MacArthur Foundation is ducking on Chicago’s most crucial issues


MacArthur Foundation is ducking on Chicago’s most crucial issues


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The heads of foundations think they’re gods. And they can never understand why people, who are economically subjugated by their grant-making, would complain about their treatment by the Foundation Gods.

At my organization, the Black Star Project, we looked at every grant that the city’s largest foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, made to organizations in Chicago in 2015. With MacArthur’s annual spending roughly $325 million worldwide, we calculated that, in 2015, it gave some $56 million to Chicago causes. Of that, only $375,000—only one-tenth of 1 percent of total giving—went to black-led organizations that primarily serve Chicago’s black communities.

Despite that fact, MacArthur Foundation representatives were surprised when black people challenged a new $100 million loan program named Benefit Chicago. This initiative is designed to “loan” money to nonprofits and socially responsible businesses—money that must be repaid with interest. Some recipient nonprofits likely include those that MacArthur had previously not given to, nor considered for grant awards, including those in Chicago communities with the highest needs. But given our calculations above, all indications are that Benefit Chicago is just another MacArthur-proposed Benefit “White” Chicago initiative.

Chicago is MacArthur Foundation’s home. Chicago is also ground zero for violence and murder in the United States. As one of the wealthiest foundations in the world, MacArthur ought to be at the forefront of reducing Chicago’s violence and murders. Yet it is not even at the table. In Chicago, over 70 percent of its 2015 grantees were arts, culture and research organizations.

The black community does not want to fight with MacArthur Foundation, but we don’t want to be treated as fools. We want the MacArthur Foundation to be fair to black people and supportive of Chicago. Chicago’s population is about 33 percent black and 29 percent Latino. One-third of its $56 million in grants, about $18 million, should have been awarded to black organizations. And instead of a mere $159,000, about $16 million should have been awarded to Latino organizations.

Our request is for MacArthur to become a leader in philanthropy for the life-supporting, important issues that matter in Chicago, or to be on the next bus out of town. As mythology shows us time and time again, even gods can come crashing down to the earth.

Phillip Jackson is founder and executive director of the Black Star Project. He is a former CEO of the Chicago Housing Authority and the city’s chief of education.

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