The White People Over Your Fave Nonprofits Often Ignore Black Leaders
‘Optic leadership’ — or tokenism — is not a win for anyone
As Congress, for the first time since 1989, advanced the slavery reparations bill, we can feel a mustard seed of hope in acknowledging the tragic history of the United States.
Giving Black people what they are due seems like such a far-fetched and daunting task for our country. For ages, Black people have been told to “pull themselves up by (their) bootstraps” Bootstraps we never possessed. However, without the straps, without our 40 acres and the mule, we have pressed forward, making ways out of no way.
We make our way because often — and especially nowadays—Black people are serving in “optic leadership.” You see Black people at the helm, on the stage, and on the panel and begin to believe that these primo nonprofits are led by Black thought, by Black power, by Black voices. But actual Black leadership — and commiserate pay — is not at all the reality.
Black women are the typical head of many nonprofits, children’s centric organizations, and youth-centered groups. We work 15-hour days, give up our own personal lives and often go above and beyond the communities we serve. Yet we never quite get the top job. And we may never live long enough to see any of us get the reparations we are all due, but paying us equitable salaries is something that can be put into action right now.
In 2018, after working seven years for an organization, I was happy to be promoted to executive leadership. I can still remember the day of my salary negotiations for my new role. I remember speaking with the organization’s newly appointed CEO, who happened to be a person of color. This truly made the role a little more exciting to me. This would be my first time to serve alongside an executive leader who looked like me. This promotion felt right; I felt like I had worked hard and deserved it. After carrying systems change on my back, sustaining a six-year initiative, bridging hundreds of partnerships, managing teams, and creating leaders from within, the time was right and now.
No one could tell me that I wasn’t doing all of the right things. Working hard, pulling myself up—many times only to be let down by the…