Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity FAQ

Resource type: News

The Atlantic Philanthropies |

If you have questions about the Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity program, hopefully they’ve been answered below.

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Why did Atlantic and its partners launch the Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity program?

The Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity program is a $60 million, decade-long investment focused specifically on dismantling anti-black racism in the United States and South Africa, two countries of historical interest to the foundation and with deep and enduring legacies of racial exclusion and violence. In the U.S., for example, black men and women remain disproportionate victims of excessive police force and draconian criminal penalties, and are more likely to attend under-resourced schools and to lack access to adequate basic services, including health care. In South Africa, despite two decades of post-apartheid programs to redistribute land, improve employment equity and stimulate development in black communities, black South Africans face continuing hardship and inequality, and levels of poverty, and its corollaries—inadequate education and health services and outcomes—are crushingly high.

Significant and growing movements in the U.S. and South Africa are dedicated to confronting longstanding patterns of racial bias and discrimination. The Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity program will provide advanced leadership training and resources to support young people and more seasoned leaders in these movements to elevate public consciousness of racial disparities and to construct more powerful interventions for social change.

The Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity is one of six fellowship programs the foundation is launching to support new generations of visionary leaders who will improve lives and forge new opportunities around the world. Atlantic Fellows programs seek to empower and connect dynamic individuals who are committed to working together across disciplines and borders to advance fairer, healthier and more inclusive societies.

What is anti-black racism? Why does it matter?

Anti-black racism refers to the subjugation and exclusion of black people, and other people of color, manifested in the history and subsequent legacy of European colonization, apartheid in South Africa, slavery in the Americas, and the violence and oppression perpetrated against indigenous peoples around the globe.

For centuries, one’s perceived proximity to blackness has served to define his or her identity, opportunity and worth. The dehumanization of people on the basis of their skin color, and the hierarchy of human value that it signifies, is reproduced consciously and unconsciously in our world today. It is evident in our institutions, laws, policies and practices; and it informs cultural narratives and plagues justice systems. It sparks fear and resentment, vitriol and violence. The ongoing reality of anti-black racism all too often determines who has access to educational and economic opportunities, health care, housing, legal representation, and even, sometimes, simply the benefit of the doubt.

Dehumanization affects all of us, in varied and unequal ways, undermining our collective ability to achieve a just, inclusive and truly free global society. It teaches some that they are worthless, without the right to live and flourish to the fullness of our potential, and leads others to think of themselves as superior or more privileged. These same dynamics of dominance and subordination play out in other forms of societal exclusion, normalizing the unjust treatment of those we believe different from ourselves and causing tremendous pain and suffering.

By focusing on anti-black racism, the Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity will equip experienced and emerging leaders not only with a deeper understanding of the roots of injustice and prejudice, but also the tools required to dismantle these forms of oppression and create more equitable and responsive institutions; more expansive and truthful cultural narratives; and more empathic and inclusive laws and societies.

What is the Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity program designed to achieve?

The program is designed to identify and advance solutions to anti-black racism in the U.S. and South Africa by supporting a diverse group of leaders committed to combatting prejudice and overcoming the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow and apartheid. Through the program, leaders will enhance their understanding of anti-black racism and strengthen their strategic capacity, individual skills and professional networks to lead successful movements for racial equity in their communities, countries and around the world.

 Who will the Fellows be and what will the program look like?

Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity are innovative thinkers and dynamic leaders in the U.S. and South Africa with at least five years of experience working at the frontlines of efforts to challenge racial inequality, prejudice, injustice and exclusion through advocacy, research, communications, policy action, artistic productions, and so on.

Hosted by Columbia University in City of New York, the Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity program will support 350 fellows over its 10-year lifespan, annually supporting up to 35 fellows per year, including 25 in the United States and 10 in South Africa. Cohorts will bring together grassroots and civil rights advocates and scholars working in diverse disciplines, as well as individuals working within government, the media, arts and elsewhere to promote learning and collaboration across fields, sectors and geographies. The Nelson Mandela Foundation will coordinate program activities in South Africa.

Fellows will participate in an 18-month program of advanced leadership development. Fellows will meet six times over the course of the program in weeklong sessions that will include learning tours and master courses with senior leaders in the field.

The program is designed to meet the specific needs of leaders at two distinct levels of experience: emerging leaders with significant accomplishment at an early point of their careers, and seasoned leaders who are more advanced in their careers. As part of the experience, Fellows will be exposed to local and international struggles for racial equity, and supported to enhance their understanding of systems interventions to improve equity and inclusion, cross-sectoral strategies for social change, and the leadership skills needed to develop and implement long-term interventions for change. Seasoned Fellows also will be supported in 3-to-6 month sabbaticals for reflection and “breakthrough” thinking about solutions.

Fellows will receive a stipend, as well as mentoring and coaching during the fellowship. Upon completion of the fellowship, Fellows will participate in an alumni network designed both to sustain their connections to other fellows and to increase access to intellectual, strategic and financial supports for transformative efforts in their home communities.

Who are the partners? Why did Atlantic select them?

The Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity program was conceived of and designed with the partnership of five leaders in the field of racial equity in the U.S. and South Africa. They include:

These partners will work together as a program committee of senior leaders to inform the program’s vision and strategic direction, and to design the learning program for fellows. Each partner institution will receive modest funds to support implementation of the program and to ensure its own capacity for effective leadership development.

Who is the program intended for? What is the application and selection process?

The fellowship is intended for changemakers who are consciously trying to speak and support transformative efforts to improve racial justice and equality.

Fellows will be selected through a process that includes open nominations, targeted outreach, and recruitment from organizations in the field.

Applications will be accepted in mid-2017 and the first cohort of fellows announced in late 2017.

Will the Fellows be based at Columbia?

The fellowship is a non-residential program. While it will be hosted by Columbia University, Fellows will not be enrolled as Columbia students or reside on campus. Instead, they will remain in their organizations and meet periodically for learning activities at different locations in the U.S. and South Africa. Columbia will sponsor an annual symposium of faculty and fellows that engages contemporary issues. As part of the fellowship experience, Atlantic Fellows will have the option of taking Columbia courses and the university will design courses specifically for Atlantic Fellows as needed.

The primary partner for the fellowship in South Africa will be the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which will coordinate activities of the Fellows in South Africa.

When will it start? How long will it run?

The Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity program will announce its first cohort of fellows in October 2017. It will subsequently run for ten years and conclude in 2028.

What makes Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity distinctive?

There are several significant initiatives to support activists working to eradicate anti-black racism, including the important efforts by program partners such as BOLD. The Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity program will enhance those efforts by providing resources and programming for reflection, learning and exposure to leaders working in different fields, sectors and geographies. This experience will help fellows to sustain and deepen their work, and better position them to move into positions of influence to create more powerful interventions for transformation change.