This post was originally published on the MBA Recruiting blog.
In the spring of 2020, Kenneth Chenault (MBA 2019), Kevin Chenault (MBA 2021), Carter Lewis (MBA 2023), Lindsey Ferguson, Nicolle Mora, and Sesana Allen were each pursuing their own careers, utilizing their skills and interests to make an impact on the world. Then they witnessed a series of heartbreaking events, watching alongside the rest of the world as Ahmaud Arbery, Christian Cooper, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade were targeted in public places for the color of their skin. These were not the first incidents of racial injustice of this kind, but the six friends and talented professionals wanted to do their part to make them the last.
Starting the Anti-Racism Fund
It was from these deep discussions around how they each could help solve a centuries old problem, once again brought to the forefront of national attention, that the Anti-Racism Fund (ARF) was born.
“People we knew were coming to us wanting to know how they could offer support, where they should donate, and how to make an impact, and we were wondering that ourselves,” said Kenneth. “To provide one answer, we decided to start a GoFundMe page that would distribute funds to four organizations equally, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, The Loveland Foundation, Reclaim the Block, and The Bail Project.” The GoFundMe page for the newly formed Anti-Racism Fund raised $40,000 in less than 12 hours, with donations quickly reaching over $200,000.
As the fundraising numbers steadily increased, the team saw that the reach of the Anti-Racism Fund had grown well beyond their networks and that there was something there they could harness to propel their efforts forward. Next steps would be to turn this fundraiser into a sustainable organization that would capitalize on the current energy and passion around issues of racism in the US and make long-term change. The team transformed the Anti-Racism Fund GoFundMe project into a nonprofit organization, ARF, and then set off to make that organization the best it could be.
The Future of ARF
The main focus of ARF to date has been to create a giving process that educates and engages donors and anti-racism allies. By building a platform that explains how donors can make an impact through the ARF four Pillars of Purpose - Justice System Reform, Education Parity, Health & Wellness Access, and Community Outreach & Social Justice Advocacy - donations rolled in quickly and that money was put to use in the community.
Looking towards the future, the ARF leadership team wants to build on their momentum and increase long term engagement. “We want to become an evergreen foundation to continue spreading awareness, building support, and tackling the complex issues with our existing core organizations and beyond,” Kenneth said. Kevin added, “We also want to increase touchpoints with donors. It doesn’t stop with a one-time donation, or a monthly donation, there are additional ways to activate anti-racism advocates and we want to expand how we can help communities of color.”
One of the issues ARF plans to help tackle is recruiting, hiring, and supporting diverse workforces. Kevin noted, “It’s not just giving money or looking at active injustices, it’s considering the implicit biases within companies. Let’s be better! We’re at a period of time where there is a lot of work to be done and it’s an exciting thing. We’re not finished, we’re just getting started.”
ARF Co-Founders Anti-Racism Advice to Companies
Based on their professional experience in venture capital, startups, banking, media, and the nonprofit world, Kevin and Kenneth shared their perspective on how they have witnessed companies doing anti-racism work well and where they see opportunities for improvement.
First, they recommend recognizing diversity as a measure of your company’s success. Making diversity and inclusion a specific yearly company goal treats it as a business issue. Just like setting sales goals tied to consequences for not meeting those goals, increasing diversity in your workforce is something measurable and it is tied to organizational success so it should be treated as such.
They added that hiring is an important piece, but a focus should also be placed on inclusion. “Diverse hires are often junior hires and the people rising through the firm and reaching management levels are not the diverse candidates. Representation and mentorship therefore matter so that someone can look around a firm and believe that they can reach the top levels of leadership,” said Kenneth.
In Kenneth’s work in venture capital, he is seeing efforts to address this through cross-firm mentorship. Helping junior level employees find mentors with shared lived experiences is important for their future success. If that cannot be accomplished within the same company at this moment in time, companies finding opportunities to collaborate within their industry is a powerful way forward.
In addition, Kevin and Kenneth agree that diversity and inclusion needs to be discussed and implemented at every level of the organization. It’s not enough for senior leadership to say that the company will be anti-racist, increase diversity, and improve inclusion and belonging. Middle management needs to be part of the solution to create safe spaces for employees to talk about their experiences and work towards solutions together.
“In the corporate world, we have to stop thinking about diversity as a burden,” said Kevin. “Diversity maximizes a company’s ability to be successful and the demographics of our country are changing rapidly. Organizations that are slow to get with the times and not understand the value of a diverse workforce are going to get left behind.”