In June 2023, the US Supreme Court ruled that colleges were prohibited from using affirmative action in the admissions process. Since then, the case’s conservative backers have filed several troubling lawsuits against organizations working to address racial inequity in other aspects of society, from private companies to the US military to philanthropy.

One of those lawsuits has targeted the Fearless Fund Foundation, a venture-capital fund that offers $20,000 grants to Black women business leaders. Adding insult to injury, the plaintiffs are using the Civil Rights Act—a law meant to protect formerly enslaved people from economic exclusion—to target the women of color-led organization.

This month, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decided, in a preliminary ruling, that the Fearless Fund could not continue its grant program while litigation is pending.

Some may be wondering what effect this could have on our Catalyst Award program for women environmental leaders of color. In the book On Tyranny author Timothy Snyder writes: “Do not obey in advance.” We will not be changing our programming in anticipation of a negative outcome. That’s precisely what the plaintiffs want: to instill fear in those working for equity.

We are not alone, and we will not let tactics like this lawsuit dissuade us. The fact is, women—especially women of color—continue to be overlooked by traditional grantmakers, including in the environmental space. Women and girls’ nonprofits receive less than 2 percent of philanthropic support; women and girls of color receive only about a quarter of that even though our data shows that women of color are the strongest leaders on environmental issues.

In a webinar hosted a few months ago by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, panelists shared advice for funders who prioritize racial equity. We were moved by the words the California Endowment’s Robert Ross:

“…This is what social/racial justice looks like: it’s a fight. It’s not the time for philanthropy to back away and get chilled on racial justice, but to realize that the fight is now being taken to us. And we need to respond in kind.”

For an organization founded to redress gender inequality in the environmental movement, equity and inclusion are central to our mission. It is precisely in moments like these when our commitment to that mission is tested, and when its courageous expression provides the most value. Consider making a pledge to the Catalyst Award to continue this vital work with us and show the women of color on the frontlines of the environmental movement that we stand with them.

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