A Model of Restorative Philanthropy

Embedding principles of equity, justice, and healing in grantmaking

The Adinkra symbology of the Akan people of Western Africa have a lot to teach the world about what it means to live a life of shared humanity. Established centuries ago, Adinkra symbols are beautiful and bold imagery that not only represent the rich Akan culture, but also point society to the core principles of justice, equity, balance, and beauty.

More than 30 years ago, The Kendeda Fund (Kendeda, The Fund) founder, Diana Blank, instinctively applied the Adinkra principle of Dame Dame in her philanthropic approach. Dame Dame summarily represents intelligence, strategy, and ingenuity. Diana challenged herself – and the Kendeda team – to think outside the box in its grantmaking. Diana’s journey was a process of unlearning, learning, and acting. In the first phase of Kendeda’s grantmaking, The Fund supported a vital mix of local nonprofit institutions. Those early Atlanta grantees tended to be established civic institutions, including arts organizations, hospitals, and parks. Yet, over time, Diana’s understanding of shared humanity evolved – and deepened. The city she had long called home was changing rapidly and those changes revealed a multitude of systemic inequities – most racially based – and generations in the making. By nearly every measure – household income, educational outcomes, access to affordable housing, health and wellness, transportation access, and more – Atlanta was a city of “haves” and “have nots.”

Compelled to act, the Kendeda team reimagined its Atlanta strategy, pivoting from civic investments to a new approach centering the urgent needs of the city’s Black and brown communities. In 2016, we made an intentional pivot, creating what would come to be known as our ‘Atlanta Equity’ portfolio. Concurrently Kendeda hired Tené Traylor, an emerging leader whose philanthropic skills and deep community roots provided the vision, capacity, and know-how we needed to address the widening access and opportunity gaps facing Atlanta’s Black and brown citizens.

Atlanta Equity is a catalytic portfolio that seeks to invest in education transformation and economic opportunity in communities of color historically oppressed in metro Atlanta. The strategic direction of the portfolio is rooted in a community listening and data-centered learning process that shaped the themes, funding flow, and grantee partner prototype. The portfolio was built on and guided by our founder’s commitment to support the dignity of individuals and the sustainability of communities through investments in transformative leaders and ideas.

We understood from the beginning that we could not possibly tackle all of the issues confronting Atlanta’s most vulnerable populations, nor would we ever resolve the harm caused by generations of marginalization in the region. We sought instead to engage and lift up a group of “changemakers and pacesetters” – emerging community leaders who could leverage their individual and institutional skills to disrupt the status quo by influencing policy makers and funders, challenging long-held assumptions, and incubating bold, innovative ideas. 

We resolved that by the time we completed our spend out, we would have helped establish a series of substantive community-wide conversations wherein grantee partners have defined seats at the tables of power, and institutional voices that are clear, convincing, and resonant. Our responsibility was not to pretend that we, Kendeda, were doing the work; our responsibility and commitment was to facilitate and support those on the front lines of community building who truly were.