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Black-led nonprofits are historically underfunded in Austin. A new fund aims to change that.

Black community leaders and City of Austin officials pose for a group photo at the launch of The Black Fund at City Hall
Haya Panjwani
Black community leaders and Austin city officials launch The Black Fund, an initiative to provide financial equity to Black nonprofits in Central Texas.

The City of Austin has partnered with the Austin Community Foundation to launch The Black Fund, a "giving network" that aims to invest more than $1 million in the Black community over the next three years.

Individuals and companies will have the opportunity to invest in the fund, which will dispense money through a grant program to Black-led and Black-serving nonprofits. Several companies, including Google and Indeed, have already donated, according to the Austin Community Foundation.

Pamela Benson Owens, the CEO of Six Square, helped spearhead the initiative.

“As a CEO of a Black-led nonprofit, I can tell you that, for us, Black-led nonprofits have 25% lower annual revenue than our white-led counterparts,” she said at a news conference to announce the initiative Wednesday. “Even deeper disparities exist when you look at the organization's unrestricted assets, which is the kind of money leaders need to serve the communities they know best. Each and every dollar of The Black Fund will go to help serving and supporting Black-led organizations.”

A 2018 inequity study found that only 7% of philanthropic dollars were used to support racial equity or justice work. Work of that sort is what The Black Fund aims to uplift, amid other areas like health care, wellness, economic development and sustainability.

Austin Community Foundation CEO Mike Nellis said this initiative is hoping to provide Black Austin residents economic security.

“By co-creating The Black Fund at Austin Community Foundation," he said, "we are taking a deliberate approach toward racial equity in the region so every Central Texan can thrive and prosper.”

Owens said she spent the bulk of her life in an underserved area of Austin.

"We [Austin] say that we are progressive, and we say that we get it and that bubble is real," Owens said. "And so my invitation is to get outside your bubble and realize your existence does not actually represent the existence of other people. And the only way to do that is to get a little uncomfortable.”

She said she’s seen the lack of funding play into effect firsthand and that she hopes to spark change that will last for generations.

"We might not necessarily see the shade from the tree that we're building now," Owens said. "The hope is that we sustain it for generations to come.”

The Black Fund is expected to seek grant proposals this fall.

Corrected: September 1, 2022 at 1:25 PM CDT
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Six Square helped spearhead the initiative. The organization's CEO, Pamela Benson Owens, helped spearhead The Black Fund in her personal capacity.
Haya Panjwani is a general assignment reporter, with a focus on Travis County. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @hayapanjw.
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