Capacity Building with a Racial Equity Lens


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Black-led organizations (B.L.O.s) serve as the backbone for communities of color throughout the Bay Area. These nonprofits, led by Black staff or Board leadership, are helping to confront racism and anti-Blackness, and to transform the culture, and change policies and systems in order to realize equity and justice in California.

Many Black-led organizations face scarce funding, a need for better infrastructure and added capacity, as well as ways to connect, share, and heal with their peers.

After a tumultuous economic recession in 2008, and seasons of economic shifts including extreme increases in rent and changes in funders’ priorities, many of these organizations have found it challenging to rebound and sustain their position as critical providers. In 2016, EBCF and leaders from other philanthropic organizations formed a funders’ collaborative to address these unique needs. In 2017, we joined with philanthropic partners across the Bay Area to create an initiative to bolster BLOs called “Accelerating and Stabilizing Communities through Equitable Nonprofit Development: Black-Led Organizations,” known today as ASCEND: BLO.

The goals of ASCEND: BLO are to:

  • Enhance the growth, sustainability, impact, and sense of community among Black-led anchor institutions in the Bay Area in order to ensure the long-term vitality of those organizations and the communities of color they serve.
  • Apply a fresh, dynamic, and replicable approach to collaborative capacity building that further develops the nonprofit sector with a lens towards race and equity.

Peer networking and learning with access to relevant workshops, annual summits and regional convenings are available to BLOs in six Bay Area counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara.

Three Key Components

ASCEND: BLO Accelerator

The ASCEND: BLO Accelerator is a six-month intensive program designed to bolster the growth and sustainability of emerging, innovative community anchors that have a vision for growth, promising ideas, and a willingness to work in new ways to catalyze personal, organizational, and community change. This program focuses on providing support in key areas including strategy, feasibility, and sustainability, as well as access to coaching and technical support. Participants receive a three-year investment with ongoing technical support and training.

The members of the inaugural cohort of the ASCEND: BLO Accelerator were:

  • African American Art and Culture Complex: Serving San Francisco’s Western Addition and Filmore communities, the African American Art and Culture Complex “seeks to nurture and facilitate the empowerment of the African-American community through Afro-centric artistic and cultural expression, mediums, education, and programming.”
  • Black Organizing Project: Working in Oakland, the Black Organizing Project is a “Black member-led community organization working for racial, social, and economic justice through grassroots organizing and community-building in Oakland, California.”
  • Community Housing Development Corporation: Serving North Richmond and the greater East Bay, the Community Housing Development Corporation “was founded in 1990 to eliminate blight, improve housing opportunities for current and future residents, and create better economic conditions.”
  • The Hidden Genius Project: Serving Oakland, the greater East Bay, and San Francisco, the Hidden Genius Project “trains and mentors Black male youth in technology creation, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills to transform their lives and communities.”
  • Roots Community Health Center: Working in Oakland and the greater East Bay, the Roots Community Health Center is “dedicated to improving the status of health of East Bay residents.” The center was founded in 2008 to “address the growing need for accessible, culturally appropriate, community-responsive, comprehensive health care in Oakland, California.”
ASCEND: BLO Stabilizer

Launched in 2020, the Stabilizer is a unique opportunity for five mature BLOs in the region to receive support and guidance as they prepare to go through a planned executive leadership transition within the next two years.

The three-year program for mature community anchors is designed to minimize risk and guide organizations through transition by providing leadership development, board recruitment, advanced training and succession planning.

The members of the inaugural cohort of the ASCEND: BLO Stabilizer are:

  • ABEN: A Black Education Network: Serving communities across the country, ABEN: A Black Education Network works “to reverse the backward slide by facilitating academic and cultural excellence wherever our children and youth are using culturally-informed research, technology, visionary parent education, and networking in our communities here and in diaspora contexts.”
  • APEB (formally AIDS Project of the East Bay): Serving Alameda County, primarily Oakland, AIDS Project of the East Bay “was founded in 1983 as a program that prioritized some of the most vulnerable and marginalized individuals during the early days of the AIDS epidemic.” Today, APEB continues “to prevent new HIV infections and supports individuals living with the virus through culturally sensitive, non-judgmental, and effective services provided to all persons and communities living with and at risk of HIV infection.”
  • Cypress Mandela Training Center: Working in Oakland, the Cypress Mandela Training Center is a “community based organization dedicated to improving the lives of the people it serves by providing pre-apprenticeship construction and life skills training along with employment assistance.”
  • East Oakland Youth Development Center (EOYDC): Working in East Oakland, the East Oakland Youth Development Center develops “the social and leadership capacities of youth so that they achieve excellence in education, career, and service to their communities. Delivered through comprehensive, evidence-based interventions that help young people transform their lives and ignite positive change.”
  • Safe Return Project: Serving Richmond and the greater East Contra Costa communities, Safe Return Project “is driven by individuals most impacted by the criminal justice system, racial disparities, and inequity. Developing the capacity for Contra Costa County residents who are formerly incarcerated to identify strategies that respond to community needs, lead on the issues that impact their communities, and build their sense of agency.”
  • The Hannah Project Partnership for Academic Achievement: Serving Marin, the mission of The Hannah Project is “to boost the academic proficiency and college attendance of Marin City and other low income youth of color by working in partnership to promote a community culture that encourages achievement and equips families and students with knowledge, skills, and strategies to fulfill their dreams and ambitions.”

Peer networking and learning with access to relevant workshops and speakers available to BLOs in the core four-county service areas, as well as in Marin and Santa Clara Counties.

Directory of Black-Led Organizations

There are more than 380 BLOs in the Bay Area, most are mature (10+ years) with the majority located in Alameda County, and most are based in Oakland. We maintain an active directories of Black-led organizations to encourage networking and local support of these vital organizations.

Support the BLO Fund

Funders and individual donors are invited to participate in the Black-Led Organizations fund, which supports the growth, sustainability, impact, and sense of community among Black-led anchor institutions in the Bay Area in order to ensure the long-term vitality of those organizations and the communities of color they serve.

Learning and Evaluation

Evaluation reports are a critical outcome of the learning and evaluation process. These reports provide insight into the progress of the ASCEND: BLO Initiative, which is designed to be a replicable model for race-based capacity building, its success, its challenges, and recommendations for future development.

In an effort to shift practices that have historically hoarded information, knowledge, and resources, our team wants to ensure that resources are readily available to our community partners. Therefore, in addition to our annual evaluation reports, in partnership with our learning & evaluation and program partners, we want to share these Network reports that center the voices and experiences across the BLO Network.

The ASCEND: BLO team has plans to use the data from these reports to inform the field, to plan for future BLO Network resources, and for BLOs for their reflections.

Get in Touch

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