By Kat Stafford The Associated Press
DETROIT » Ashindi Maxton was distraught as she toured neighborhoods in Detroit’s 48217 ZIP code and met residents who live in one of the most polluted communities in Michigan.
They live against the backdrop of heavy industrial sites that have long been a major concern in the nation’s largest Black-majority city, which has some of the country’s highest asthma rates among children and a lengthy history of environmental concerns.
Residents shared stories of loved ones who grew sick after living in close proximity to the industrial sites, and she noted it’s often hard to breathe because of a thick, chemical stench that is most profound in the summer.
It was a defining moment for Maxton, cofounder of the Donors of Color Network, a philanthropic group dedicated to racial equity and funding environmental projects and other racial justice movements nationwide.“ Most of the people I know have more than one illness,” said 68-year-old Emma Lockridge, who has lived near an oil refinery for more than three decades and suffers from a rare blood cancer. Her brother, sister, mother and father all died from cancers or disease they blamed on environmental toxins.
“It just makes me want to cry. The environmental impact on our lives, no one should be living like this. We’ve got to figure out a better way,” Lockridge told The Associated Press.
It’s because of tragedies like this that the Donors of Color Network launched a Climate Funders Justice Pledge on Thursday, challenging the nation’s climate philanthropists to shift 30% of their donations toward environmental efforts led by Black, Indigenous, Latino and other people of color.
“People say we have 10 years to solve the climate crisis, but people of color are living it right now,” Maxton said. “Organizations led by people of color are chronically underfunded, and there is a ... vibrant set of leaders and organizations that people can fund.”
While the fight against climate change and for environmental justice has benefited in recent years from a growing push by politicians and activists, research shows funding isn’t spread equitably to communities of color, which often are hit hardest.
A study last year by the Tishman Environment and Design Center at The New School found that in 2016 and 2017, 12 national environmental grant makers awarded $1.34 billion to organizations in the Gulf and Midwest regions, but of that, just $18 million — 1.3% — was awarded to groups dedicated to environmental justice.
“What we’re asking for is everyone to collectively acknowledge that 1.3% is a systemic failure,” Maxton said.
By setting a 30% goal, “you have a metric to strive for,” Maxton added. “We felt it was really important for people to set a baseline of what racial equity should look like when it lands in a budget. It should show that you are investing in the communities that are most impacted by the climate crisis.”
But there are barriers. New School professor Ana Baptista, who led the Tishman study, said several foundations told her they were concerned smaller organizations led by people of color didn’t have the infrastructure to handle a large donation.
But Baptista also found that other groups openly acknowledged longstanding structural racism and bias within the philanthropy sector that has led to environmental groups led by people of color being under-resourced and underrepresented in decision- making.
The centerpiece of the pledge drive is to increase the share of funding to 30% over the next two years to groups with boards and senior staff that are at least half people of color, and whose work is focused on the most environmentally impacted communities.