The robust commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI, we saw since the “racial reckoning” in 2020 has unfortunately been dwindling in the years since. But one organization has been bucking that trend. The Warner Music Group/Blavatnik Family Foundation Social Justice Fund (SJF), which was founded in 2020, has remained committed to their core mission of championing racial justice.
Lorelei Williams brought nearly two decades of experience in social justice, philanthropy, and organizing in the states and abroad to her new role as the first Executive Director of SJF. To date, Williams has led the fund in making $25 million in commitments toward the Fund’s ten-year goal of $100 million. In 2023, the Fund still sits at the nexus of systematic and cultural transformation, focusing on three pillars: education, arts and culture, and criminal justice reform.
“Back in 2020, there was such a proliferation of corporations that stepped up and felt like they had to at least talk the talk in terms of that investment,” Williams told ESSENCE. There was “upwards of 200 billion that was pledged during that time, from corporations and private foundations. At this three-year mark, we’re really proud to say that we’ve got some tangible impact as a result of the funding.”
But Williams and SJF are committed to making an impact beyond a few years.
“This was really a 10-year initiative for us,” she shared. “Whereas for many folks, a lot of that funding is being walked back, and there’s a lot of retrenchment and reversing of those commitments. For us, it’s really important that we’re still here, and not only do we fund really innovative programs, we’re really looking at building strong Black institutions in particular, and I think that’s a place that some of the corporations who stepped up have not really focused on.”
Some of those programs include The Brotherhood Sisterhood Sol, which has a youth-led organizing collective that works to “improve the NYC public school system by advocating for more social workers, counselors and restorative justice practices – and reducing the number of police officers in schools, suspensions and detentions,” according to a report sent to ESSENCE.
Gender Amplified Founder and Atlantic Records producer Ebonie Smith expressed her appreciation for the fund, noting in the report that its “generous contribution” will help her organization reach its goal of supporting women and non-binary music producers “all over the world.”
Despite DEI disinvestments elsewhere, SJF is providing “institutional unrestricted funding, but also multiyear funding, and we really look at this as a marathon, not a sprint,” Williams asserted. “We are in it for the long term.”
Much of SJF involves grants, but as Williams noted, “we really look at it as more than money…we also look at how we can build connections between global racial justice leaders, and a large part of that is our grantee convening. We had the first one last year, and we’re doing our next one this fall.”
When asked about long term goals for the Fund, Williams boldly stated, “ideally, you want to work ourselves out of a job, right? We want to get to the point where we are living in a more equitable society, so that’s big picture vision, but obviously, we really are looking at the shorter-term time frame in terms of making tangible change in the lives of Black folks and Black communities.”