The True Reformer Building could easily go unnoticed if a larger-than-life mural of Duke Ellington adorning the side of the magnificent landmark doesn’t greet passers-by first.
Like the accompanying piano on the mural, Ellington’s eyes attract the curious.
The musician was among the most famous interpreters of the building’s iconic history.
Located at 1200 U Street in Washington, DC, the building is the first in America designed, financed, built and owned by the African-American community after reconstruction.
Designer John Anderson was DC’s first recorded black architect, and the Grand United Order of True Reformers commissioned the building in 1902. It later benefited from its grand opening in 1903.
Over the years, many civic and cultural institutions serving African Americans have called the True Reformer Building Home.
Perhaps none have had the impact of the Public Welfare Foundation, which Charles Edward Marsh founded in 1947 with the mission “to make gifts for educational, charitable, or voluntary purposes in accordance with a plan which respond flexibly to the changing need for such donations. ”
“We are celebrating 75 years,” said Candice Jones, who joined the Foundation in 2017 as President and CEO. “We are a national grant-making organization. We exist to give money to organizations that do good work,” Jones said.
“Right now, our focus is on giving money for criminal justice reform and for youth across the country.”
In 75 years, the Foundation has awarded nearly 6,000 grants totaling more than $700 million.
Jones said the Foundation seeks strategic points where funds can make a significant difference. Notably, the Foundation aims to provide grants in areas of social justice where organizations can jump-start adult and youth justice reform.
“Youth justice is about focusing on young people – usually those who are under 18 and not considered adults,” Jones explained.
“If they’re in trouble with the law, whether it’s arrest, trial or detention, we focus on those young people. Some groups will fund kids just because they think they’re cute and tradeable. But we focus on children and don’t believe in throwing them away. We fund organizations that intervene before there are problems. We focus on organizations that say, “these people are redeemable.”
Jones, who earned her JD from New York University Law School and her BA from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, enjoys a long history of fighting for youth justice.
She served as a senior advisor to Chicago CRED, an organization focused on gun violence in the Windy City.
In her role at Chicago CRED, Jones helped secure significant investments for violence intervention programs as an alternative to the criminal justice system.
She also served as director of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, pushing significant reforms that reduced the number of juveniles in state custody.
According to her Foundation biography, Jones also served as a White House Fellow, managing a portfolio within the U.S. Department of Education that included developing education strategies for correctional facilities and driving a plan to restore federal Pell grants for youth and adults in custody.
Previously, Jones worked as a program officer at the MacArthur Foundation, managing a grantmaking portfolio focused on reducing racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system and improving the quality of advocacy for disadvantaged youth.
“At the Public Welfare Foundation, we want to provide resources to communities of color that tend to be over-policed and spend too much time in jail,” Jones said.
“We support the kinds of programs and services that will help. Research shows that programs and services – pound for pound – deliver better results than spending money on incarceration. Young people who get services and support will have a better chance of success than young people arrested and sent to the prison system.
As she offered another tour of the famous True Reformer Building, Jones reflected on those who made this monument possible.
“The True Reformer Society was a society of individuals who came together to pool their resources because they wanted to provide service,” Jones recalled.
“They knew that [Black people] would be able to obtain these services in the marketplace – people fleeing racial terror in the south. You couldn’t go out in 1899 or 1900 to buy insurance and be sure it would be honored. You couldn’t walk into a bank and get a small business loan. That’s what the Society was there for, and the designer and all the contractors who worked on building this place were black people. So it was important to people who were doing this kind of work in the name of racial justice.