By Kevin Madden
Liberty Hill’s grantees work to benefit all communities in Los Angeles—directly through advocating and grassroots organizing. Over its 41 years, Liberty Hill’s Community Funding Boards have paid special attention to meeting the needs of Los Angeles’ Black community, which has traditionally been underserved and isolated from the region’s economic and social infrastructure.
We took a look at just the first 20 years of Liberty Hill’s grantmaking to get a snapshot of that period of Black-led organizing in L.A. It’s important to note the innovative and grassroots means by which community-based organizations have approached empowering and energizing Los Angeles’ Black community. The history of community organizing here is a pastiche of groups, movements, and events—each one playing a unique role in connecting Black Angelenos to each other and to the larger city fabric.
By year, the issues that Liberty Hill grantees focused on reflect the issues of their times, with specifics that in some cases have changed but other times have remained disappointingly the same. Here’s a sampling of early projects and community groups:
In 1978, Liberty Hill supported the NAACP Youth Project: “An energetic group of young black activists has chosen to work through the Youth branches of the NAACP as a viable means of organizing young people in the black communities of Los Angeles and Pasadena. They are developing programs to deal with problems of underemployment, affirmative action, and other issues important to young people. In the process of recruiting to their programs, they also expect to exert a progressive influence for change within the organization.” Nearly 40 years later, this initiative mirrors one of Liberty Hill’s current premier coalitions—Brothers, Sons, Selves. The partnership and coalition works to build leadership skills among young men of color by engaging them in advocacy campaigns.
In 1981, a Liberty Hill grant supported the National Black Human Rights Coalition. Liberty Hill’s 1981 annual report described the project: “In March, the Black Women’s Task Force of the National Black Human Rights Coalition, L.A. Chapter, sponsored its fourth annual celebration of Black Women’s International Solidarity Day. For the first time, the conference was an all-day event, with cultural presentations and workshops open to the community free of charge. Panel workshops focused on abortion and forced sterilization, Black women in the prison system, and education from a new Afrikan perspective. From the conference, the Black Women’s Task Force hopes to build a movement that will enable Black women to take more control over their own lives. The Liberty Hill emergency grant was used for pre-event publicity and printing costs.” Today Liberty Hill continues to foster events and campaigns that connect and empower Black Angelenos and Black women, more specifically. For example, current Liberty Hill grantee Black Women for Wellness utilizes organizing, health education, training, and advocacy to address the impact of racism and sexism on the health and well being of Black women and girls. Another Liberty Hill grantee, A New Way of Life Reentry Project, provides housing and support services to formerly incarcerated women in South Los Angeles, facilitating a successful transition back to community life. As a community advocate, A New Way Of Life works to restore the civil rights of people with criminal records.
A 1983 grant for $1,000 went to support United Against Black Genocide: “United Against Black Genocide is an organization formed to voice the concerns of the Black community of South Central Los Angeles over inadequate health services in the neighborhood and the chokehold deaths of residents at the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department. UABG is concerned about the pattern of these deaths, in which 14 of the 17 victims have been young Black men, and believes that they are a result of racist attitudes and practices of the police department. This grant was provided to help establish the organization’s office and to promote better health care in the Black community.” Liberty Hill allies have long focused on police violence against Black Angelenos, most recently through our Rapid Response Fund for Racial Justice
In 1987 grants went to the Black Coalition Fighting Against Black Serial Murders, “To assist the Coalition to become self-sufficient and build independent leadership in its campaign to expose the serial murders of Black women in Los Angeles,” recently documented in the film Tales of the Grim Sleeper, and Kwanzaa People of Color, “To establish the Opened Eye newsletter and a communications resource center to foster Afrikan American ethnic self-worth.” Both grants reflect Liberty Hill’s commitment to creating change by helping the community develop its own tools for progress, health, communication, and independence.
In 1989 Liberty Hill granted $4,000 to the Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum. “Formed in 1987, the Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum provided effective opportunities for Black gay men and Lesbians to exchange information on urgent issues facing their community, and to educate and inform others about the gay and lesbian experiences and history unique to Black Americans. The grant was used for a newsletter promoting a Leadership Conference.” Founded in Los Angeles by Phill Wilson and Ruth Waters, the group went on to become a national organization, centered around its annual conference. It closed down in 2003.
After the Los Angeles uprising of 1992, the work of Liberty Hill-supported groups was brought clearly into focus. That year Liberty Hill distributed more than $360,000 to nearly 100 grassroots organizations—more than any previous year. Liberty Hill’s Communities in Crisis: Poverty, Racism and Urban Violence in Los Angeles conference built a multi-racial and multi-issue alliance needed to grapple with the underlying issues of the uprising.
Today, Black Angelenos continue to face many of the same systematic challenges. For example, while African Americans make up eight percent of the Los Angeles County population, they account for a quarter of those shot and killed by police. African Americans make up half of the county’s homeless population, and in California the infant mortality rate for African Americans is twice that of the statewide rate.
Yet great strides are being made. Liberty Hill is proud to champion the efforts of groups such as Black Women for Wellness, The Los Angeles Black Worker Center, S.C.O.P.E., and the many other groups that support the Black community in its effort to erase these disturbing statistics and eradicate the underlying racial and economic conditions that govern racial injustice in Los Angeles.