Our Equity Journey - Kenneth Rainin Foundation
A group of people smiling and waving at the camera. Kenneth Rainin Foundation staff in December 2019. Photo credit: JJ Harris

Last month I published a blog post called This Moment Demands Action about the Rainin Foundation’s commitment to racial justice. I wrote, “We are dedicated to making a conscious and public choice to do our part to use the resources at our disposal, our standing in the community, and our collective and individual voices to build an equitable and just society.” I meant it. We are committed to sharing with you our thoughts about how to ground our work in equity, what we are learning, what we are doing, and what we would like to do. We will be communicating with you on a regular basis about the many ways we are thinking about this important issue.

Today, we are taking a look at our programmatic work—what our grantmaking programs have already begun doing and what they hope to do over time. Our three programs—Arts, Education, and Health—are each considering equity as it relates to their fields. I will briefly explore how our programs are approaching this work, and in future communications, the directors of those programs will discuss their efforts in depth.


When our Arts Program released its updated strategic framework in 2018, it was with the understanding that the changes we were making could have enormous potential to advance racial equity in the arts community. At the time, we acknowledged that there were structural issues in the arts sector that systematically keep a diverse community of artists from thriving. Since then, our Arts team has worked to learn more about how this happens and how we can begin to address the systemic barriers that prevent artists, especially artists of color, from being able to live, work, and thrive in an increasingly gentrified Bay Area.

“We are aware that the current model of establishing and funding nonprofit arts organizations presents systemic barriers to Black, Indigenous and people of color…”

We are aware that the current model of establishing and funding nonprofit arts organizations presents challenges to Black, Indigenous and people of color that have historically lacked equitable access to donors, diverse audiences, and legal and financial resources. With this in mind, we are working to embed equity in all of our activities. In the year ahead, we will be more explicit about racial equity in our guidelines and criteria, and make sure that this work is front and center.


Our Education strategies are grounded in equity. We are particularly aware that educational disparities exist, disproportionately affecting children of color, especially Black boys. Children at schools in which students are mostly Black and Latinx receive significantly less money and resources than schools that white children attend. Students of color are also much more likely to be punished more harshly than white students for the same behaviors. As we work toward the goal of ensuring that every Oakland child enters kindergarten ready to learn and read at or above grade level by the end of third grade, we are committed to addressing these inequities.

“We are particularly aware that educational disparities exist, disproportionately affecting children of color, especially Black boys.”

To do this, we must involve members of our Oakland community. They are essential leaders and collaborators in helping eliminate barriers in a system that prevents all children from having equitable access to quality education and opportunities. We are working to democratically engage the community in disrupting cycles of systemic oppression through our Community Strategy Council for Educational Equity and Excellence. This group of Oakland teachers, school leaders, administrators; literacy experts and coaches; students and parents; and community organizers and partners will help us identify root causes of these complex problems and co-create solutions for greater impact. In future posts, we will talk much more about these vital resources, what we are learning, and how these partnerships are having an impact.


Until now, our work to examine equity in health has been largely focused on gender. To date, we have funded early stage biomedical research in Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), seeking the best research to help find a cure for IBD. This type of basic scientific research seems on its face to be neutral of race and gender issues, but that’s not true.

“Systemic and structural racism pervades many of the research institutions we fund.”

The biomedical research enterprise is overwhelmingly white and male. This affects how research is conducted, for whom, and in what settings. While we have already begun to address issues of gender bias in our grantmaking, we acknowledge that there are significant racial disparities in the biomedical enterprise. The fact is that systemic and structural racism pervades many of the research institutions we fund. As a small funder, we need to understand where we might have leverage and be able to influence these large institutions. We acknowledge that people of color face significant barriers to a career in science. Up and down the line, the message to certain people has been, “you don’t belong.” This is a national tragedy, especially since so many diseases disproportionately affect Black people and other people of color.

Our Health program is at the beginning of a journey to explore how we can use our voice and our grant dollars to improve the lives of IBD patients and create more opportunities for research for scientists of color. With our Scientific Advisory Board, we are eager to advance this conversation about diversity, equity, and inclusion in our field. We pledge to learn as much as we can, have meaningful and difficult conversations with our colleagues, advisors, and grantees, and share what we are learning.

Looking Ahead

Like many organizations, we continue to learn about how white dominant culture affects our work, and how implicit bias drives policies and practices that deepen inequities in our fields. We are reviewing our policies and procedures, and engaging our community and our grantees not just to inform our strategy but to make them a part of the decision-making process on how resources are distributed, who receives them, and how we evaluate impact.

We are also planning to launch an internal equity audit across the foundation that will closely examine our grantmaking processes. We want our grant portfolios to fully reflect the communities we hope to serve. We need to know exactly how our practices and systems can change to help us get there. Our equity audit will reveal weak spots that limit access to people of color in our application, selection and evaluation processes. Finally, we will begin to collect demographic data from all of our grantees to better understand where we need to improve.

As I said, this is a journey. Diversity, equity, and inclusion work is a marathon, not a sprint, and we are fully committed. In the months ahead, you will hear about our program areas in greater depth and how we are making internal changes. I will also share my own experiences as a white woman who is striving to dismantle the structures that perpetuate oppression.

Thank you for your partnership in this work.

Cursive signature for Jen

Jennifer Rainin
CEO, Kenneth Rainin Foundation