United Way champions change with innovative black-led program

In 2018, The United Way of Greater Cincinnati compiled research resulting in the generation of a document entitled “The Black Led Social Change Cincinnati Report.” A key concept of the work was the creation of Champions of Change, a group of volunteer citizens interested in helping the black community fight poverty in new and groundbreaking ways.

For ten months, these volunteer community leaders met regularly to develop a unique plan for allocating funds. The group of 13 members (whose varied backgrounds range anywhere from advocate to businessperson to dancer) created a new program focused on tackling issues of poverty using solely Black-led initiatives and ideas. It’s called Black Empowerment Works, and any member of the Greater Cincinnati black community is eligible to submit an application for funding.

“What makes this grants project a little different than other programs is that we’re looking to invest in ideas, programs, and projects — so they don’t necessarily have to be affiliated with a 501c3 nonprofit,” says Jena’ Bradley, manager, Community Impact at United Way of Greater Cincinnati. “It can be a coalition of neighbors that have an idea and feel like they have the support to carry out that idea. The ideas that people can submit are wide-ranging.”

“We’ve got some really cool things coming in,” continues Bradley. “We are truly excited about the diversity of ideas coming in. It dispels the myth that it takes just one thing to address poverty. It's financial services, it's health, it's education, it's all of it.”

At the end of February, when the Champions of Change began spreading the word about the opportunities provided by the new program, the lack of attention from larger media groups was discouraging. Fortunately, the members knew they could rely upon their own resources.

“One of the beautiful things about having a group of community leaders that have worked to build this program is that they have networks to push this out to. A lot of the information that people have received is through word of mouth,” says Bradley.

News of Black Empowerment Works quickly spread through the grapevine, and Bradley is encouraged by the initial response.

She says she is excited to see the impact made by the new initiatives that will be set forth by the program, as well as the continuation of support towards worthwhile, yet underfunded endeavors already in place.

“My big, broad, hope is that we’re able to lift up the work of some of the phenomenal leaders in our community, especially those that have been working for years and years with very little support,” says Bradley.

Moreover, Bradley hopes that the experiences — each individual success story and failure of the Black Empowerment Works program — will shed light on new ways of organizing the overall practices of The United Way of Greater Cincinnati. She realizes this is a lofty goal, but believes in the program developed by the Champions of Change.

There are three ways to engage in this program: as a grantee, a reviewer, and a mentor. The deadline for applying to be a grantee, or to be a mentor to recipients of grants, is April 13th. For those interested in serving as reviewers of submissions, applications must be received prior to March 23th. More information is available here.

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Read more articles by Eliza Bobonick.

Eliza Bobonick is a Cincinnati-based writer and a mother of three. Her work has been featured in such local and regional publications as Cincinnati CityBeat and Kentucky Homes and Gardens Magazine. She is a former musician whose interests include photography and interior design.