'We can learn new perspectives': Foundation exec changed her grantmaking approach after training

Meghan Cummings went to good schools growing up, graduated from a good college, earned a master’s degree, studied overseas, and traveled a lot. She had a good education, in and out of the classroom. But she came to realize the shortcomings of traditional education when it comes to telling the story of race in this country.

The understanding dawned on her after she participated in Greater Cincinnati Foundation's Racial Equity Matters training. Cummings is one of about 3,000 people who have taken deep dives into the history and structures of of racism by participating in a series of programs offered by Greater Cincinnati Foundation.

The Racial Equity Matters program is a series of trainings ranging from half-day sessions to two full days of intense dialogue. The participants often say it leads to insights that take time to process.

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Meghan participated in the Groundwater training, a daylong program that uses data and information to challenge assumptions about race, history, and society, and presents difficult truths about the institutions that form the core of our communities.

She also participated in the follow-up to that, a two-day workshop called Phase 1, which involves fewer people and more interaction and discussion among the group.

She emerged from the workshops with a better understanding of how much of U.S. society has been built on racial foundations.

“I just couldn’t help but think why wasn’t I ever taught this information,” she says. “It was so compelling to me.”

For example, she knew about the GI Bill, which provided World War II veterans with benefits that included low-cost mortgages and educational loans. But she hadn’t learned that the bill’s benefits weren’t applied equitably to Black and white veterans, as banks, colleges, and other institutions discriminated in their applications.   

“I was never taught how these policies applied differently to people of color,” she said.

Cummings is now vice president of civic advancement at Greater Cincinnati Foundation. When she participated in the training, she was executive director of the Foundation's Women’s Fund. Part of the Fund’s mission is to make grants to causes that support women’s empowerment and quality of life. Grantmaking decisions were traditionally made by donors, but after the Racial Equity Matters experience, Cummings assembled an advisory board that included women who experience the daily struggles the Fund aims to ease.

“We decided to completely change how we make our grant making decisions,” she says. The advisory board now includes women who are dealing every day with issues of child care, economic instability, housing, and so on. “They review all the grants that come in and make the decisions about how the money will be invested,” she says. “We are shifting power to them so they have agency over where the money goes.”

She and her husband are also making sure they talk about race and class openly at home with their 10-year-old son.

Accepting that she had a lot to learn, and being open-minded about it, was important to her understanding.

“I hope everyone gives themselves grace to accept new information,” she says. “Sometimes we are so polarized,  everyone feels like they have to dig in. It doesn’t have to be that way. We can learn new perspectives as we grow older.”

To learn more about Racial Equity Matters, please visit www.gcfdn.org/rem
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Read more articles by David Holthaus.

David Holthaus is an award-winning journalist and a Cincinnati native. When not writing or editing, he's likely to be bicycling, hiking, reading, or watching classic movies.