The Heartland Fund Racial Justice Statement

The Heartland Fund is committed to advancing racial justice in rural America. It’s one of the central ways we measure success.

We embed racial justice practices in our work with rural communities of color, as well as white and multiracial communities. We commit to grantmaking with a racial justice lens and internal processes such as hiring, staff development, decision-making, and team culture. We also elevate racial justice in our strategy, external communications, partnerships, and thought leadership in civic and philanthropic spaces.

Racial justice is essential to our mission.

Rural America is diverse and becoming more so. Race and class have been used to create wedges that are obstacles to building power and solidarity. In response, we push back on the “white conservative” trope that is used to stereotype rural people. The demography and cultural histories of rural America are rapidly evolving; 24% of rural residents are people of color. In some places, like counties in Georgia and North Carolina; the Rio Grande Valley in Texas; and Tribal nations in Montana, Arizona, and Alaska, rural communities are majority people of color. Everyone benefits from racial justice and liberation movements that build bridges across race, place, and class.

Our strength as a democracy depends on our ability to ensure every community can fully participate, contribute to, and benefit from the opportunities, freedom, security, and prosperity that democracy can afford. Historically, America has not provided equal access to the vote. Today, communities of color continue to be purposefully excluded from representative governance. When we take into account that rural communities have outsized civic power (low-population states have the same Senate representation as densely populated states, and gerrymandering favors rural voters), it’s even more important that we support rural voices of color to be heard for the future of our democracy.

All rural communities need to be at decision-making tables in the movement, and Heartland plays a critical role ensuring this happens. Otherwise, we risk continued division and racial scapegoating in our country, with rural communities siloed from progress and shared prosperity.

The Heartland Fund racial justice framework is a model that, if implemented fully, can begin to provide financial resource equity, transparency and accountability in the grantor/ grantee funding space.
Shakya Cherry DonaldsonHeartland Fund Grantee, Racial Justice Planning Committee — Grantee Capacity Workgroup Member

Rural America has a painful history of racial oppression.

We recognize that rural communities have histories of racial injustice. A long pattern of rural disinvestment in politics, philanthropy, and government has resulted in major long-term challenges. People in rural communities are 25% more likely to live in poverty and face limited access to quality healthcare and education, fair political representation, corporate disinvestment, wealth inequality, infrastructure decline, and environmental degradation when compared to urban areas. Race and class exacerbate disparities within rural America, resulting in worse health, economic, and environmental outcomes in rural communities of color. A lack of broadband access, loss of local media outlets, lack of in-language media, and the rise of disinformation isolate rural people of color. When the media overlook the stories and issues of rural Black, Latino/a/e¹, and Indigenous residents, these communities lose power in the decisions that affect them. Greater distances between communities make rural organizing challenging, and rural residents of color are vulnerable to discrimination and racist attacks as they organize in their communities.

Down Home NC’s Granville Chapter
Wisconsin Native Vote

There is a long, painful history of violence and discriminatory policies that still affects rural communities of color today. This includes the genocide of Indigenous peoples, broken treaties and land stolen; the enslavement of African peoples, racial terror and lynching, Jim Crow and voter suppression laws, racial segregation, and the Great Migration; separation and deportation of immigrant families; historical land theft and marginalization of Hispanic and Latino/a/e communities; imprisonment and worker exploitation of AAPI farmworkers; and more. We acknowledge and contend with these histories. Rural communities continue to be sites of overt racism, white supremacy, and violence today, making it harder for people to speak out and push back, and harder to organize people for change. Despite these challenges, organizations across the country, many led by people of color, are facing these problems head on and building the future we want to see.

Heartland’s work must not only be that of funding organizations working in rural spaces, but instead Heartland Fund must also paint a clear and less abstract picture of who is and what is rural in America. This includes reshaping the narrative to include communities of color who are too often left out of the rural tale of this country.
Mondale RobinsonHeartland Fund grantee, Racial Justice Planning Committee — Decision-making & Donor Education Workgroup Member

As old as racial oppression is resistance

Since the founding days of the United States, rural people have fought bravely for liberation and an end to discrimination. We acknowledge that all of the lands of America are Native Lands; Native people have stewarded these lands for thousands of years and continue to endure. We know that rural Black people resisted the brutal system of slavery — enslaved people escaped, found sanctuary, and developed collective networks of freedom through the Underground Railroad. They organized slave rebellions, and in some cases joined with white indentured servants, and Native people to fight back. Later, white and Black abolitionists across rural areas and cities spread their message through writing, speeches, and songs, and pushed elected officials to end slavery.

Down Home NC’s Granville Chapter
West Virginia Can’t Wait

Rural Black resistance continued with the Civil Rights Movement — through sit-ins, bus boycotts, and non-violent protests, large and small communities sought to abolish racial segregation, discrimination, and disenfranchisement. During the same time period, the American Indian Movement fought for the recognition of treaties, the sovereignty of Tribal nations, and the protection of Native lands and ecosystems. Iterations of these movements continue to the present day. Rural people have a long legacy of growing food, holding community, and fighting for workers’ dignity. In the 1800’s, rural agricultural workers led efforts to rein in corporate power and established some of the first local independent co-operatives. A hundred years later, Mexican and Filipino farmworkers sought to close gaps in labor law and ensure workers have fair wages, education, housing, and legal protections.

This is a multi-generational fight, and Heartland honors the legacies of rural leaders who have fought for dignity and justice as we continue the push for progress.

By the Numbers

Our grantmaking supports Black, Indigenous, and people of color leadership and organizations advancing racial justice in rural America. Here are a few stats about our 2023 grantmaking.

$4.7M

to support work in rural Black communities

56%

went to BIPOC-led or -serving Groups

Heartland Fund embraces and learns from our own racial justice history.

As a funder collaborative founded by white-led philanthropic organizations, we acknowledge that philanthropy culture has roots in systems of racial and economic injustice. To achieve our mission, Heartland must intentionally leverage our resources to reduce disparities in the rural communities we serve. Our work has rapidly expanded to encompass civic engagement, power building, policy and political change that addresses the systemic causes of environmental, economic, and social injustices. To help us achieve this larger mission we established a racially and geographically diverse Advisory Committee of practitioners and thought leaders across rural issues, who lend their range of perspectives early in our decision processes. As we grow and evolve, our 2022-2027 racial justice plan provides guidance for shifting our decision-making structures, empowering our new Advisory Committee, thoughtfully deploying our resources, and building our staff and Steering Committee’s capacity to advance racial justice in rural communities.

‘All organizing is science fiction,’ calling upon the words of adrienne maree brown. I think it takes a special kind of courage to lean into an honest evaluation of how we live the principles of racial justice because the evaluation is necessarily followed by the question, ‘How do we create that new, unseen future?’ I’m really proud to have wrestled with this question in the working group and honored to take part in long-term work that helps our communities live in dignity and power.
Megan HessHeartland Fund grantee, Racial Justice Planning Committee Grantee Capacity Building Workgroup Member

Heartland Fund practices racial justice in action throughout our work.

Heartland uplifts and supports the brave changemakers in our network.

  • As a funder: we provide general operating support whenever possible, commit to places for the long-term, and dedicate funds to safety and security as well as healing justice.
  • As a convener: we help funders and grantees learn from each other. We play a role in building larger, multiracial coalitions, and support grantees of color in connecting with one another.
  • As a capacity-builder: we are responsive to our grantees’ needs, and we provide support that goes beyond funding so the field can be as effective as possible.
  • As a thought leader: we move grantees toward racial justice practices in their organizations. We support white-led organizations working toward anti-racism and solidarity, and we share rural lessons learned and best practices.
Este Poder
Faith in Indiana

We are working to change commonly held narratives about rural communities by showing examples of what’s possible and elevating the voices of rural leaders of color to the media, funders, and influencers. We are working to influence philanthropy so our analysis can be part of the larger movement for change, and all racial justice funders will see rural communities as essential to their strategies. We also seek to embed progress toward racial justice throughout our internal organization. This includes reforming our decision-making structures; diversifying our staff; improving our grantmaking practices; and building a culture of transparency, integrity, and accountability. Through our work, we hope to see an America where all residents in rural communities have voice and representation in our democracy, where there is shared economic prosperity—everyone will have enough, and there is safety and the freedom to pursue one’s own quality of life.

1. At Heartland Fund, we strive to use plain and inclusive language that is embraced by the communities we serve; therefore, we are using Latino/a/e in this statement to be gender inclusive. For more information: A Brief Explainer on Latine and Latinx – Hispanic Executive.

Heartland Fund supports organizations advancing racial justice in rural America. Learn about our grantees.

Rural Youth Building Power in East Texas

Three friends founded Este Poder, a youth Latine-led organization building power for their rural East Texas communities of color.

Este Poder

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Alaska Grantees
Person with pride flag
RAZE

5 Case Studies from the Heartland Fund Network

There’s no one way to organize for racial justice. Groups use a variety of strategies, focus on different issues, and organize in distinct communities.

Racial Justice in Rural Communities