When Jeremy Yates first watched the video of George Floyd being killed by police officers on the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota, he struggled to sleep. "What happened to George Floyd just knocked the wind out of me," he said. "I was emotionally struggling and knew I needed to work through this and take real action."
Yates joined a group of friends across the Triangle, some who have known each other since middle school, to create a permanently endowed fund to support anti-racist nonprofit programs across the state. "We couldn't turn a blind eye to these events," he said. "There's a difference between recognizing something is going on and continuing with your day to day life and actually stopping to do something tangible about it."
Jessica Berry and her family were immediately ready to support Yates with the fund. "We were tired of feeling like the only thing we could do was talk to each other about it or write about it on social media," she said. "A big motivation for the fund was feeling energized by being able to do something about what we were seeing."
The friends founded the endowment, named Tip the Scales NC, this summer in order to support organizations in North Carolina that combat racial and social inequities in the classroom, workforce, community, justice system and beyond.
For Yates, he realized his own privileges and felt a need to give back. "When we were trying to think about how much we could personally invest in it, I specifically remember thinking about the amount and wondering what I would do with this money if I didn't invest in this," he said. "I realized I'd put it in my mortgage, and it hit me how ridiculously privileged that was and how much we needed to use these dollars to help people. That was my moment of realizing I needed to do more."
For Berry and many other parents in the group, supporting the fund was also a bit instilling lessons in social justice and generosity with their families. "We are raising our kids in a house where they see us making choices to donate and be directly involved in anti-racist work," she said. "It's important to us to set an example and show our children that taking action is more important than just talking about it."
The recognition that conversations about race are starkly different for White families and Black families was a big factor for many of the group as well. "I remember being floored reading about all the types of discussions Black parents have to have with their children about race, at such young ages. The fact that I'd never thought about explaining racism to my young kids until they were 'old enough to understand,' that itself is a privilege that I didn't recognize or appreciate until recently."
The layers or recognitions the friends were feeling brought them together to take tangible action to back up their beliefs. "We're living in this time where something is happening," Berry said. "When Jeremy came with this idea, we knew we wanted to help, and it felt like something we could do to show our support of the movement and keep pushing progress forward."
They chose to create a permanently endowed fund out of a recognition that, as much as they hope to see the problem get better and one-day be fixed, the struggle will probably outlive them. "Race is something that, since the dawn of time, people have been looking at each other and reacting negatively to differences," Yates said. "Because we know this problem will almost certainly outlast us, we want to see our support going forward into the future."
The fund also provides a structure through annual grantmaking dollars to distribute through which the friends reengage with their anti-racist work on a regular basis. "The endowment doesn't allow us to forget and forces us to continue to face this," Yates said. "We can't just write a single check and feel absolved."
Although everyone involved with the fund lives and works in the Triangle, the friends intentionally decided to focus the geographic footprint on the entire state of North Carolina, feeling that its critical to focus on communities across the state.
"We love our community and state, so it wasn't about randomly picking some national charity, it was about focusing on North Carolina, learning what resources are available and understanding what is happening on the ground here," Berry said. "We spent a lot of time thinking about the geographic footprint of our impact and knew we wanted to help the state, especially in a time when everyone seems totally focused on national issues. The organizations we will be funding are doing work that directly impacts the lives of our neighbors and the people in our greater community."
Recognizing personal privilege and the reality that the scales in life are not started off evenly for all people is reflected in the fund name and purpose, according to Yates. "People want to believe that their personal path to getting where they are is due only to their struggle, but that's not always true," he said. "Society wants to believe we're all on a level playing field, but this fund is an acknowledgment that's not the case. This was important to us, enough to even call it out in the name."
The group decided to partner with NCCF in their mission to tip the scales not only because of the statewide footprint but because they were committed to supporting local organizations throughout the process. "We didn't want to work with a big national or commercial entity," Berry said. "We wanted to give back through an organization that was already a part of our community."
The friends resonated especially with the socially responsible investment options available to them through their fund. "It meant a lot to know that the dollars are being invested in companies that are making our world a better place," Yates said. "We didn't want to invest money into companies doing bad things to use the profits to make the world a better place."
They found that home at NCCF. "We needed a team to support us that brought expertise and helped us understand and feel comfortable with the endowment process," Yates said. "The NCCF team was great to work with and the staff was clearly very personally excited about this idea and what we wanted to do."
Kathryn Holding, NCCF's director of development, recalls feeling inspired by the passion and drive for real action the group brought to conversations around starting an endowment. "They were so thoughtful and great to work with, it was inspiring to all of us who helped them through the process," she said. "A lot of folks are in a moment of questioning what we've been taught and accepted in society when it comes to these issues so it’s great to see a group of local young professionals taking real action to make a difference."
NCCF is honored to serve as their charitable partner, according to Jennifer Tolle Whiteside, NCCF CEO and president. "We're grateful to steward this fund and assist with their mission," she said. "We're all grateful to these folks for what they're working to do for our state and communities."
For the friends, it is all about being a part of the solution for the community. "We recognize that we, to varying degrees, have a lot of privilege and we feel it is our responsibility to use that to level the playing field," Berry said. "There's a glass ceiling out there for many different parts of our community. If you're on top of the glass, it's your job to help those working to break through."