Virginia is not the state where I was born or where I was raised. I’ve always had a difficult time answering the question of where I’m from because my father was in the U.S. Army. His commitment to military service meant that we moved around a lot while I was growing up. However, advice I moved to Virginia to take full advantage of a job opportunity and have been here nearly a decade. For the past 10 years, store I’ve called this state my home and this community my community. Like any community, we have both challenges and triumphs. There are so many things that need to change, and there are also those wonderful corners and niches that give our state its character and charm. This state has a tremendous amount of resources and I have seen a high level of philanthropic giving and caring and yet I must confess, it seems that many of the communities, projects and programs that are the most needy are often overlooked, ignored and passed by.
There is an inner circle and a series of gatekeepers that strategically make it impossible for small and emerging non-profits, community groups and others to access the philanthropic initiatives and people that might be able to assist them. The inner circle systematically blocks the way and metaphorically bars the door. Those in charge do not allow the small unknowns to pass through the gates to make a proposal or application for the resources that they need, whether consciously or not, they are undermining the spirit of community they promote. There are untold secrets and unknown strategies that must be employed or a group, company or individual will not be invited to the table where the applications are drawn and the proposals are submitted, approved or denied. In other words, you must know somebody and that somebody can then inform you about what you need to know to get an invitation to the party where the gifts are handed out. Those who receive the invites and subsequent financial opportunities are undoubtedly friends of friends. Often those whose mother or father’s families were friends, or friends of friends way on down the line. The ones in the inner circle are connected and their connections give them a leg up that, in turn, gives them a tremendous head start to the access point of funding cycles while those without knowledge of how to play the game or an opportunity to receive an invitation LOSE OUT big time.
The result is those who are on the OUTSIDE looking in, unless they are truly tenacious, usually give up and move on while the INSIDERS remain the insiders and continue to divide those philanthropic gifts amongst themselves. They care for who they care for and continue to neglect inviting any of the truly needy, smaller and underfunded non-profits and underserved communities to the funding party. So the strong get stronger and continue to promote, care for and nurture their own, and the poor in resources and knowledge (about how to get an invitation) stay poor and underfunded while doing good work, important work that will always stay too small to make a significant difference. It’s hard to get inside when the door is either closed or hidden. Those who have gotten funding before continue to get funding…friends of friends get invited and all others are turned away once again because they are not connected and there are things they don’t even know that they don’t know. It’s an endless cycle that frustrates even the most stalwart spirit. The state of our state is generous to those it has always been generous to and downright stingy and uncaring to those who are most in need of its generosity.
Tawnya Pettiford-Wates. Ph.D.
Artistic Director and Founder
The Conciliation Project
Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University
Up Next Week: The Struggle Continues…