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Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity: Leading the Way to a More Just Future

Resource type: News

The Atlantic Philanthropies |

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Dismantling anti-black racism to advance fairer, healthier and more inclusive societies for all

The Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity is one of an interconnected set of fellowship programs – the Atlantic Fellows – launched by The Atlantic Philanthropies as part of the foundation’s final grants to empower new generations of leaders to work together around the globe to advance fairer, healthier, more inclusive societies. It is a 10-year, $60 million program to support courageous and creative leaders dedicated to dismantling anti-black racism in the United States and South Africa, two nations with deep and enduring legacies of racial exclusion and discrimination.

Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity will study the causes of and develop solutions to anti-black racism. They will strengthen their individual skills, professional networks and understanding of strategies for social change in order to lead successful movements for racial equity in their communities, countries and around the world.

The program was conceived and designed in close collaboration with the leadership of influential and renowned organizations fighting for racial equity:

The Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity will be hosted by Columbia University in the City of New York and will launch in early 2017. Kavitha Mediratta, chief strategy advisor at The Atlantic Philanthropies, will step down from her current position on December 31 to assume her new role as executive director of the Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity. Alondra Nelson, dean of social science and professor of sociology at Columbia University, will be the lead faculty partner to the program.

Clockwise from left: Kavitha Mediratta, Alondra Nelson, john a. powell, Denise Perry, Deepak Bhargava, Sherrilyn Ifill, Sello Hatang
Clockwise from left: Kavitha Mediratta, Alondra Nelson, john a. powell, Denise Perry, Deepak Bhargava, Sherrilyn Ifill and Sello Hatang

About The Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity
The mission of the Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity is to support visionary and racially diverse changemakers and thought leaders to challenge and advance ambitious and comprehensive solutions to anti-black racism and structural inequality in South Africa and the United States. The program will engage up to 350 racial equity leaders over its 10-year life, annually supporting up to 35 fellows per year. Some 25 will be from the U.S. and 10 in South Africa each year. Fellows will be grassroots and civil rights advocates and scholars from diverse disciplines, as well as individuals working in government, the media, arts and elsewhere.

Why the focus on anti-black racism?
Racism has led to deep-rooted inequality in South Africa, the U.S. and around the world. Anti-black racism refers specifically 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, a person’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; 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 their 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.

Our new fellows program seeks to build on significant and growing movements for equality and inclusion in South Africa and the U.S. and to offer fresh thinking and strategies so that much more can be achieved. Through the Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity program, leaders of these movements will have opportunities to deepen their understanding of the roots of injustice and prejudice and to develop tools for creating more equitable and responsive institutions; more expansive and truthful cultural narratives; and more empathic and inclusive policies, practices and societies.

How will it work?
The program will promote learning and collaboration among leaders in different fields and sectors, and between those working in South Africa and the U.S. Atlantic Fellows will participate in a non-residential, 18-month program of advanced leadership development. They will meet six times over the course of the program in weeklong sessions that include learning tours and master courses with experts in the field. Seasoned leaders who are more advanced in their careers also will be supported in three-to-six-month sabbaticals for reflection and breakthrough-thinking about solutions.

Atlantic Fellows will receive a stipend, as well as mentoring and coaching during the fellowship. Upon completion, fellows will participate in an alumni network that sustains their connections to other fellows and increases their access to intellectual, strategic and new financial supports for transformative efforts in their home communities.

The Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity will be housed at Columbia University. Program activities will be carried out in partnership with BOLD, Center for Community Change, the Haas Institute, and LDF in the United States. The Nelson Mandela Foundation will coordinate programming in South Africa.
Supporting Leadership to Dismantle Anti-Black Racism: Connect, Learn, Change Impact

Atlantic Fellows Global Network

The Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity is part of the global network of leadership programs – the Atlantic Fellows – designed to empower and connect dynamic individuals who are committed to working together across disciplines and borders to address some of the world’s most critical challenges. These programs are supported by the Atlantic Institute, a global leadership institute that fosters exchange, networking and collaboration among Atlantic Fellows.

About The Atlantic Philanthropies

The Atlantic Philanthropies are dedicated to advancing opportunity, equity and human dignity. Established in 1982, when Chuck Feeney quietly committed virtually all of his family’s assets to the foundation, Atlantic has since made grants approaching $8 billion. In keeping with Mr. Feeney’s “Giving While Living,” big bet philosophy, Atlantic invests in systemic change to accelerate improvements in the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people. The foundation, which has operated in Australia, Bermuda, Cuba, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, South Africa, the United States and Viet Nam, will complete all grantmaking in 2016 and conclude operations shortly afterward.

Since 2007, Atlantic has invested more than $350 million in the United States to dismantle the structural barriers to opportunity for communities of color. In South Africa, Atlantic has also invested over $350 million since 1991 to advance reconciliation, civic engagement, justice and civil liberties for black South Africans, including access to higher education and health care.

In 2014, in preparation for it final grants, Atlantic shifted from making grants focused on issues, such as the school-to-prison pipeline and immigration reform, to investing in efforts seeking long-term social change. The foundation’s culminating grants in racial equity have supported leading civil rights organizations in the United States working for social change, and built new connections among key organizations and sectors to enhance effective collaboration. Atlantic is also supporting efforts to challenge and change the deeply-rooted cultural narratives that perpetuate unequal treatment of black communities and people of color.

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