Impact Austin announces new grant to address inequity

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Last week, Impact Austin, the women’s giving circle that pools individual donations to make large grants to local nonprofits, announced its first grant to a collaborative project to advance equity for women and girls of color in Central Texas. The $110,000 grant will fund “The Innocence Initiative”, an effort led by Measure Austin to address the adultification of Black girls. 

The new grant marks a change for this 16-year-old giving circle, which has made a more concerted effort in recent years to improve the diversity of its members while also addressing equity issues in the community. “I’m incredibly proud of our board,” said executive director Christina Canales Gorczynski, who was hired by Impact Austin in 2018. Gorczynski says leadership and member have gone through trainings in diversity, equity, and inclusion to get to this point. “They saw that, ‘Okay, we are predominantly white women-led and membership organization,'” she said, “‘but we are also an organization that has adapted over the years.'” 

Impact Austin is the largest giving circle organization in Central Texas with more than 500 members each contributing $1,250 a year. Since 2006, it has awarded nearly $7 million in 83 grants to 60 nonprofit organizations. Its recent introspection drove the organization to consider how it might increase the diversity of its membership and how it might evolve its grantmaking process.

“But the biggest part of this was the recognition that, in my words, the world is on fire for women and girls of color,” said Gorczynski. “And philanthropy is trying to put out this fire with a garden hose.”    

Meme Styles, founder of Measure Austin, says her nonprofit had been working on projects that addressed the over-criminalization of black youth in Austin when they heard about this new grant opportunity. Her interest was prompted by a 2017 report from the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality titled “Girl Interrupted”, which finally put a focus on what it called the adultification of black girls. “Adultification is the process by which we look at black girls as less innocent,” said Styles, “and as needing less comforting and less protection.” 

Along with Measure Austin, the project will  include an empowerment and recruitment effort by Girl Scouts of Central Texas; the training of defense attorneys who might represent black girls by Lone Star Justice Alliance; and public education and tools developed with Hearts 2 Heal and Community Advocacy and Healing Project. Later in 2020, Measure Austin will also partner with Georgetown Law researchers to study the prevalence of the adultification of black girls specifically in Central Texas. 

“I think it’s important to note that there has been 400 years of racism and discrimination that amount to an atrocity on black girls’ minds and bodies,” said Styles. “And this is not just how white people look at black girls, but how we as black people look at our own daughters.” To that end, she said, the project will seek further funding to sustain it over three or more years. 

“Impact Austin was very intentional about being disruptive about racism,” said Styles. “That’s been really encouraging.”

NOTE: This article also appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on November 16, 2019.

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