Community news

Rhode Island Foundation commits $8.5 million to strengthen efforts to eliminate inequity and racial disparities

RI’s community foundation will launch Equity Leadership Initiative, and seek community input regarding additional new investments in diversity, equity, and inclusion.

As Rhode Island’s 104-year-old community foundation, and largest funder of the state’s nonprofit organizations, one of our core values is to address the underlying causes of inequity and eliminate disparities. While the Foundation’s grant making, civic leadership, and fundraising efforts have been informed by that value for years, now is the time to focus on it more publicly and with clear commitment and conviction – particularly given the necessary spotlight on racial injustice, and the immediate need to more equitably distribute resources among communities ravaged by COVID-19 and the accompanying economic downturn.

With that, the Foundation has committed $8.5 million, over the next three years, to both lead and strengthen efforts throughout and with the community that are focused on diversity, equity, access, and inclusion; with a first-focus on racial equity. The $8.5 million is on top of the Foundation’s traditional yearly grant making, and will serve to reinforce a longstanding commitment to equity in the organization’s funding and civic leadership efforts.

The reality is that this work has been under-resourced in Rhode Island, and a community-wide focus on tackling these challenging issues has been lacking. That begins to change with this investment. There’s no doubt about it, to achieve a better future for all Rhode Islanders, we must provide opportunities to eliminate disparities and close achievement gaps.

Addressing the underlying causes of inequity and working to eliminate disparities is one of our core organizational values, and has been an important part of our work for years. It’s a lens that we use to make decisions about how we allocate discretionary funding and civic leadership resources. Now is the time to commit to listening more, and doing more, and to hold ourselves accountable to this focus.

Angela Bannerman Ankoma
Angela Bannerman Ankoma

The first aspect of this multi-year, multi-million dollar commitment will be the launch of the Rhode Island Foundation’s Equity Leadership Initiative, led by Angela Bannerman Ankoma who will serve as a Vice President and Executive Director, as well as a member of the Foundation’s leadership team. Ankoma will work across and within departments at the Foundation to maximize this effort’s impact, and will recruit and steward a community advisory board to assist in developing the Equity Leadership Initiative. One effort of the Equity Leadership Initiative will be to identify, cultivate, mentor, and seek access and opportunity for individuals who identify as Black, Hispanic or Latino, Indigenous, and Asian, from across sectors, to help build a pipeline of future leaders in established positions of influence throughout the state.

“I am pleased to join the Foundation’s team and lead this effort. Community foundations were not built to be racial justice organizations; however they have power to address the structures and systems that perpetuate racism and inequity. I am excited to get to work to cultivate the next generation of industry leaders – bank presidents, hospital CEOs, and leaders in academia and K to 12 education, corporate executives, policy makers, judges, and more – who are people of color.”

- Angela Bannerman Ankoma, Vice President and Executive Director

“Here’s what we know – outcomes are not equal for Rhode Islanders of color, due in large part to racism,” said Dr. Pablo Rodriguez, Medical Director of Community Relations for Care New England. “What we need is cultural change, and community foundations – like the Rhode Island Foundation – can help to lead that by investing in organizations, people, and efforts that will bring about that cultural change. Today’s announcement of the Foundation’s Equity Leadership Initiative and the significant investment of resources is great progress.”

Teach for America

In our current decision-making about discretionary grants and civic leadership efforts the Foundation applies an equity lens. That means investing in local organizations and efforts that are working to ensure that individuals and communities have the resources, respect, and access they need to succeed. We know we need to do more, and are ready to do so.

For quite some time that has come from the Foundation in the form of things like: grants to assist small predominately Black- and Latino-owned businesses; investments in nonprofit organizations that are led by, support, and serve Rhode Islanders of color; offering community-wide access to free racial equity trainings; encouraging nonprofit partners to diversify their boards of directors and staff teams, and doing the same ourselves; funding college scholarships for Black students; providing funding for culturally specific organizations as they work to preserve heritage and educate fellow Rhode Islanders about our shared history; and making multi-year, multi-million dollar commitments to improving health, economic, and educational outcomes by focusing on system-wide reforms that stand to benefit those Rhode Islanders who have been left behind.

For example, in our three strategic initiatives, Economic Security, Educational Success, and Healthy Lives, we place priority on investments that will break down the barriers that hold back low income Rhode Islanders and Rhode Islanders of color. We also use an equity lens as we consider proposals to our Responsive Grants program, other Foundation-directed grant programs and civic leadership efforts.

The examples that follow are intended to provide a snapshot of the types of investments we've made over the years using an equity lens.

Center for Women & Enterprise (CWE) has received multi-year funding from the Foundation to support their business and entrepreneurship classes for low- to moderate-income women from the Providence area seeking to start or grow their own business. In 2017 CWE received our annual Community Leadership Award for their efforts to improve the lives of Rhode Islanders.

Fuerza Laboral
Fuerza Laboral, 2019

POWER (People Owning Wider Economic Resources) Network Co-operative Business Incubation (CBI) Program, was awarded funding from the Foundation in 2019. The project recruits, trains, and assists workers experiencing low-income to establish worker cooperatives that provide good quality jobs to help improve workers’ economic security, as well as that of the community. The worker-owned cooperative is the brainchild of Fuerza Laboral (Power of Workers), a Central Falls- based nonprofit organization founded in 2006 around issues of economic justice for workers.


Aligning with the Foundation’s Healthy Lives priority, we’ve provided funding to Clinica Esperanza in Providence. The clinic was awarded significant funding in 2019 to support its Vida Pura program, which will provide care to uninsured Hispanic immigrants, experiencing low-income, who have unmet behavioral needs.

This past spring, as COVID-19 was bearing down on Rhode Island and school districts were scrambling to provide distance learning tools to students, we issued a $100,000 challenge grant aimed at providing laptops and wi-fi hotspots to families in need. More than $400,000 was raised to do just that.


In alignment with our Educational Success priority we’ve funded Parents Leading for Educational Equity (PLEE) PLEE is a Providence-based advocacy organization that seeks for parents to be equal partners in the educational process, and creates opportunities for parents’ ideas to shape the direction of policy and funding priorities to improve their children’s educational experiences.

The Foundation has also supported College Visions over the years. College Visions works to advance equal access to educational opportunities in historically under-served communities. The organization aims to empower students experiencing low income and first-generation college-bound students to realize the promise of higher education. The organization provides resources to promote college enrollment, persistence, and graduation.

The Foundation has also supported organizations serving formerly incarcerated individuals and families, and efforts around criminal justice reform. For example this year, Open Doors received a grant to fund their resource center and employment program. And the Center for Health and Justice Transformation (formerly Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights) received funds to support research and development of the Campaign for a Just RI.

Census, 2019

Place-based, community-improvement initiatives are also something we fund regularly. For example, the Foundation made a recent grant to the Broad Street Regeneration Initiative and RI Latino Arts for their partnership to create the Broad Strokes Project, a “strolling art gallery” along the Broad Street corridor in Pawtucket, Central Falls, and Cumberland.

As part of the Foundation’s $600,000 commitment to supporting Census 2020 complete count efforts, more than 60 community-based organizations received funding to support Census 2020 organizing. The groups worked together, and individually to build multi-pronged, multi-lingual, social media and grass-roots public education efforts in collaboration with their community networks.

In addition, we have supported organizations’ efforts to highlight our rich cultural fabric and bring awareness and attention to our shared history. For example:

From 2018 through 2020, Rhode Island Slave History Medallions in Newport received grants to support its Rhode Island Slave History Medallions project, which draws attention to the enslavement of Africans and Indigenous Rhode Islanders. The funding has enabled the organization to market, cast, and publicize the placement of medallions in numerous locations across the state.

The Tomaquag Museum has been a strong partner with the Foundation over the years, as an integral part of the team that provides Carter Roger Williams Initiative programming to public school students across Rhode Island, and as a grantee. Tomaquag has received significant funding over the years, including a grant to develop a free, weekly Children’s Hour program that to teach the history and culture of the Narragansett Tribal Nation through music, dance, and storytelling. Lorén Spears, the museum’s leader, often lends her time, perspective, and talent to Foundation-efforts including as a member of the Long Term Health Planning Committee.

Providence Cultural Equity Initiative and its founder, community activist and leader Ray Watson, were awarded the Carter Innovation Fellowship in 2016 to launch an initiative designed to expand multi-cultural tourism and improve cultural cohesion in Rhode Island.

Expansion Arts
Expansion Arts, 2019

The Rhode Island Expansion Arts Program is a joint effort between the Foundation, the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities (RICH), and the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA) that targets emerging organizations whose programs and missions center on the cultural practices and traditions of Rhode Island’s diverse communities.

Access and equity are the guiding principles of our two long-term planning efforts as well.

Convened and led by the Foundation, the Long Term Health Planning Committee, a group of local health and health care industry experts, have collaborated over the past two years to set a 10-year plan for improving health in Rhode Island. In full endorsement of the plan’s recommendations – which center around reducing disparities by race, ethnicity, gender, and income – the Rhode Island Foundation has committed $1 million, above and beyond its yearly grant-making in health, to the implementation of the plan. Read Health in Rhode Island: A Long Term Vision.

We’ve also committed $1 million – above and beyond annual grantmaking in education – to support improvements to the state’s pre-K to 12th grade public education system. This investment is also a result of the work of the Long Term Education Planning Committee, convened and led by the Foundation over the past two years. The Committee released its recommendations earlier this year with the following charge: to do our best work as a state – and to truly improve outcomes for all Rhode Islanders we need to chart a course, and stay the course as a community – committed to high achievement and equity for students, families, and educators. Read the report, Rhode Island's Path to a World Class Public Education System.

We also believe that to truly confront – and help to dismantle – systemic racism it’s important to understand racism’s impact by looking at available data, and learning more about our collective history. That is why since 2019, the Foundation sponsored 15 in-person and virtual workshops in partnership with the Racial Equity Institute (REI). The workshops were open to anyone, free-of-charge, and were attended by over 1,500 participants. We’ve primarily offered REI’s Groundwater presentation, which is a three-hour introduction to racial equity. In this presentation, organizers from the Racial Equity Institute use stories and data to present a perspective that racism is fundamentally structural in nature. By examining characteristics of modern-day racial inequity, the presentation introduces participants to an analysis that many find immediately helpful and relevant.

Christina Lewis
Scholarship recipient Christina Lewis, 2020

The hundreds of scholarships we administer each year on behalf of generous and visionary donors are another area where equity is a focus. In 2020 alone the total dollar value awarded by scholarship programs administered by the Foundation was over $2 million, of which approximately 40% was awarded to students of color. This includes scholarships awarded from programs like the Black Philanthropy Bannister Scholarship, Martin Luther King Scholarship, and RDW Group, Inc. Minority Scholarship for Communications that are focused on supporting Black students in their pursuit of higher education.

“Eliminating disparities, and providing equitable access to resources and opportunities is a cornerstone of the Rhode Island Foundation. And we are demonstrating our commitment to listen more and do more; it’s the right thing to do."

- Polly Wall, Foundation Board Chair

She continues, "While we’re fortunate to have funding resources available to support the community in addressing inequity, we know that we don’t have all the answers in terms of how best to do that. Community conversations will be challenging and also necessary to build greater trust. Listening, learning and responding to community need will be an integral part of allocating the funds we’ve committed in a way that will do the most good, for the most Rhode Islanders.”

To initiate such conversations the Foundation will launch an outreach and engagement effort to listen, and learn from members of Rhode Island’s diverse communities about potential ways to best allocate the resources announced today. This community outreach and engagement effort will launch in the coming weeks.

“Because we know how much place matters in tackling racial inequities and eliminating disparities, this $8.5 million commitment by the Rhode Island Foundation is exactly the type of investment we need right now in Rhode Island,” said Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health. “We have created community-led initiatives like the Health Equity Zones to have an infrastructure ready for funds designed to truly meet needs from the community’s perspective, strengthening quality education, health, economic security, the environment, housing, basic human needs, and so much more.”

We are grateful to the thousands of donors, over the last century, who have made this effort possible, and to our Board of Directors and staff who are committed to doing this work as part of the evolution of our internal team, as well as focusing on it externally, with the community. And, we’re humbled by the call to build on, and complement the work our many grantee partners are already doing with an even more significant commitment. We hope other community and corporate leaders, as well as a wide range of donors will be inspired and join us to make the ‘better future’ a reality for all, going forward.