The Crisis No One’s Talking About

by Tre Johnson, Senior Fellow, External Affairs

Uh, and when I wake up

I recognize you’re lookin’ at me for the pay cut – Kendrick Lamar, ‘Alright’

‘Alright’ came out in 2015. At the time, the song seemed to augur that we were headed towards a collective better time, particularly as Black Americans. The world seemed to be rallying around the need to invest in, preserve and uplift the efforts of Black Americans and our collective cultural and historical experiences that put us several unfair paces behind so many others. Three years later, DAMN would net Lamar a Pulitzer for his crafted tales about Black social issues, mental health, advocacy, and justice. In tandem with this music’s cultural and awarded embrace, many of us in the education and nonprofit sectors were seeing a butterfly effect of sorts; because of BLM, Obama and eventually the 2020 twosome of the pandemic and the George Floyd Summer of Reckoning, there was a surge of support for Black leaders and organizations missioned to address Black American issues in society. 

Politically, culturally, fiscally our cups ran over for a time, and yet, as I talk to Black leaders, it’s clear that there’s been a reversal and erasure of all the goodwill and good money that had come many of our ways. At a conference that I attended last month, a lot of the Black folks I spoke with said the same thing – now in 2024, it feels like those previous years never happened. To quote another rapper, for a lot of us it felt like it was all a dream.

What am I talking about, exactly? I’m talking about the crisis going on in our work. Black leaders and organizations are starting to evaporate at an alarming rate. People are leaving because funding has completely dried up as foundations have deprioritized their giving away from their equity focused portfolios. For many, the work has also shifted; partners and clients aren’t slaking for organizations’ work the same way. And for others still, the massive infusions that happened in bursts haven’t been sustainable, and so now there’s a Summer of Right-sizing happening on the heels of the Summer of Reckoning.

On the smaller, intimate scale of all this though, are also the personal stories of shame, betrayal, disappointment, and exhaustion that come with continually fighting uphill battles, only to have what has been in some situations, years of work virtually disappear overnight. The sense of loss – as a community and as individuals – that people are experiencing is staggering. This is, in essence, a public sector crisis, an epidemic that threatens the health of organizations, leaders, team members, communities, just plain people. The collusion of politics, people, ego and security means that many of these losses and exits have to happen in whispers and under the leaden wording of emails and LinkedIn posts. It’s hard to get the real, which means that it’s hard for all of us to understand the stakes involved in losing some of the brightest, hardest working and inventive people in our work.

2024 is shaping up to be the pay cut that Black leaders and organizations are being forced to pick up the tab for. Not to be hyperbolic, but this should make us all continually, daily angry and deeply concerned.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be hosting a conversation with a cross-section of Black leaders currently in their seats or recently exited, sharing their reflections and stories about the withdrawal of resources and talent happening in our work. Keep an eye out for more information.

In the meantime, as a big fan of music and its healing, reflective and validating powers, I want to also share some of the songs that have gotten me through various times over the last several years. 

Check out We’ve All We’ve Got


We’re gonna be alright.

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