This blog was written by mentee Shanai Williams who learned a great deal about philanthropy through Katrina Huffman, former Chief Program Officer of Youth INC. Katrina was the Industry Speaker at Girls Write Now’s How to Get What You Want: Politics, Philanthropy, & Persuasive Writing Workshop.
Katrina Huffman is the type of woman you can’t ignore when she enters a room.
My eyes followed her face that was kind, yet frank. She seemed to be tired, but in a way that a good night’s rest couldn’t cure. It was the kind of tired that comes from having seen it all already, and from the way she spoke it was clear she was ready to say her piece about it.
As our Industry Talk speaker, she told us all about her previous jobs, and her current ones. The first being ministry. She’d just gotten back from a trip to Spanish Town, Jamaica, where she was joined by 365 volunteers to help the people in that area.
She continued with explaining that she is a lone philanthropist, what that means in the ups and downs of philanthropy, and what she’d like to see change in non-profit organizations meant to serve the youth.
After six years of working in philanthropy, granting small youth-serving nonprofits capacity-building funds through Youth INC, giving to causes she cares about—like her church, local scholarships, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund—she had all the merit to say:
“Philanthropy is trying.”
She began as she cited examples about having to pick the best of the best organizations to invest in, instead of local organizations also doing great things.
She continues on this note, pointing out they often aren’t flexible in meeting organizations where they are. They have a criteria and when the organization is unable to meet it, they get a ‘better luck next time’. This isn’t exactly helpful to organizations in low income neighborhoods where they are attempting to satisfy all of the needs of the youth they’re serving. Their money is going into helping more than what is indicated in their mission statement.
Katrina simply summarizes it as,
“People in need don’t just need one thing.”
I tried to soak in every word she said, because I felt that. I feel passionately about programs for youth, especially those meant to serve students of color and those who come from low income backgrounds; non profit organizations meant to serve kids like me. And she was shining light on a matter that affects many nonprofits like those: lack of diversity, particularly on the Boards of Directors.
“Where do we find them?”
As the Chief Program Officer of Youth INC, she heard this question often when conducting Board seminars and while engaged as a panelist for companies or organizations interested in Board service.
She expressed her answer to us by plainly encouraging people on the Board to expand their social circles by talking to people who look less like them. “So they wouldn’t have to [go to her] to ask questions like that.”
I remember the shame lining her face knowing that, when her team was surveyed to see if they met the criteria of a diverse board, they had to say,
“We’re working on it.”
That’s a phrase I’ve heard often in my own high school. Growing up and coming from a school in the Bronx where its majority is latino and black, you tend to wonder how it’s possible that organizations and institutions have to “work on” diversifying and employing more than just white staff.
And after hearing Katrina Huffman address it unabashedly, I’m reassured in my belief that more can and needs to be done.
Towards the end of her talk, Katrina brought up a great point about having hard conversations.
“I hurt, but I try to hurt less than I understand.”
Mainly addressing hard conversations about race between adults, her tip was to consider the result of conversations before engaging, and to make sure you’re ready because it takes time.
I found myself agreeing with just about every comment she made up until she had to go.
And when she did she dropped the inspirational words:
“Tomorrow will change if you keep writing.”