Marguerite Casey Foundation held its first board meeting of the year in February. Board members and other participants gathered in Miami to talk about nurturing a grassroots movement with an equity lens.
Among the leaders at the table was Jazmin Ramirez, the Foundation’s inaugural youth Board Fellow. Ramirez, who comes from an immigrant family, is active in her community in Tennessee as a college student, intern, part-time worker and grassroots advocate with the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC).
Marguerite Casey Foundation launched the one-year Board Fellowship in late 2017, part of an effort to engage young people and include their voices in philanthropy. The Board Fellowship helps young community leaders gain a better understanding of a national independent philanthropy — and their perspectives are heard at official meetings and grantee site visits.
“Philanthropy gains more strength and effectiveness with greater diversity and youth voices,” said Luz Vegas-Marquis, president and CEO of Marguerite Casey Foundation. “The growing diversity of the U.S. and the views of youth leaders need to be better reflected in philanthropy. All of us will benefit.”
A Council on Foundations survey released in February found that only one in four foundation staff members were people of color, and only 11 percent of staff members were under the age of 30. The survey gathered data from 970 funders who employ more than 9,700 people.
Ramirez recently took a moment to reflect on the Miami board meeting, as well as her grassroots and Board Fellowship work.
Q: Why did you get involved in community organizing?
I decided to get involved when I saw a youth, Alejandro Guizar Lozano, fighting his deportation. It showed me that [immigration] status doesn’t always matter — that you can change something. That taught me that I had the power to do something. That was in 2011.
Q: Why did you apply for this Board Fellow opportunity at Marguerite Casey Foundation?
Marguerite Casey Foundation’s Sargent Shriver Youth Warriors Against Poverty Award honors youth leaders for the work they do in their communities. I am a proud 2015 recipient of this Award and also an active member in the Shriver Youth Network. The network is made up of past Award recipients. I received information about applying for this exciting leadership opportunity from the Foundation and started quickly to get my application in.
I applied because it was an interesting offer — to learn and grow. I wanted to venture out and learn more about the difference between a nonprofit organization and a foundation. It was the first time I’d heard of a philanthropy doing something like this, in putting a youth’s voice at the table. I wanted to be part of it. I wanted to learn more about funding and what drives a foundation to support certain types of work.
Q: Could you share one reflection about the board meeting and site visit to Haitian Women of Miami?
I learned that board members and staff members were open and willing to help me. They were interested in what I had to say. That was terrific.
I loved the site visit. I learned that the work of Haitian Women of Miami was similar to the work I’m doing in Nashville at TIRRC. Immigration and grassroots work cuts across states and cities — the issues are the same for different races and ethnicities despite where people live.
At the site meeting, I recall hearing about how they’ve been doing power of attorney in case deportation happens. That’s work that we do in Tennessee, but with the Hispanic community. I learned that temporary-protected-status holders in the Haitian community also need this. Power of attorney is — the way we see it at TIRRC — giving someone rights of your children or your house in case you can’t do something yourself.
That person would be like a legal guardian, but if there is no evidence that tells you that a specific person is responsible, then the children might go to family services. I learned how the Haitian community was addressing this to support families.
I also enjoyed hearing from the different organizations [The New Florida Majority, Florida Immigrant Coalition, Catalyst Miami, Dream Defenders and Haitian Women of Miami]. They’re doing impressive work in Florida. These are organizations I’ve looked up to for so long.
Q: You’re a recipient of Marguerite Casey Foundation’s Sargent Shriver Youth Warriors Against Poverty Leadership Award. What do you want to tell other Award recipients about becoming a Board Fellow?
It’s a different and new experience than what they’re used to as an awardee. Many of the Shriver Award recipients have not been involved with boards and funding. It’s an opportunity for growth and to develop skills. It’s also a way to bring a human aspect to the funding, in the sense that it allows a youth voice to be at the table — someone who does the work but doesn’t fully understand where the funding comes from or how grants are managed.
Q: What do you look forward to for your next Foundation board meeting?
I look forward to continuing conversations with board members. Now that I’ve learned how powerful the site visits and meetings are, I’ll ask more questions and engage in fuller dialogue.
One thing I’d like to ask board members: What drives you to do this work and determine how grants are made to organizations?