Public welfare

The Public Welfare Foundation celebrates 75 years of funding justice

Public Welfare Foundation President and CEO Candice C. Jones describes the story of the True Reformer Building Source: The Washington Post/Getty

PHilanthropy can sometimes seem disconnected from real people and issues. But some organizations understand the importance of directly funding the work of affected communities.

One such organization, the Public Welfare Foundation, is celebrating 75 years of supporting justice initiatives and transformational work this week with an in-person meeting in Washington, D.C. Candice C. Jones, President and CEO of the Public Welfare Foundation, described the organization as the only major endowment fund dedicated to transforming criminal justice for youth and adults.

She told NewsOne that the two-day gathering felt like a family reunion bringing together supporters, beneficiary organizations and justice advocates. Nationally recognized lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson will deliver a keynote address at the “Evening of Celebration”.

“Public welfare has been well ahead of the curve,” Jones said. “Its founder created it to have a catalytic approach, always giving money in a close way.”

The theme for this year’s anniversary is ‘By Any Means’, signaling the need to put everything on the table when it comes to achieving real justice. The theme is also a long-term framework for action that aims to fund work that responds to the moment and advances justice.

Jones said the mission of the Public Welfare Foundation remains broad to enable the distribution of funds in a way that best serves the commitment to advancing justice.

“We are an organization that exists to give money to other organizations that are doing good work,” she said. “It is our mission. We’re just showing up to support the bold visions of other organizations doing this work on the ground.

Currently targeted geographies include Washington, DC, Georgia, Jackson, Mississippi, Colorado, Michigan, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Recipient organizations include policy advocacy groups such as the Southern Center for Human Rights, the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights and the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Some grantee organizations are directly led by formerly incarcerated people, such as EXPO in Wisconsin, New Orleans-based VOTE, and Women on the Rise in Atlanta.

All 75th Anniversary events will take place onsite at the historic True Reformer Building on Wednesday September 7th and Thursday September 8th. An appropriate location considering the history of the building. First commissioned in 1902, it was the first building designed, owned, financed and built by a black community.

For those not in DC, there will be an opportunity to join the Livestream sessions on Thursday, September 8. Registration is free.

The True Reformer Building, designed, financed, built and owned by African Americans

The True Reformer Building in Washington, DC Source: The Washington Post/Getty

The foundation, founded by Charles Edward Marsh in 1947, has always focused on giving. According to its website, more than 5,700 grants totaling more than $700 million have been awarded during the foundation’s 75-year history. But in recent years, the organization has focused on supporting criminal justice efforts targeting adult and youth issues.

Another element of the foundation’s approach is to build strong ecosystems to nurture and sustain change. Jones described the need for strong media partners in this work, especially with the resurgence of tough-on-crime rhetoric.

“We really need to fund the whole constellation of partners needed for change,” she said. “You need media partners who can tell the general public what is happening on this issue. We will tell the truth about the choices policymakers make, the choices they don’t, and consistently tell that story to the public, which holds everyone to account.

The Public Welfare Foundation brings together partners across organizing, advocacy, data and media to create a collective resource to inform and engage communities and decision makers on criminal justice issues and real solutions. In this way, Jones and other members of the network hope to be able

This job is personal for Jones, having gone to law school to keep people out of jail. Later, she championed systems reform at the MacArthur Foundation. Jones said her past work has focused on reducing the footprint of systems, but she remains committed to comprehensive justice reform.

“I came into this life knowing that this job is the only job I will do,” she said. “I’m not going to fix everything. But we will walk a few meters in the field for the next generation.

Jones’ commitment to justice reform reflects the anniversary theme “By Any Means.” The theme carries the spirit of the future of the foundation as it continues to support visionary work and leadership in communities across the country.

“You’re not going to get any new justice reform ideas that aren’t just about repression and incarceration if you don’t start betting meaningfully on communities of color,” Jones said. “We need to bring them into the conversation, give them agency, and for philanthropic organizations the message is clear, we need to give them a hard time. No one saves these communities by parachuting. We need to drive resources there.


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