Minnesota's first Black-led community foundation is distributing its inaugural grants to Black-led organizations and leaders, aiming to spark broader change across the state's philanthropic sector as well as help the recipients.

The Black Collective Foundation, started by Black philanthropic leaders in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, is giving a total of more than $1 million to 15 nonprofits and for-profit companies.

"Minnesota actually needs a foundation dedicated to what we're calling the genius of Black-led change — a foundation that can outlast the moment of the uprising, a foundation that can be rooted in our culture and our vision for ourselves and our families," said Lulete Mola, president of the St. Paul-based foundation.

After Floyd was killed at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in May 2020, Mola, who was working at the Women's Foundation of Minnesota, started the Philanthropic Collective to Combat Anti-Blackness and Realize Racial Justice with Chanda Smith Baker of the Minneapolis Foundation and Repa Mekha of Nexus Community Partners. The purpose was to denounce racism and reform the philanthropic sector, while seeking to raise $25 million for Black-led nonprofits and advocacy groups.

Since its creation, the group has raised nearly $5 million, conducted research and offered training on racial justice philanthropy. It has met with more than 200 community members and philanthropic sector employees, getting feedback that spurred the name change and creation of the foundation.

"Foundations don't have to look like the historical model of the wealthy giving to the poor," Mola said. "We, as a diverse community, we can actually create a foundation with our vision. We are givers too. We are also reclaiming the narrative of who we are."

Floyd's death spurred a global racial justice movement, prompting many Minnesota foundations to boost funding for racial justice work and make granting decisions more inclusive. They brought in community members to help choose grantees and have diversified staffing, board members and leaders.

Since then, some of that funding has waned, Mola said. But she said the problems won't be solved with one-time pledges.

"We actually have to make decades-long commitments with money ... if we're truly about addressing the structural virus that is racism and racial injustice," she said.

The Black Collective Foundation hopes to model that community-centered decision-making. To design the grant program and select the first grantees, the foundation teamed up for six months with 15 Black community leaders: Abena Abraham, Anissa Keyes, Artika Tyner, Bianca Monique Dawkins, Danielle Swift, Del Shea Perry, Hassan Qais As-Sidiq, Jeffrey Aguy, Joy Marsh, Leslie Redmond, Salma Ibrahim, Shá Cage, Teto Wilson, Tracine Asberry and Victoria McWane-Creek. Each was paid $10,000 for their work.

As "trusted messengers" in the community, the group knows about local Black-led organizations that may fly under the radar, said Wilson, a Minneapolis barbershop owner.

"There's a Black ecosystem that is largely unrecognized from larger grant-making organizations," Wilson said. "This is much different than anything I've heard of, the fact that they are being very intentional that Black-led change is being highlighted."

Mola said the foundation wanted to share the decision-making power, something other foundations can do to show their commitment to racial justice.

"Many people in the social change sector have pre-determined notions of what should happen instead of listening to people in communities closest to problems and closest to solutions," she said.

Each of the Black Collective Foundation's first grantees received $50,000, and each of their leaders received an additional $10,000 to invest in personal or career development.

For Ebony Aya, it's the largest grant she's ever received. In 2017, she started the Aya Collective, a nonprofit that provides writing workshops and resources for Black women.

"I wasn't even expecting it," she said. "My dreams were multiplied five, six, sevenfold ... For an organization that has been holding things together with spit and water and glue, it's a lot."

The grant will allow her to expand partnerships and projects, she said, as well as compensate her for the unpaid work she's done in the past five years.

"There are so many under-resourced, ignored Black-led organizations," Aya said. "It's a movement that they are building. It's a gamechanger in the whole philanthropic community, and I hope the rest of the philanthropic community takes note."

The 14 other organizations and their leaders receiving grants are: ACER, Nelima Sitati Munene; the Cordale Q. Handy in Remembrance of Me Foundation, Kimberly Handy-Jones; the JK Movement, Johnny Allen Jr.; Until We Are All Free Movement, Kevin Reese; Sweet Potato Comfort Pie, Rose McGee; Voice of Culture, Kenna Cottman; We Win Institute Inc., Titilayo Bediako; Abdur Razzaq Counseling & Social Architecture, Kasim AbdurRazzaq; the Zen Bin, Sierra Carter; Stories by Georgia Fort, Georgia Fort; Reinvesting in Communities and Housing, Vachel Hudson; Intro to Success, Steven Johnson (also known as Philli Irvin); Black Family Blueprint, Ayolanda and Adrian Mack; and N4 Collective, Lewis McCaleb.

Mola, the first employee at the Black Collective Foundation, plans to grow the foundation's work in 2023 by hiring two staff members, distributing another $1 million in grants and building an endowment. The foundation is also releasing new research on racial justice funding and continuing to push broader reforms in Minnesota's philanthropic sector.

"The goal is not for us to raise money and give it out," Mola said. "The goal is for all of philanthropy to recognize the genius of Black-led change."