Stories of the Pandemic is a collaboration between the Newark Board of Education and Newest Americans, a storytelling project about migration and identity based out of Rutgers University-Newark, created in partnership with Talking Eyes Media. Photo Courtesy Rutgers Center for Migration and the Global City.

As our worlds keep changing, as we grieve what once was, and as uncomfortable truths are revealed and continue to be experienced, there is hope because our shared humanity is being activated.   

The pandemic has laid bare racial health disparities in our systems and policies, leaving behind those without access to funding and aid as a result of geography, race, status, or their intentionally designed invisibility in our institutions. As the protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis began to mount, calling for justice for Black lives, many organizations, including the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, made statements condemning racism and white supremacy. For us, it was time for Dodge to take a public, unified, and explicit stand to commit to becoming an anti-racist organization. We are embracing this opportunity to imagine a new future as we live up to this commitment.    

The pandemic has exacerbated longstanding structural inequities in the systems that we all rely on for basic human needs, including food, shelter, healthcare, and education. With curiosity and humility, and in collaboration with community leaders, we seek to understand the intersections of these systemic challenges that perpetuate structural social, racial, and economic injustices. In so doing, we are also determining what role we should play, and how we can share our resources and power to make the greatest impact toward an equitable recovery. 

The pandemic has required us to communicate, engage, and work in new ways — an unexpected bright spot. The inability to be together in person has allowed us to make time to meet and get to know new partners, strengthen relationships, and to think beyond boundaries of past practices and norms. The desire for basic human connection and the permission to check in and ask how people are doing has, in many ways, accelerated relationship building. Our Zoom check-ins with our nonprofit partners and philanthropic peers, affinity group meetings, and webinars have also had a direct impact on how we are responding to the pandemic. 

Over the past two weeks, we announced $3.5 million in new grants, including more than $500,000 in our second round of COVID-19 relief and recovery grants. We also shared that the Dodge Poetry Festival is going virtual for the first time ever.   

Below are some highlights of our COVID-19 response grants and upcoming programming as we continue to center our work on equity. 

We are focusing immediate cash resources supporting immigrants and undocumented people as well as Black and Latinx people in Newark and beyond burdened by the greatest risk and giving voice and power through storytelling:

We made a $200,000 grant to the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund to provide cash assistance for undocumented and immigrant individuals and families in New Jersey. While immigrants are big drivers of New Jersey’s economy and many are essential workers, a disproportionate number of immigrant families have not received any federal stimulus support during the COVID-19 crisis and find themselves at higher risk for income, housing, and food insecurity.  Given Dodge’s mission to serve people and communities of color, it was imperative that we provide support during this perilous time. It is also an opportunity for Dodge to learn and collaborate with trusted community leaders and organizations that advocate for immigrant and undocumented rights.   

A $25,000 grant supports the Center for Migration and the Global City at Rutgers-Newark. The Center’s projects provide tools, training, media, production, and platforms for Newark residents and community organizations to share their own stories, conduct their own community-based projects, and to share Newark’s history through digital media projects. In April, the Center launched Stories from the Pandemic, chronicling the nuanced lives of young people in Newark and beyond under quarantine; how our families, friends, and neighborhoods are being impacted by the pandemic; and how our stories can connect us across the globe. The project is a collaboration between Newest Americans, the Center’s storytelling project about migration and identity, and Newark Board of Education created in partnership with Talking Eyes Media. Based in Newark, a city shaped by migration and home to the most diverse university in the nation, the Center’s projects afford a glimpse into the worlds of the newest Americans and a vision of our demographic future.  

We are investing in two collaborative funds serving the arts and local news and information ecosystems:

A $200,000 grant to the newly formed New Jersey Arts and Culture Recovery Fund at the Princeton Area Community Foundation supports cash assistance to New Jersey artists and arts organizations for short-term recovery and long-term sustainability. The mission of the New Jersey Arts and Culture Recovery Fund is to ensure the survival and strength of the state’s arts and culture sector during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. The Fund was developed collaboratively by a coalition of arts funders across the state, including the Dodge Foundation, Grunin Foundation, Prudential Foundation, and New Jersey State Council on the Arts. The Fund recognizes that the more than 30,000 arts and culture workers and hundreds of arts organizations in New Jersey, who together generate more than $600 million in annual revenue to the state’s economy, are experiencing catastrophic financial losses as a result of the pandemic, yet are still using their entrepreneurial and innovation skills to play a critical role in the economic recovery in the state.   

A $50,000 grant to the New Jersey Local News Lab Fund at the Community Foundation of New Jersey provides strategic support for journalists of color and people of color media organizations in response to the pandemic. The New Jersey Local News Lab Fund is a collaborative fund that supports people and organizations working to build a more connected, collaborative, and sustainable local news and information ecosystem in New Jersey. The Fund is locally led and is managed by an advisory group made up of local stakeholders, the Dodge Foundation, and Democracy Fund. It is housed at the Community Foundation of New Jersey. In its third year, the New Jersey Local News Lab Fund is focusing its resources to support people of color media organizations and nonprofit organizations whose work tells untold stories and shapes new narratives through a racial lens to bring voice and visibility to communities of color. 

We are also proud to support Sustainable Jersey and Foundation for Education Administration to address the growing mental health crisis and technology gaps in our schools and communities.   

A grant of $50,000 to Sustainable Jersey supports its new Digital Schools Program, a partnership with the New Jersey Department of Education and New Jersey School Boards Association, to provide best practices, technical support, and a certification framework for schools to address the digital divide. 

A $25,000 grant to Foundation for Education Administration supports the Trauma Informed ACES Collaborative for Schools initiative in partnership with the Burke Foundation and the Turrell Fund.   

We also continue to advance our equity work in other Dodge program areas, including Poetry and Technical Assistance programs.

As previously announced, the 2020 Dodge Poetry Festival will be virtual. The Dodge Poetry Festival has always celebrated the great diversity of voices that make up contemporary poetry. A virtual festival allows us to reimagine the Dodge Poetry Festival, expand the Festival community and provide greater access to contemporary poetry and poets to audiences across the globe. We will continue to support diverse poets by also providing relief for COVID-19’s impact on nonprofit organizations that support poets of color, the LGBTQ community, and poets with disabilities. 

Dodge Technical Assistance is designing a “Putting Racial Equity at the Center” capacity building series that will begin with a summer/fall communal reading and three-part discussion of Ibram X. Kendi’s book Stamped from the Beginning. This reading circle will be followed by a sequential five-month anti-racism and anti-oppression learning, adaptation, and applied practice training. Organizational teams will be invited to participate in a learning community focused on understanding structural racism, building empathy through facilitated discourse, and developing action plans for an organizational shift.  

In addition, Dodge created an Equity Framework as a tool to help deepen and facilitate conversations with grantees on how well their work is achieving overall equity and how well that work furthers the equity goals of the Foundation. Over the next few months, the Dodge staff will host a series of webinars to share the Equity Framework with various key stakeholders, including grantees and funding partners.   

While we have made progress on our equity journey, we know we will not be able to undo racism and deeply entrenched systemic and structural impediments in our state and country by ourselves.   

We will continue to listen, learn, engage, and act with partners and communities and to imagine a new way of leveraging and sharing our resources and power. We also know that by leaning into and living our core values, we will be able to imagine a new future and help build an equitable New Jersey.    

Will you join us?

Tanuja Dehne is the President & CEO of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Established in 1974, the Dodge Foundation has distributed nearly $500 million in grants and technical support to New Jersey nonprofits, with a focus on the arts, education, the environment, informed communities, and poetry. As a former Dodge Trustee, Tanuja helped shape the foundation’s new strategy, which envisions an equitable New Jersey through creative, engaged, and sustainable communities.