Investing in communities first for racial justice Communities First Fund

Purpose

Communities First is transforming how federal, state, and local governments invest public dollars in low-wealth and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities by implementing a relationships-first approach to community-driven solutions that centers frontline communities leadership, innovation, and priorities.

Context

Robust government investment in communities should facilitate health, well-being, education, social connections, and economic opportunity for everyone. Instead, racial inequity invisibilizes communities living on the margins of society and excludes millions from opportunities for community leadership and economic justice. Our democracy has systematically incentivized under- and disinvestment in low-wealth and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities. The path towards healing and justice must start with building power across low-wealth and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities first.  

Opportunity

In January 2021, the Biden-Harris Administration issued an executive order announcing the Justice40 Initiative, committing to “delivering 40 percent of the overall benefits of relevant federal investments to disadvantaged communities.” Therein, the federal government articulated a promise to intentionally direct substantial investments into communities in order to combat racial inequity and advance racially just development. 

To successfully heed this call, the Administration and its federal agencies and state and local partners will need to build strong relationships and partnerships grounded in the expertise and leadership already circulating among communities in the United States. In part, this looks like acknowledging communities already hold the solutions that best address their needs and being accountable to investing in those solutions. Actualizing Justice40 requires immediate action to design and facilitate critically needed networks that bridge the current disconnect between communities and the governmental planning processes that most impact them.

Initiative

Communities First is leveraging the Biden Administration’s readiness to direct funds to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color and low-wealth communities by advancing investments and partnerships in service of community plans, solutions, priorities, needs, and visions for a thriving future. Our activities will include:

      • Establishing a community-centered accountability framework to guide federal agencies’ relationships with impacted communities.
      • Convening cross-sectors leaders, investors, and experts to support communities in stewarding resources in ways that honor community leadership, plans, and priorities. 
      • Working with community anchoring institutions to identify how the federal grant process should be improved in service of community applicants.
      • Counseling key federal agencies on developing new criteria for grant programs that support racial equity outcomes.
      • Designing and overseeing a Infrastructure and Innovation Learning Labs providing a forum for government agency staff and community anchoring institutions to build relationships and collaborate on projects aimed at advancing the federal racial equity commitment.
      • Conducting research and creating resources to provide BIPOC communities clear pathways to access the flow of discretionary capital from American Rescue Plan and Justice40.

Through these activities, Communities First aims to achieve the following goals:

1.  Direct COVID-19 Economic Recovery and Justice40 money and resources to support greater economic vitality and resilience of under-invested communities.  

2.  Facilitate the adoption of a just racial equity lens across multiple federal agencies and their grant programs at all levels.  

3.  Ensure Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities have the local investment infrastructure necessary to attract philanthropic, public, and private capital to support building community assets. 

4.  Integrate Black, Indigenous, and People of Color leaders into decision-making positions within regional, local economic development networks/ecosystems. 

Why Communities First Fund

Our team has the unique combination of relationships and networks to enable swift action on the Administration’s Justice40 and racial equity goals, which will require creative and multi-dimensional partnerships on project implementation across community organizations, anchor institutions, governments and utilities, and the civic/philanthropic sector with support from aligned researchers and technical assistance providers. We also have deep experience in and understanding of the workings of federal grantmaking agencies on the one hand and the challenges and opportunities facing disinvested communities on the other. 

Communities First is led by Helen Chin, President of the Communities First Fund and Senior Fellow at Race Forward and Amalgamated Foundation, where Communities First is housed. The Communities First Alliance is co-convened by Helen, Kristin Pierre of the Impower Initiative and Taj James founder of Movement Strategy Center and cofounder of Full Spectrum Capital Partners

The Alliance

The Communities First Alliance brings together leaders in government, philanthropy, and investment, committed to bringing resources to communities in ways that support community plans, solutions, priorities, needs, and visions for a thriving future. Simultaneously, the Alliance invites aligned capacity builders and fiscal agents committed to supporting communities to strengthen relationships and skills toward building the community infrastructure needed to implement community-driven solutions. We support communities to steward resources in ways that honor community leadership, plans, and priorities. The members of the Communities First Alliance have a commitment to:

Deliver resources through Community Capital Plans

that reflect Community Impact Plans and priorities and vision.

Strengthen and develop Community Infrastructure

for the successful implementation and impact tracking of Community Impact Plans and Capital Plans.

Grow community cultural, civic and economic infrastructure

for the successful implementation and impact tracking of Community Plans and Capital Plans.

Communities First is focused on actions that can be taken right now, and with existing and emerging funds and support. Our work is immediate and targets federal grant and technical assistance programs to increase capital and non-capital community investments within the next four years. Through this work, and in tandem with policy and legislative work already underway, low-wealth and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities most impacted by disinvestment and whose lives were exacerbated by the pandemic can seek immediate relief and continue collectively planning and materializing community vision.

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