple instructions of “just try your best”. I know and believe at my very core, that my own child and every child, everywhere should have this opportunity; to love, to ask questions, to believe and disbelieve, to dream and experience those dreams coming true through each brushstroke.

Yet the past four years have reminded me that not everyone wants this dream to come true. I’ve seen public funds re-directed to benefit the dominant caste in society; stretching the already gaping abyss of education inequality in this country. The presidential election in 2016 caused many to be taken aback by the direction our country chose to blatantly move towards. During this moment in time, The Nellie Mae Education Foundation (NMEF) was working with youth and parent organizers, led mostly by people of color, supporting people of color. To say that these community members were nervous about what the election meant for them and others who historically have been marginalized is an understatement.

Fortunately, NMEF chose to step into the urgency of the moment and provide rapid response grants to eleven grantee partners. Based on conversations with grantees, this blog post was written to challenge the philanthropic sector to decide whether to be spectators or participants in the work at hand. As NMEF’s work with grantee partners evolved so did the understanding of the importance of centering community voice in the work.

In early 2019, NMEF extended their table by creating a Community Advisory Group, of which I am a member largely composed of leaders of color closely connected to the communities the Foundation supports. And in January 2020 a new strategy was launched that brought to life a recently adopted racial equity lens, even as we were unaware of what was in store in the months ahead. Due to this new way of working, NMEF made significant changes in how it approached supporting racial equity in education.

There was intentionality about centering youth and leaning on community-based organizations closely connected to young people and their families. Supporting the work of these organizations has allowed for entering into conversations from the perspective of those most closely impacted by the historical inequities that youth of color have been subjected to in the current education system. The Foundation has been able to support organizations working on school discipline policies that over criminalize youth of color, increasing the number of teachers of color, and implementing culturally relevant curricula, to name just a few.

When will this country understand that a larger collective reckoning is in order?

Yet alongside this great work, history continues to repeat itself. When will this country understand that a larger collective reckoning is in order? The next big revolution needs to plant its feet and pivot from this consuming sphere and turn to an evolution of consciousness, action, and care for each other. Though we are an incredibly adaptive species, we continuously fail to aggressively confront our innate desire for power and accumulation and our gnawing existential fear conjured by our capacity for perception and creation. This has led to long-held systems of purposeful oppression, subjugation, and manipulation of those few elements of existence we may be able to grasp as objective truths. Regardless of what we were doing before, we are faced with a now that is pressing on so many levels.

Young people have been especially equipped and adept at turning hope, love, and justice into definitive change and possibility.

For many of NMEF’s grantees, the growing support of the Foundation is tangible hope. Hope that has sprung alive informing the work our young people have done and continue to do. It is an example of philanthropy seeing where they operate and stepping down to serve in unison with brothers and sisters fighting for those few precious, abstract truths that can help lift humans from the chaos, find footing, look around and see the many possibilities of life, and develop ways others can experience that who might otherwise not. Young people have been especially equipped and adept at turning hope, love, and justice into definitive change and possibility.

As we are in the midst of a new year, I challenge the Foundation to continue doing their own internal equity work, all while externally not losing the focus, drive, or determination in centering youth and community-based organizations that are closely connected with youth and families. It is my desire for other philanthropies to take this moment to join NMEF in walking alongside their grantees in the fight for racial equity, as it will take collective action for change to take place in this country. And may we look back in 2025 and be able to see the hope that drove us to making our public education system a place where every child not just hopes, but dreams — and sees those dreams come true.

By Marquis Victor, Founding Executive Director, Elevated Thought and Community Advisor at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation


Hope for a Brighter Future was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Sharing Our Commitments

Photo Credit: Tim Dennell

Over the course of this year, we’ve witnessed the deep inequities in our society laid bare by the two pandemics of COVID and systemic racism. We’ve seen how these forces have disproportionately negatively affected Black, Brown and Indigenous communities. As a philanthropic organization, we know we have a duty to use our power and privilege to do more to combat systemic, anti-Black racism, especially in our public education system. The truth is that the reality of this double pandemic has forced us to apply a magnifying glass to the deep inequities of our public education system and our society at large.

We cannot go on as business as usual. We know that we have continued work to do in ensuring that our internal culture and grantmaking practices are not reinforcing white supremacy culture. This requires being relentless in acting and putting our money where our values are. Our stated value of operating with a racial equity lens means that we must take necessary urgent action in this moment while planning for this work in the long haul.

Therefore, in addition to our planned grantmaking in 2020 and the early interventions taken at the beginning of the pandemic, we are today announcing an allocation of an additional $20M this year to support work addressing anti-Black racism and COVID relief, especially as both relate to our public education system. These grants are in addition to the more than $10M we are distributing this year as part of our previously adopted strategy.

It is evident that COVID and the fight against anti-Black racism will require the contributions of many organizations and individuals — therefore, we are increasing and expanding our support through a broad array of additional investments to communities, local, regional, and national organizations, and schools as they continue to do incredible work to address the needs faced by those they serve and represent.

We recognize that the fight for racial equity in public education is intrinsically connected to the fight against anti-Black racism. Through these additional investments, we are supporting the important work of organizations at multiple levels of the ecosystem working to fight for a more just and equitable future.

We recognize that our actions are just a step. We are actively exploring how we might use additional monies in the years to come. This means looking beyond traditional allocations to better show our long-term commitment to our values and mission: championing efforts that prioritize community goals that challenge racial inequities and advance excellent, student-centered education for all New England youth.

At this time, we are continuing to be in conversation with others as we grow in this work. At this time we are not accepting unsolicited proposals, but if you are interested in introducing your organization to us we invite you to fill out this form.

Grants will be made in support of the following organizations:

• The Movement For Black Lives ($2,500,000): To provide general operating support

• The Schott Foundation For Public Education ($2,250,000): To provide capacity building and operating support for work focused on racial equity

• Haymarket People’s Fund ($750,000): To provide capacity building and operating support for work focused on racial equity

• MA Immigrant COVID-19 Collaborative: ($750,000): To provide capacity building and operating support for work focused on racial equity

• African American Policy Forum ($750,000): To provide general operating support

• Center for Youth & Community Leadership In Education (CYCLE): ($600,000): To provide capacity building and operating support for work focused on racial equity

• Education for Liberation Network ($500,000): To provide general operating support

• Abolitionist Teaching Network ($500,000): To provide general operating support

• NAACP Empowerment Programs, Inc. ($500,000): To provide core support for their education programs

• Black Futures Lab ($500,000): To provide general operating support

• Black Lives Matter Boston ($100,000): To provide general operating support

• CT-CORE Organize Now! ($100,000): To provide general operating support

• Waterbury Bridge to Success Community Partnership ($100,000) (Waterbury, CT)

• Leadership, Education and Athletics in Partnership (LEAP) ($100,000) (New Haven, CT): To provide general operating support

• Diversity Talks (Providence, RI) ($100,000): To provide general operating support

• United Teen Equality Center (UTEC) (Lowell, MA) ($100,000): To provide general operating support

• FaithActs for Education (Bridgeport, CT) ($100,000): To provide general operating support

• African Caribbean American Parents of Children with Disabilities, Inc. (AFCAMP) (Hartford, CT) ($100,000): To provide general operating support

• Building One Community Corp (Stamford, CT) ($100,000): To provide general operating support

• African Community Education Program (ACE) (Worcester, MA) ($100,000): To provide general operating support

• SABURA (Brockton, MA) ($100,000): To provide general operating support

• Brockton Interfaith (Brockton, MA) ($100,000): To provide general operating support

• Progresso Latino (Central Falls, RI) ($100,000): To provide general operating support

• Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color (COSEBOC) ($175,000): To provide general operating support

A handful of these grants are to current grantees to expand their work around COVID and the fight against anti-Black racism:

• Students for Educational Justice (New Haven, CT) ($47,250): To provide general operating support

• Hearing Youth Voices (New London, CT) ($47,250): To provide general operating support

• Citywide Youth Coalition (New Haven, CT) ($47,250): To provide general operating support

• Blue Hills Civic Association (Hartford, CT) ($47,250): To provide general operating support

• Revere Youth in Action (Revere, MA) ($47,250): To provide general operating support

• Student Immigrant Movement (Massachusetts) ($47,250): To provide general operating support

• Worcester Youth Civics Union (Worcester, MA) ($47,250): To provide general operating support

• Maine Inside Out (Maine) ($47,250): To provide general operating support

• Portland Outright (Portland, ME) ($47,250): To provide general operating support

• The Root Social Justice Center, Youth 4 Change (Brattleboro, VT) ($47,250): To provide general operating support

• Outright Vermont (Vermont) ($47,250): To provide general operating support

Additionally, we are currently working to support 10 New England school districts servicing communities with large numbers of Black and Brown children and their families that have been heavily impacted by COVID-19. These grants will address the complex, interrelated problems posed by COVID-19 and anti-Black racism as schools reopen.

We know this is only one important part of how we can show up as funders at this time. We remain committed to learning, adapting, and improving; to showing up as allies working to combat anti-Blackness in our education system, using our platform and privilege to amplify the leadership of our partners, listening to those who are more proximate and directly connected to this work in communities, everyday. We see you. We hear you. We stand with and behind those that live and breathe the realities and impact of this work daily.

We envision a future where all students have access to excellent and equitable public education that prepares them to succeed and thrive in community. Yet, we understand that for many young people, especially our Black, Brown, Indigenous and other students of color — this simply isn’t true. In the words of John Lewis, “Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble.” Let’s continue that “good trouble!”


Sharing Our Commitments was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.