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Building a Bold Future

A Conversation with Tonya Allen

Tonya Allen, president of the McKnight Foundation, is all about being bold. Chanda spoke with Tonya about building and sharing power, and how that relates to one’s ability to rewrite the rules. Tonya also addressed the idea of blending the lines between philanthropy and community.

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Souphak Kienitz  00:04 

You’re listening to Conversations with Chanda, a Minneapolis Foundation podcast that unpacks the community’s grittiest, most vexing problems hosted by Chanda Smith Baker. Our next guest is Tonya Allen, president of the McKnight Foundation. Chanda spoke with Tonya about building and sharing power, and how that relates to one’s ability to rewrite the rules. Before we begin, I’d like to just highlight one thing, and that’s the framework in which Tonya uses to compromise and bring people together to create change. It’s the 70, 20, and 10 framework. So, on tough issues, both sides can agree to about 70% of the solution. And if we can get people to agree in that space, then the other 20%, we can negotiate with the understanding that 10% we may not. And that’s perfectly okay. As Tonya states, if we are being thoughtful, if we listen, are strategic, we can bridge people. So start with the 70%, we can all agree on. Enjoy the show. 

 Chanda Smith Baker  01:13 

Tonya Allen, I’m so glad to have you on the podcast. 

 Tonya Allen  01:17 

Thank you, Chanda. I’m so glad to be here. I’m actually very honored to be interviewed by you, because I have so much respect for you, for all of your work and just solid presence, like the powerful presence you are in our community. So thank you. 

 Chanda Smith Baker  01:33 

Thank you for that. So I think I shared with you that I was sitting on the Board of Public Allies, a national board. And for those listening, Public Allies is an AmeriCorps program, but it really has a particular focus on the fact that everyone can lead from any position for wherever they came from. And so it tends to be the most diverse arm of AmeriCorps programs. I sat on the national board, you came to one of their annual meetings, and I was in the audience. And I think you were talking about, you were with Michael Smith? 

 Tonya Allen  02:11 


 Chanda Smith Baker  02:12 

So I think you guys were must have been talking about the boys and men’s of color work that was happening, but I was so impressed. And so when I heard you were coming here, I remember just the boldness that you had on that panel, and I’m like, Oh, I wonder if we read it. 

 Tonya Allen  02:29 

Yeah, I remember that. I remember the conversation. And well, I think we all need a little boldness, like, I think I’ve been focusing and kind of meditating on this week, like, how do we be bold and courageous in the in this moment, and in these times, and so I tried to lean into that, because I think, being genteel. You can be respectful, but being genteel never really gets us to where we need to go. 

 Chanda Smith Baker  02:57 

Did you have to grow into your boldness? 

 Tonya Allen  03:02 

No, I don’t think I had to grow into, well, you know, I would, that’s not true. Yes, I did. So when I used to think of the word power, I would always get really nervous about it. Like, you know, people, when they would say, oh, you could do this, you could have a lot of power. I just always made me nervous, because I always thought of power as corrupting. Like, that, if you had this power that the people would fall, or crumble under that. And so eventually, I had to just wrestle with this notion that no character, makes you crumble, not power. And that we really have to spend our time focusing on how we build power, that we actually spend too little time thinking about how to aggregate wield, build, share, power. And so I’ve actually been spending the most part of my career trying to think through that, like, how do you, you know, I’m old time community organizer. So I really believe in the mantra of like power is organized people, and organized money. And that’s actually why I went into philanthropy because I figured there were lots of folks who were trying to organize people, but how many of us were really thinking about how we organize money in a different way. And I also just kind of like have this belief that power, like my fundamental definition of power. Power is the ability to rewrite the rules, and a lot of times, what I find is that most people who have power, don’t rewrite the rules, and they don’t even think that they have enough power to rewrite them. And so if we can all just step into our power from whatever position we’re in just like Public Allies in the way you were talking about that I really believe it like, we all have the ability to use our personal power, our institutional power, and our collective power, to shift the rules, and then you know, the downstream of that is good public policy, right? The downstream of that is good, solid, equitable practices, and the downstream of that is making sure that we have innovative approaches to our rebuild, or are we imagining of our community that anchors it in clean energy. So that’s how I kind of think about power, and that’s how I got to being bold is believing that it’s required, it’s a requisite for change. 

 Chanda Smith Baker  05:33 

And so you’ve been reflecting on the word bold over the last week, what, why, like, what led you to reflecting on that? 

 Tonya Allen  05:41 

Well, I’m actually doing this 40 day meditation, and one of the words was one of the kind of days has been like, how are we being bold? Like, how are we using our faith to embolden us knowing that, you know, depending on, for me, I’m a Christian. So the thinking about like, the Christian scripture, which tells me that I actually have a safety net, right like that I and I also have a plan, a clear pathway to success. So if I know that those two things exist for me, then why wouldn’t I step out and be more bold and be more courageous to be willing to engage in things that some people think are risky, but I might think isn’t necessary. And so that’s why I’ve been thinking a little bit about it, and, and how I’ve been thinking about it. Right? Well, I think, in a lot of cases, what most people think is bold is probably what you think is necessary. So it doesn’t feel risky, it feels necessary, right? It feels like a fundamental building block to get to change. And I’ve had people articulate that to me to like, oh, that’s really risky, that’s really bold, and I’m like, what am I risking? Like, what am I risking? In the in the grand scheme of things, and most cases, we’re not risking that much, right? What people are risking is the ability to be comfortable, is what I would say. So I’ve always felt like, it’s really important. You know, to just be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I don’t mind pressure, like I’ve never mind being in the hot spot. I’ve never mind being in the pressure cooker, if I thought that it would result in changes that were that the collective benefits from? And so I think that’s part of it, and then you probably also, you know, I think probably two of us have something in common is we get probably a higher risk tolerance, and that’s okay, like we need all kinds. 

 Chanda Smith Baker  06:38 

You know, I’m asking because I’ve been thinking about that myself. There’s a lot of things that I’ve done, and then someone will come and say, that was so bold. And I’m like, Hmm, I didn’t see it that way, at the time, like, I probably took more risks than I realized I was taking. And so I’ve been thinking about what are the risks that I would take, if I knew? You know what I mean? Like, I don’t always think about it in the bold frame. So I’ve been reflecting a lot on that myself on where do you go next in this work? Like, how much bolder can you be? And how much can the systems take? I’m definitely a kind. Oh, man, it’s funny that you sort of thought about organizing money and philanthropy as a place to do that. When I talk to folks, right? Like, I think the benefit of you and I and others from community that come into philanthropy is that we open up what philanthropy convene, to communities that haven’t always been accessible to it or understood it. And so did you understand philanthropy, young? Like were you exposed to it by your family? Or how did you come to understand it was like a formal place that you could work, right? Because I think I understood it from church, but it wasn’t called philanthropy. It was like tithing, or it was like these other examples of giving. 

 Tonya Allen  09:29 

Yeah, well, and I, you know, like the core word of philanthropy, like the definitional word of philanthropy is like the love of people. And I think in that case, we’re all exposed to it like to your point around being in church, maybe seeing people giving, and then how those resources could be aggregated and redistributed. I would just say like, my grandmother probably was my first teacher around philanthropy, didn’t have much but, you know, in the middle of the night, if families on her block didn’t have heat, they came into her home, she went and got them, brought them in, in the middle of the night, made pallets on the floor for them to sleep. You know, she just did all kinds of like, things that show like your responsibility to love people. She was a kind of like a neighborhood organizer, and I just learned so many lessons from her. And so I often think about, like, my strand of my career, really go back to the core lessons that she taught me as a child, and, and so I tried to pull that through. And then I think I learned about philanthropy as a career field. Probably when I was in graduate school, I met a sister who was just amazing. And she mentored me and helped me understand and she helped me understand what grants were and how you go about them. And I always then thought about grants, it’s not like, it’s just like, this is the fuel, or this is the power behind that enables the work, right? So, I now kind of like think of philanthropy is, I don’t get all excited about the money, like what I think about philanthropy is how do we use philanthropy to create an enabling environment, so that leaders in our communities can thrive? And so that is what I kind of think of my role as a leader in a philanthropic organization is like, how am I knocking down as many barriers as possible, so that people can create stepping stones. No stumbling blocks, only stepping stones? And how do we use the money and the resources to create that, so that people who are good will have tons of energy, and courageousness, and boldness actually can run like that’s, I think, the role of philanthropy. And so, and that’s how I think about it, and then the one other thing, I would just say, as you asked this question about organizing money, I also think that philanthropy has a responsibility to go outside of its philanthropic circles to organize money. And so I’ve always just felt like philanthropy is this really interesting entity, where, you know, it had it, sits on a pot of money, it has a lot of prestige, a lot of power, usually access to really powerful people, from the grassroots, to the grass tops, right, and they sit in this unique position where lots of people are pouring in, you know, wisdom into them from their partners who are working on the ground, to people who are researchers and academics and thought leaders. They’re trying to pour into these institutions to influence how you redistribute money. Well, I feel like philanthropy is really interesting thing that when they can say, we can say. This is our role, and we don’t go outside of that role. That’s everybody else’s role, and I think that’s the height of privilege. Like, that’s the height of privilege that you actually get to decide what you will do and not do as you’re in this kind of like, change equation. So I’ve always felt like it is important for us to blend the lines of between philanthropy and community, and that we have to use all of these kinds of privileges and powers that we might have in this, as an institution, to really push us to access all these different ways and different people and and use this influence that we have, so that we’re actually getting a cross sector, more durable set of solutions and players involved, that isn’t just, you know, relying solely on the nonprofit sector, because I think if you solely rely on the nonprofit sector, I feel like that’s a, it’s a necessary but incomplete formula change. 

 Chanda Smith Baker  14:11 

Yeah, it’s like one piece of the ecosystem. I thought you might go to like organizing government. 

 Tonya Allen  14:18 

Yeah. government, too. Yeah. And I do believe that I think you got to do business, you have to do government, I think you have to get a little messy sometimes. And that to me means like, you have to try sometimes for organized people who disagree with you. And I think it’s possible like you’re not going to get people who are on the extremes of either side, right, like, but I do believe that if we are thoughtful, and that if we listen, then if we’re strategic, we can bridge people. I use a framework in my own mind and the way that I kind of approach work is the 70, 20, 10 framework, which is essentially on tough issues, regardless of like what side of the aisle you sit on, you agree with about 60 to 70%, of what the solution is, right? You might not agree with what the language is, you might not agree with which part of the path you got to do to get there. And so if you can get people that understand that they agree in that space, and then that there might be another 20%, where you could actually negotiate, like, that’s the sweet spot, like if you can get people to negotiate in that 20%, and then understanding that there’s another 10% that you could never met, you can never bridge. So instead of starting at that 10, let’s try and start at 70, and work our way up to 90. And if we get to 70, or we get to 85, whatever that may be, it’s going to be better for our community. It’s got to be more durable. So that’s kind of the approach that I’ve always thought about, like how you bring people together to create change, or how do you help initiate that? And how do you pull these desperate voices together so that people actually see each other’s humanity before they start debating the issues, because I think that’s a big part of like, what we miss. 

 Chanda Smith Baker  16:15 

Bringing people together and bridging. So this is why you decided to come to Minnesota when you did. 

 Tonya Allen  16:23 

I decided to come to Minnesota, I don’t even know if I decided to come to Minnesota. I just felt so strongly called here in the moment. And I was, at the time, when I made the decision, I kept calling it a divine interruption, where it was like, I was living a really meaningful life and my hometown of Detroit and doing really meaningful work. But what I would say is the thing about what happened after George Floyd’s murder, and the kind of racial recommending that was happening, you know, for I can’t remember the number anymore, but it was like 140 days straight, that young people across this globe showed up, like 140 days straight. You know, I went to some of the protests with my daughters. And I remember in that moment, thanking the young people, as they always do, show us the way. So if they can make a sacrifice, and I don’t say this, like, like, I’m sacrificing to be here, but I sacrifice my comfort to come, because I knew that I could contribute more. And it felt like in this particular place, here, we are in kind of like the epicenter, but of like, the narrative of what went wrong, but it felt like it could really be the epicenter of a narrative about what went right. And then you look at like the richness of the community, like the richness of the leaders who are here. The richness of the nonprofit sector, the richness of the corporate sector, and it just felt like in that moment, like we had this, we, and I say it, because I do feel a part of the community now, like, we have this moment, where we can lead in a different way that actually creates equitable outcomes. And I just wanted to contribute, like, I felt like I was called to contribute, not to lead, not to do, but to just be in partnership with good people, and so that’s why I’m in Minnesota, and I’m so glad to be here. 

 Chanda Smith Baker  18:28 

I’m super happy that you are here, and the opportunities to fridge are plentiful. And we have encountered a number of things where you’re either with it or you’re not. You’re either for the fund, or you’re, you know, and if you’re for reform, you’re not bold enough, like there doesn’t seem to be room in the public debate. And it’s, it could be very easy to stay out of that because the community is not a monolith. Because, you know, who do you listen to, in these instances? And I’m curious on how you have sorted through that. I watched you watching right, I watched you taking it all in. I watched you doing your homework and due diligence and not jumping too quickly, which is very, very smart. 

 Tonya Allen  19:25 

Well, I appreciate that. And I try to sometimes I do jump too quickly because I can’t help it, my mouth gets out there before my brain does. But, so I wasn’t here when the debate kicked off. So like I miss some of the beginning of it. I only saw it from a distance, but what I find is like, I felt like we were debating a solution before we got a common definition of what the problem was. Like we all know that we have a broken justice system. A broken policing system if we can have a series of black men killed, unarmed and with impunity, right, like there’s a problem. So we know that part of the problem statement, but like, where was the community’s capacity in debate to talk about the issue before we were driven to choose between a solution, right? And that’s where I think we lost, like, we lost an opportunity. But I would say like, as I watched it unfold, Chanda, what I thought a lot about was, what happens the day after the election. So either way I went, if you were for reform, or if you were for the fund, neither one really had a plan, right? Like, we didn’t really have a plan about how we were going to advance community safety, and it really required a robust process on either side of those options. I think our moment right now is like, what’s the process? So if that wasn’t the solution, how does our city leaders show up in this moment right now to create space for all of those people to start saying what this reform look like? The things that were in the defund proposal are because we didn’t, because the voters didn’t choose to adopt, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have to do it, right? We can still have a public health approach to policing in our community, we could still do innovations in that. But that only is going to happen if our leaders don’t see themselves as winners because you can’t win, you’re not winning, if you literally get this pass, or you don’t get it passed by 8000 votes, like there are no winners in that. Like, it means that this issue is still sitting heavily on our chest there, it means that lots of mamas are still worried in the middle of the night, that if their son gets in a car, that he might not come home, that night, if he does the wrong thing. If he turns his music on too loud, if he decides to buy a bag of Skittles, if he decides, you know, if he has a broken light, or if he makes a mistake, like he might not come home. And so we have to like wrestle with that reality, and I would say it’s like time for us to build and regrow our civic muscle in this moment. Because if we don’t grow it, then as we become more and more diverse as a city as a region, as a state, then we are going to be less equipped to wrestle with really messy issues where people who have different sets of experiences are going to have different views on it. So that’s what I would say like right now, like what I’m really anxious for and in and hopeful for is like, okay, how do we now start talking about what are we going to do, not how are we going to vote, right? Because that’s what we do is going to be far more important than actually what we voted on, because all of that is dependent again on what you do, so. 

 Chanda Smith Baker  23:19 

I feel like I almost got emotional as you were talking, right? And thinking about my son’s, you know, I didn’t see well last night. There’s a whole thing about them cleaning the streets at 1:00 am, right? And then I’m just irritated because I’m like, it’s the Northside, they feel like they can do this, right? So they’re super loud, they’ve keeping our neighborhood, right? I actually was like, who do I call for noise? Should I be calling 911? Like, I have this whole thing in my head, right? And as you were talking, I was thinking about, then you go to school, and I have kids in school, and I want to know that they see them, their power, their ability, their humanity, right? They encounter employment opportunities, and you know, my daughter’s navigating stuff right now, and I’m like, why is she navigating this, right? I watched Colin Kapernick saying, you know, on Netflix, right and watching him navigate and do people see his talent? What is it? What is it about? Until we’re in a city that has so much and yet these disparities are so clear across the board, and one of the concerns that I’ve raised even around the policing of bringing it back there is we can have alternative responses, but we also need to be clear that the alternative responses have not had equitable outcomes either. And so how do we really begin to tackle this and think about to your point, what is at play here? What is that risk? And what’s going to be required of us because it’s not a simple solution. 

 Tonya Allen  24:59 

Right? Well, and that’s the thing like, we all know this. And I think on both sides, people know that this is complex, and it’s hard. And so in the face of complexity and hard things, you don’t go to the technical answer, right? Like you got to go to the adaptive issue, like start unpacking all of this deep stuff that’s related to it, and unpacking the question like, how do you reassure people in our city, they are valued? That they actually deserve, that you believe that they deserve to be safe, not because they’re going to be a protest, but actually, because you see them as a human being, right? Like, there are just a lot of things I think we have to unpack and I think if we could unpack those things, and it sounds exhausting, like and it sounds hard, and it sounds messy, and it is, but yet, if we can’t find the energy to do that, who are we leaving the task to? Do we want our kids to do it? If our parents didn’t do it for us, it’s time for us to do it now. And I just think about that saying of like, you know, 100 years from now, we don’t want to be the generation that people say like, what were they doing? What were they thinking back then actually want to say, like, what were they doing and thinking they believe that they actually could have been the ark of the universe, or that they could have been the ark of our community’s culture, or that they could have been the ark of making sure that we had equity across communities throughout Minnesota, or that we actually believe we could do a just transition of our economy, as we’re moving into clean energy. Like, those are the kinds of questions I think we should be asking ourselves, and I think pushing ourselves too, Chanda, to be bold, like, I don’t know what the answer is. So like, I fall into boldness, I’m not necessarily thinking I’m an architect of it, but what I would just say is, like, I’ve been really wrestling with what is the most equitable thing we can do in our city, in our region, in the Twin Cities and in the region? Like, you know, are we talking about just solving problems? Or are we talking about architecting the future. I believe in fixers, and I believe in builders. I’m a more on the builder side, and so part of what I’m thinking through is how do we mobilize builders to think about what the future looks like? How do we think about like, how do we become the most, per capita, the most, the highest number of black indigenous and people of color businesses in the country. Like, you know, what’s that big, inspiring, audacious goal that like we go after with vigor? That’s what I think in this moment, it calls for us to like, name what that is, and let them, let us go after it. If we know that there’s a challenge with access to capital, then let’s give capital. Like, if we know that there’s a challenge with getting loans, like let’s hold the institutions accountable, let’s ask the institution to hold themselves accountable. Put your numbers out there, show us how you’re going to move like all of these commitments, you’ve made. Financial institutions, let’s now talk about it show us with transparency where you’re at. If you’re saying foundations, McKnight Foundation, you say you’re about equity, show us how you’re being equitable. I think that we need to build that muscle of demand around it and just get even more courageous at the moment and stop kind of like going into these fights with lecterns. You know, like I always say people in philanthropy, we go to a fight with a lectern when like, you know, the other people on the other side are like this is guerrilla warfare. I just think we got to get a little more savvy, a little more real and stop being so heavy. 

 Chanda Smith Baker  29:07 

And I know you believe in the power of transforming place, and community led solutions. Do you feel confident in philanthropies ability to do community led work? 

 Tonya Allen  29:19 

I believe in philanthropies ability to convene people, and I believe in philanthropies ability to be a part of the community. I don’t believe that we need to necessarily lead it and we can sometimes help initiate it. We can help power it so it’s more effective, but we really ought to be listening to community. I was over North at a in a panel last week where somebody asked me what do you think your, what’s your vision for North Minneapolis? And I’m like, how would I have a vision for North Minneapolis? I was like I haven’t had the people tell me yet. I think they were a little surprised. It’s the people who live there have the most to gain or to lose, and I think the problem is, is that we’re not giving them enough opportunity to gain, enough opportunity to own, enough opportunity to see how it’s going to build a path for them. But it was an interesting question to me, because it’s like, of course, this has to be community driven, and as we’re looking and thinking about, like rebuilding the corridors, particularly, you know, after the uprisings, I think what we’ve been doing is investing in communities, give them the time and the space to rethink and to reimagine. What is it that they want to do like is this, this isn’t just a moment of like, trying to fix what happened in and repair that, like, that’s important. I don’t want to underestimate that. But it also is this moment, like, let’s just step into it, let’s see if we can make it better. Let’s see if we can think through what, what these corridors could look like if they really are thriving, and creating opportunity for everyone. And I just feel like that’s what we should be doing in this moment is supporting community, helping to enable community. Sometimes we can challenge community, but recognizing that if you challenge, you also have to be challenged. And I think that’s the big problem with philanthropy, and kind of like being in community work, is like we’re so fragile around our brands. And we’re so fragile around criticism and critique, because we have good intent. And just because you have good intent doesn’t mean you have good impact. And so we have to like wrestle with that and own, how we show up and how we’ve just, you know, like been problematic. We’ve done some harm, just like we’ve done lots of good, and we got to be able to feel comfortable in that paradox. And I think until we do that, we can’t really fully help lead, but we surely can enable, 

 Chanda Smith Baker  32:00 

Right, even on the north side, as you were talking, I was thinking about the riots in the 60s that happened on Plymouth, and other parts of North Minneapolis. And there was sort of this, where do we go from here and the businesses that were destroyed, you can look at what happened or didn’t happen in that case. And then 2011, when the tornado came through, and caused quite a bit of destruction, on the north side, lots of property damage, you know, I was at a table where it’s like, we don’t want to just build back, right, like there was a lot of information about how the tornado came through the number of people that were renters, the vacancy rates, the landlords that were gouging. The way public housing work, there was a lot of issues that came into play, as we were trying to secure the safety of community, and then rebuild. And you can argue that there was some fatigue, and we forgot to pay attention or stay attentive. And then now we have another opportunity to not just fix what was destroyed last year, but fix what has not been actualized for generations of time. You know, I’ve been in these conversations, I think you may have been in the conversation with the philanthropic collective, where we talk about philanthropy coming in, in these moments of disaster, in particularly in brown and black communities, indigenous communities after an incident, whether it’s, you know, 911, Mike Brown Ferguson, the LA riots, George Floyd, where the whole community says, we have to respond. There’s no way that we can’t be at the table, it’ll be obvious that we’re not there. But we don’t stick and we don’t stay. And we’re in it’s not an inclusive process, and I’m watching right now, some of the same behavior patterns. I see some that are new that are emerging. And so I guess part of my question, and particularly because you’re from Detroit, and I think about the riots that happened in Detroit, and the destruction there that city, is how do you hold hope when you’ve seen incident after incident that hasn’t substantially moved forward a community that people have been so interested in? 

 Tonya Allen  34:15 

Yeah, well, I think that’s right on so I would say when you think about like the deep, deep disparities that are here, and also like in Detroit and other northern places, it makes me think about that old saying, in the south, you can be close, but you can never be equal. In the north you can be equal, but you can never be close, you know, really referencing like the segregation that happens and the north and like, it’s not just geographic segregation, is economic segregation. But what we do know is this is that whenever we have these moments in history, where we have this opportunity to rethink and do something differently, and then we’re forced as a country to face this issue around race, we only have a short window, right? Like usually that window is like seven years before you start to see a rollback. But I think windows and not I think we know that windows of opportunity open and close a lot faster. So I think that this window is going to close faster, though, I think it’s an imperative that we really push on people who made these commitments, and hold them accountable to the commitments, and to make sure that businesses, and foundations, and government that this isn’t just about like a public statement, or and this isn’t just about delegating the work to black or to brown people. We actually need white people to do the work. And I’m gonna say it again, we need white people to do the work. Of course, we need to include black people and brown people. But these systems that have been constructed have to be deconstructed, and it’s really hard to deconstruct something that you didn’t create. So I would just say like, in this moment, like we have to figure out like how to hold each other accountable. And then I think we got to push ourselves to do things differently. To your point about like what happened over North, in terms of homeownership, in terms of the corridor, I think about like the great recession. Like so the great recession was essentially, in a lot of places wiped out black wealth through homeownership. Now you have COVID, which is trying to wipe out black wealth through business ownership. And so part of like, if we know, like, the people who are most vulnerable get hit the hardest, then why aren’t our solutions actually reparative not just equal, right? And so I think in this moment, like I keep pushing myself to think about philanthropy, in particular. I’m like, we don’t have to just support helping black or helping brown business owners learn how to run a business, how to do their books. We don’t need a technical assistance, black business leaders and entrepreneurs, actually, we can give them equity. Like, we literally can give these businesses equity that actually allows them to grow wealth faster, and when they grow wealth faster, then they’re gonna hire people who live in the neighborhoods. They’re gonna find hire people who look like them. That’s how we start closing the wealth gap. What I worry about sometimes with philanthropy, and even the nonprofit sector, so I know, my nonprofit colleagues are gonna get mad at me, but we can love people out of poverty. And that event just doesn’t happen, right? Like it does not happen. So I’m really anxious to be thinking about like how we conscientiously build, well close the gap here. Let some people trail us for once. 

 Chanda Smith Baker  37:46 

You know, so let’s talk about white folks, for minutes. So you said that we need white people working towards these issues. We have our white partners, our white sisters and brothers that come to us all the time saying, I want to do something, what can I do? Do you have advice on what does what does working look like? What does it where do you start? What does it look like? What is the role that they could play to advance issues that we’re talking about? 

 Tonya Allen  38:17 

Well, I think a couple of things, I think, do your own work, learn read, get a more full understanding and breadth and depth, the history, because I think part of that is the trauma of race in this country, particularly for people of color who’ve been here for a long time. Like we carry that history almost in our DNA, right? Like, like I know about police brutality, not because I have a son, but I remember my father talking about it. I remember my great, you know, my great grandfather, actually my great grandfather who talked about being brutalized in Tennessee, right? Like so, like that trauma, I feel it so deeply in my bones. It’s not because I’m worried about being harmed by the police. It’s because that trauma is historical, and it didn’t happen with George Floyd or Jamar Clark, right? Or Daunte, right? Like this, or, or whoever, like we can name hundreds of people, right? So we carry that history in our DNA in a lot of ways and so and why folks do too, but they get to ignore it, right? Because they’ve been the witness, not necessarily the victim. And so part of what I would say is, how do we help they got into their work to learn that, to understand history, have a more complex view of the world, that isn’t just their view. Then the second thing I would say is like, get in proximity, like, get close to folks, like invite people to your house. Like you need not like I’m going to talk to Chanda. Let me call Chanda because I’m wondering about this race question, then then she has to become your tutor. Like no, how about you invite Chanda and come and understand and meet her children, understand who she is, understand her story, so that you respect what she has to contribute, but you see her humanity as you’re thinking about solution. So now this isn’t about like, how do I help this person? Who are them? Like they have significant challenges, but no, how do I be in partnership with folks who have the same American aspirations as I do, and who have been denied them in lots of ways, or the trauma that they’ve experienced have prevented them from fully taking advantage of them. And then the final piece is use your personal and professional power. So if you can change your rules with your power, rewrite them, and I’m on the General Motors, General Motors, Mayor Barra is trying to become the most inclusive company in the world. And so when she first said that, to me, I was thinking like, Okay, let’s see what this has gotten me. So like, I sit on this, I’m one of her advisors on this, on the board that advises her on this. And so she’s literally fundamentally using her power to make sure every decision in the hiring process, every decision in the promotion process, every decision in the decision process is being that they are actually interrogating and removing bias and being transparent about it. Like that’s reusing your power to rewrite the rules. So now, if she just said it as the leader, yeah, that’s fine. But if you’re just an HR officer, you can actually do that, like, start looking at the data, even if your boss doesn’t tell you to. What, what’s going on here? Why is it that these people here I know are black, because I can tell from their names, their cultural names, or I can tell from where their geography is? Why didn’t we consider them? Can I introduce a tool to people when they’re hiring, that teaches them about bias before they hire. Like you don’t need your president to do that, or your CEO to tell you to do that. You can use your personal power to rewrite the rules, and I use this very small because small example because I think that we think we got to have lots of like, authoritative uninstitutional have to be able to do things differently. And we all can do it. rewrite the rules on your, in your black club, in your neighborhood association, how are you going to show up when somebody calls because somebody, some black kid is riding their bike down the street? Do you rewrite the rules there? Or do you pass it off? Do you say like, if you’re in a neighborhood association, and you do this, we’re going to find you for being there. 

 Chanda Smith Baker  42:51 

A number of white people that I’ve been with in meetings and something gets said or done in a meeting, I might speak up or I might make a face. And then on break, they’ll come and say, can you believe it? Yeah, just like your opportunity passed for you to actually say that wasn’t acceptable. 

 Tonya Allen  43:09 

Yeah, what I always say is we don’t need allies in the closet. 

 Chanda Smith Baker  43:15 

That’s great. 

 Tonya Allen  43:15 

I’m out the closet. Like, say it, then say it in the middle of the moment like commiserating with me after the fact about how something is terrible is not useful to me. 

 Chanda Smith Baker  43:26 

It’s actually more painful. 

 Tonya Allen  43:29 

I agree.  

 Chanda Smith Baker  43:29 

I appreciate you.  

 Tonya Allen  43:31 

I appreciate you. Thank you. 

 Souphak Kienitz  43:35 

And that’s Tonya Allen and our host Chanda Smith Baker. If you like this episode, have a suggestion or have questions to ask for upcoming new guests, please follow Chanda on Instagram @ChandaSBaker. Thank you to Sarah Gillund, John Cuoco, Darlynn, Benjamin and our host, Chanda Smith Baker. This is Souphak Kienitz. Thanks for listening, and I’ll talk to you soon. 

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About Our Guest

Tonya Allen

Tonya Allen is president of the McKnight Foundation and heads an all-women, majority people-of-color senior leadership team and a diverse staff of about 50. Throughout her 25-year career, she has been a bridge-builder and a civic diplomat. Tonya has led successful philanthropic, business, government, and community partnerships that catalyze fresh thinking, test new approaches, and advance public policy. A champion of diversity, inclusion, and equity practices, Tonya is driven by her passion for justice. She also chairs the Council on Foundations, is co-chair for the Executives’ Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, and has served on many other philanthropic boards. Tonya’s leadership and advisory capabilities extend to the government sector, but her career started working with residents, parents, and faith-leaders in neighborhoods. Tonya is a well-regarded and thought-provoking public speaker, author, media contributor, and advisor.