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A Blueprint for Change: Empowering Community Members to Drive Solutions

In November of 2019, we launched a new initiative rooted in the trust-based philanthropy model to authentically engage, empower, and center the voices and needs of the community. For JBRF, those happened to be the Black women residing in Wards 7 and 8 in Washington, D.C.

The Initiative offers a new way of doing things for philanthropy, a model for increasing racial equity, balancing the power dynamics, and practicing intentional inclusivity. It’s a way for philanthropy to walk the talk and invest in community-driven solutions that get at the root causes of the inequities that we see.”

Kara Blankner, Director of Programs, Jane Bancroft Robinson Foundation.”

The Black Women Thriving East of the River (BWTEotR) initiative was developed to create a series of targeted, actionable interventions that address the root causes of barriers holding back Black women. Over more than two (02) years and through a pandemic, JBRF facilitated discussions among a diverse group of twenty-eight (28) women who were living and working East of the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C.

The BWTEotR initiative envisions a city where all Black women receive equitable access to opportunities and resources that lead to optimal health. We want to see them thrive in the nation’s capital.

“Our initiative, Black Women Thriving East of the River, is an opportunity for us to create real change within the healthcare system that will allow mothers and families to thrive. I hope to see our approach change the way families are viewed so that we are better understood, along with the barriers that keep us in survival mode versus thriving mode.”Charnal Chaney, native Washingtonian from Ward 8, works at The W.I.R.E, and owner of Bold Yoga

The participants of BWTEotR comprised a mosaic of women, including healthcare professionals, cancer survivors, primary caregivers, social entrepreneurs, community-based organizations, and advocates. They were all united by a common goal: to enact positive change in health and workforce-related outcomes for Black women.

After convening this diverse group, we faced a new challenge: where to begin? Through intentional facilitation, we focused our efforts on addressing barriers at cultural, institutional, interpersonal, and individual levels. We sought support from Two Brown Girls to lead racial equity and health disparities training and The Mirror Group to conduct culturally responsive evaluation training.

Through active listening, we deepen our understanding of the dynamics at play, enabling us to address our focus areas of reducing cancer mortality and supporting Black women with long-term career opportunities, particularly in health-related fields. Workgroups were formed to champion each of these topics, fostering focused discussions.


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JBRF’s role is to act as a neutral convener that facilitates, rather than directs, the creation of solutions we invest in.

During the workgroup discussions, we uncovered that the challenges faced by Black women when navigating cancer and seeking gainful employment were deeply rooted in racial inequities, systemic injustice, lack of workforce development support, and limited access to quality cancer care. In each workgroup discussion, powerful insights emerged from the firsthand experiences of women who had personally dealt with cancer recovery, caregiving, and the cycle of underpaid employment or unemployment. These authentic stories allowed women to be vulnerable and empowered them to devise long-term community-centered solutions. Afterall, those closest to a situation are the best equipped to identify how to meet and solve them.

“The approach that the Jane Bancroft Robinson Foundation has taken really centers around community interventions and bringing community to the table. Particularly incorporating the lived experiences of Black women in the District of Columbia… How are we incorporating community- voices, community-owned solutions, and community interventions into the ultimate design of solutions that we want to invest in?”

Marissa McKeever, Chief of Staff & Senior Advisor, Johns Hopkins Medicine; Board Member, Jane Bancroft Robinson Foundation

The Jane Bancroft Robinson Foundation is proud to have incubated BWTEotR and remains committed to supporting their ongoing efforts. Our shared vision is to create a future where Black women have access to opportunities, resources, and effective cancer treatment, empowering them to thrive. This work serves as a blueprint, demonstrating our ability to effectively support cancer navigation and workforce development efforts in a meaningful and impactful manner. While we have made significant progress, we recognize that this is just the beginning and we need the support of other funders to make an even greater impact..

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