Fit Oshkosh is the first monthly recipient of a Forward Community Investments’ Game Changer Grant. They will use the $3,000 grant to provide racial literacy training to three Oshkosh-area nonprofit organizations.
The mission of Fit Oshkosh is “To increase the racial literacy of the residents of Winnebago County, WI and beyond through, education, advocacy, consulting and research,” says Tracey Robertson, the organization’s founder.
The video Fit Oshkosh submitted for the Game Changer grant
“We believe racial literacy is a person’s or organization’s capacity to appreciate and understand the history of race and where it is today, and to have the capacity to make changes and eliminate those disparities,” Robertson says. “It’s about working together across race to address the challenges of the 21st century.”
In explaining the concept of racial literacy, Robertson often employs an analogy to elementary school math: You couldn’t function well as a professional adult if you only knew addition and subtraction. Similarly, without a full and up-to-date understanding of race, bias and related concepts, it’s hard to interact with an increasingly diverse community.
“We haven’t really taught people how to engage and talk about race,” Robertson says. “We’ve taught people to pretend they don’t see it. Those really low-level skill sets that we have around race don’t really translate to today’s world.”
Robertson, a Chicago native and longtime radio host and writer in the Oshkosh area, started Fit Oshkosh in 2012. In its relatively short history, the organization has provided racial literacy training to more than 1,500 people and multiple organizations such as the Oshkosh Area Police Department, Oshkosh School District and the City of Appleton, as well as at statewide and national events including the 2015 White Privilege Conference in Louisville, Kentucky and YWCA Racial Justice Summit in Madison, Wisconsin
Robertson will use the Forward Community Investments Game Changer Grant to provide racial literacy training for Esther of the Fox Valley, an interfaith organization; Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Services and All Saints Lutheran Church.
“Fit Oshkosh is going to take this grant and make a real ripple effect in the community,” says FCI President Salli Martyniak. “This is exactly the kind of project we envisioned for our Game Changer Grant Program — a project that can take a small grant and make a large and lasting impact toward greater equity.”
Through the Game Changer program, FCI makes the grant application process easier for small organizations that are responding to racial inequities in their communities. The application process consists of just one five-minute video — which could be just a cell phone selfie video — along with a one-page form. More than 50 organizations submitted videos for the first round of grants. What makes the program especially unique is that it’s not just a one-time award; instead, one $3,000 grant winner will be announced monthly throughout 2017.
Robertson says she really appreciates FCI lowering the barriers to funding.
“We know how taxing these grant processes can be. It was really refreshing to have someone recognize that and offer something simpler,” she says. “We’ve spent months and months on grants that didn’t get us that much more money than participating in this program. None of us (small nonprofits) are heavily resourced. Often our little organizations are left out of the grant-making process. We don’t have grant writers on staff. This particular model opens the floodgates for people who are doing great work but are limited by their resource pool. It was really refreshing to see this model that opens it up and makes it possible for anyone to participate and have a chance.”
Robertson also says she hopes other funders will learn from FCI’s example.
“Other funders, particularly if they want to fund people of color-led organizations, if they’re serious about that, they have to understand the struggle of the small grassroots organizations and really ask whether their process is inviting everyone in,” she says. “Our learning curve (on fundraising and grant-writing) was huge. It required a lot of time and a lot of energy. I feel like if organizations are really serious about diversifying their funding pool, they’ve got to do this work. They’ve got to rethink this process.”
Fit Oshkosh’s first FCI-funded training will take place in late February.
In its capacity as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), Forward Community Investments builds stronger and healthier communities by providing loans, advising, and grants to mission-based organizations that address the root causes of racial inequities and socioeconomic disparities. FCI supports initiatives that improve equity and make positive change possible. Its vision is an equitable and inclusive Wisconsin built on cooperative social action. For more information about FCI, go to www.forwardci.org.