Over the past few months, United Way of Lane County has hosted several listening sessions about its new Racial Justice Fund. The initiative invited people of color in Lane County to share hopes, concerns, and ideas for addressing racial injustice, ultimately shaping how funds will be used locally over the next year. 

The purpose of United Way's Racial Justice Fund, launched in late 2021, is to move substantial resources to communities that have historically been prevented from accumulating wealth and shaping public policy. Over $65,000 has been raised by community members thus far, and Collina Beard, United Way's Racial Justice Fund co-chair, is confident they will reach their $75,000 funding goal by the grant's launch in August. 

"Ultimately, the Racial Justice Fund is about removing barriers for communities of color," Beard said. "We have expanded our focus to take a holistic view, getting to the source of systemic and institutional barriers so our children can live healthy and vibrant lives. We've got to get at the things keeping parents preoccupied: food, housing, clothing and things like that." 

People most impacted by racial inequities explicitly and specifically lead United Way's Racial Justice Fund. The fund is led by an advisory council of local leaders of color and is shaped by input from people of color through one-to-one conversations, listening sessions, and surveys.

"By ensuring funding decisions are made by those who know the needs and solutions best, we can help improve outcomes for every person in Lane County," said Alma Fumiko Hesus, United Way of Lane County's Director of Individual Giving and Racial Justice Fund advocate.

Ideas shared in past listening sessions include using funds to help people of color build generational wealth and purchase property; support initiatives to retain staff of color in schools and social service organizations; advocating for local justice systems to address inequities; creating physical meeting spaces for people of color to assemble and connect; and more.

"Each and every one of us needs to understand that we have that responsibility, and we need to find what speaks to us," said civil rights advocate Ruby Bridges during United Way's October 28, 2021, conversation and launch of the Racial Justice Fund. "There's so much work that needs to be done."

United Way has identified a few key areas to allocate funding: down payment assistance, providing spaces for collaboration and networking, connecting healthcare providers and school systems, navigating the justice system, funding for culturally specific support services and even mutual aid funding to meet unmet needs. 

Next month, United Way will unveil its final plans for the Racial Justice Fund and host the last listening session to receive input from the community on August 28 from 1 to 3 p.m. 

Beard described the listening sessions as "intimate," "passionate," and a "bright, community-oriented space." 

"It feels great to be in a room with folks who are not just talking or complaining, but people who actually have the will, the skill, and the ability to create change. We are empowered by the United Way of Lane County to have these conversations," Beard said. "We don't just have ideas, all of these great ideas. We've got some money behind us."