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Solving racial and economic justice is ‘not just about ideas, it's about action’: Color of Change President

Rashad Robinson, Color of Change President & Carmen Rojas, CEO of MargueriteCasey Foundation, join Yahoo Finance’s Alexis Christoforous and Kristin Myers to discuss closing the wealth gap and restore equity through grassroots movement.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Welcome back. I want to talk now about how to close the wealth gap and restore equity through grassroots movements. For that conversation, I want to bring in Rashad Robinson, President of Color of Change, and Dr. Carmen Rojas, CEO of Marguerite Casey Foundation. Welcome to you both.

And Dr. Rojas, I'm going to start with you. I know your foundation provides funding and guidance to help fund projects that are tackling challenges in the low-income community. Can you just outline for us briefly what some of those challenges are today as we continue to recover from the pandemic?

CARMEN ROJAS: Sure. Thank you so much for having me. So Marguerite Casey Foundation is really invested in trying to make sure that those leaders on the front lines of racial and economic justice organizations and movements across the country have the resources they need to fully transform our democracy so it's truly representative and our economy so that it's just and inclusive.

The challenges that people of color in this country have been confronting, not just in this last year, but historically has been extreme racial wealth divide, equal access to quality education, the ability and opportunities to truly participate and see themselves represented from the boardroom to the classroom. And so for us as an organization, we see our role as really being able to provide the accelerant, the resources that leaders need to make sure that communities that have long been excluded from our democracy and our economy can actually be key in shaping them not only today, but also into our future.

KRISTIN MYERS: Rashad, I want to come to you. We've had so many conversations, some with you, as well, on this program, about closing the wealth gap, the racial wealth gap, a variety of other social injustices. And I think many that talk about these things are starting to think, you know, there's so much talk happening about so many of these problems, when do we get to solutions? So how do we commit to having solutions to those problems? And what are some of the solutions?

RASHAD ROBINSON: It's such a good point. And this is why what Dr. Rojas was talking about is so incredibly important, because inequality is not unfortunate, like a car accident. It is unjust. It is manufactured through a whole set of choices. So we can make different choices.

But what oftentimes happens is we mistake presence, and invisibility, and awareness of the conversation for the power to actually change the rules. And that's what we have to get to, and that's why supporting grassroots organizations that can work to push for the type of policy reforms and the policy changes. And a couple of things as this relates, is it-- as it relates to the conversations that are happening all around the country.

First and foremost, budgets are moral documents. They say more about what we care about than anything we may say in a speech about racial justice. And far too often, there may be conversations about investment, conversations about what does it mean to hold those who are-- advance corruption from corporations accountable. But unless that's actually wired into the budgets, it's not a reality.

And so part of what we have to do is really budget towards what we actually want, and that's going to require grassroots organization. It's going to require Black and brown communities to have the ability to fight for the things that they need, whether it's at the policy tables, whether it's holding corporations accountable. And that is why sort of moving from the sort of vision, the conversation, as you just expressed, to the action that actually moves us forward is so incredibly important. It doesn't happen without people in motion. It's not just about ideas, it's about action.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Dr. Rojas, I know that you recently expanded your board in a very large way, bringing on seven new members, Rashad being one of them. You also have Stacey Abrams. What do you hope expanding the board is going to mean for your organization? And how many people do you have on the board now if you just actually added seven people?

CARMEN ROJAS: Now we have a total of 12 people, so I'll start with the easy answer. You know, this move for us is really about our belief as an institution that philanthropy has a once-in-a-generation opportunity, that our resources really could be used in this moment to make sure that government-- that government is delivering on the promise to actually expand the social-- the social safety net, to protect civil and social rights, that we are in positions of power so that corporations are truly held accountable.

And I think this is, to Rashad's point, like, a lot of the work can really be embedded in the presence and making bold statements. Philanthropy as a sector is not alone in this. But in the summer of last year, we saw tremendous claims and outcries and commitments to racial justice work. This move of expanding our board, and specifically to bring on leaders who are at the forefront of calling out corporations, calling for better responses for government, and actually seeding the ground for a new democracy, a refreshed economy that actually delivers on racial justice commitments is critical.

I'm hoping that this new board will truly act as guides, not only for me as the leader of Marguerite Casey Foundation, but for the broader field to demonstrate that having people with great ideas, with the ability to imagine a country that is more just and inclusive, and with a proven track record of actually organizing and animating people in service of shifting power that this will be a clarion call for the need to actually diversify not only philanthropic boards, but boards-- all different kinds of boards across the country.

KRISTIN MYERS: Rashad, last question over to you, and we only have about 45 seconds left. So you have to do the impossible here working with a little bit of time. You know, as we were mentioning at the top how we can make some of these changes through grassroots movements, you were talking about policy changes. How can taking the grassroots route be more effective?

RASHAD ROBINSON: Well, we will always lose in the back rooms of policy if we don't have hundreds of thousands, and dare I say millions of people lined up at the front door. And that is the power of grassroots energy. The powerful forces that want to keep their hands on the scale of inequality will always win without people. People organized in motion and strategically focused can ensure that we just don't get charitable solutions to structural problems, but we get the structural change that actually moves all of us forward.

That is how people play into this, and that is the power of grassroots energy. That's the work we do at Color of Change. That's the work that Marguerite Casey supports. And that's the work that millions of people around the country are coming to see as a piece of the things that they want to be part of as they fight to make racial justice a reality, especially after last summer.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Rashad Robinson, President of Color of Change, Dr. Carmen Rojas of Marguerite Casey Foundation, our thanks to you both.