Community Foundation Commits $10 Million to Racial Equity, Social Justice

The Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties Board of Trustees Thursday approved a $10 million plan, the largest single investment in the organization’s history, as an initial 10-year commitment to address racial equity and social justice issues. The Board action means that The Community Foundation will work with multiple partner organizations, local governments and residents to launch a two-county initiative to address systemic and systematic racism in Herkimer and Oneida counties, and to advance implementation of “impact centers” in targeted locations.

“This is a critical time for our community and the country,” said David Manzelmann, chair of The Community Foundation Board of Trustees. “The Community Foundation is building on its past work in taking this major step toward realizing its vision, ‘A vibrant region with opportunity for all.’”

Manzelmann said since the Board adopted the organizational vision statement in 2017, the words “opportunity for all” have taken on increasing urgency especially in recent months with renewed focus on equity and justice locally and in communities around the world.

“Nationally and indeed globally people have been horrified and disgusted by the killings of people of color, and many are calling this time a turning point unlike any we’ve seen in decades, a time when we as one community can explore and realize real change,” said Jawwaad Rasheed, chair-elect of The Community Foundation Board of Trustees. “The Board’s bold commitment will facilitate this community collaboration to face and finally address systemic and systematic racism and underlying causes of so much that troubles our society.”

While The Community Foundation expands its ongoing community engagement efforts to help partners develop a collaborative, coalition-style model to work toward systemic change, it will also advance its development of “impact centers,” reimagined community centers that provide space for multiple nonprofit partners and agencies to serve families in high-needs neighborhoods.

“Thanks to the Board, our commitment to a continuing community partnership on racial equity and social justice will support and complement critical investments in neighborhoods that need it most,” said Alicia Dicks, Community Foundation president/CEO. “The Board’s decision recognizes that taking a stand on racial equity and social justice long-term must be accompanied by critical investments where they will have the greatest impact on those who have too long waited for a level playing field.”

In addition to the overall initiative and impact centers, The Community Foundation established the Racial Equity and Social Justice Fund in June with a $50,000 commitment and a $50,000 grant from the Ronald and Sheila Cuccaro Family Fund. The Cuccaros today urged those in the community with means to step up and do their part by going to foundationhoc.org/racialjustice.

“We’ve all seen the news and heard the terrible stories from across the country. Some might say we’re fortunate in this community that those awful things have happened someplace else. But these issues touch us here, too—and everywhere. We have to take a stand as people who care about Utica and the Mohawk Valley that we will do more. We’re challenging individuals and organizations to do what they can to support this effort,” said Ron Cuccaro, member of The Community Foundation Board of Trustees. “Our family feels this deeply—that all of us who have the ability to help financially have a responsibility to do everything that we can to make a difference, and that this time, now, is a critical turning point for our community and the nation.”

Dicks said as the Community Equity Initiative and impact centers take shape in the coming months, The Community Foundation will actively engage prospective donors and supporters to rise to the Cuccaro family’s challenge and expedite the funding of organizations and other projects. Additional support will be pursued from major funders and willing partners, including national and private foundations, all levels of government and the private sector. Investments in partner nonprofits that have already demonstrated successful outcomes in addressing obstacles to success for persons of color, such as Mohawk Valley Junior Frontiers, will be the fund’s immediate focus.

The Community Equity Initiative, impact centers, and Racial Equity and Social Justice Fund will be part of a continuing commitment on the part of The Community Foundation to view all of its organizational efforts through the lens of improving racial equity and social justice outcomes and addressing systemic and systematic racism in Herkimer and Oneida counties. In addition to committing significant charitable assets, The Community Foundation will build on years of community engagement to ensure that these efforts remain inclusive, and that all those willing to work toward a better future community can participate.

A number of elected officials and community leaders expressed support for The Community Foundation’s announcement, including:

Kelly Blazosky, Executive, Oneida County Tourism
“Oneida County Tourism applauds The Community Foundation for taking the lead and launching this important initiative to address racial equality and social justice in our local communities. Diversity is the heart of a vibrant community and is a key factor in what makes a community a great destination for visitors to experience. Racial equality and social justice are foundational elements our communities must embrace and sustain. Great attractions and events can be found around the globe, but it’s people who create the memorable character of a community. We stand with The Foundation and support its vision for ‘A vibrant region with opportunity for all.’”

Anthony Brindisi, U.S. Representative, New York’s 22nd District
“The Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties is committed to improving our region and with this investment they will redouble their efforts to build a better Mohawk Valley. Recent events in this country have caused unrest and despair, but with the spirit of togetherness and hard work, our communities have grieved together and worked together to try and create a better tomorrow. As your representative in Washington, I will work to ensure strong federal partnerships to make our shared dream of a more just and equal Oneida and Herkimer counties a reality.”

Marianne Buttenschon, NYS Assemblywoman, 119th District
“For over 60 years, The Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties has worked tirelessly with nonprofits, local businesses and community leaders to improve the lives of Mohawk Valley families. Thanks to this significant investment, the Community Foundation can continue its critical work and bring its ‘impact center’ concept to fruition. These impact centers will allow our community partners to develop a collaborative, coalition-style model to work toward systemic change and ensure critical services and resources are available to families across Oneida and Herkimer counties. I want to thank the Community Foundation for their investment in our communities’ future and I look forward to supporting their work in any way that I can.”

Laura Casamento, Ed.D., President, Utica College and Member, Community Foundation Board of Trustees
“This vision and thinking behind the community-centered racial equity and social justice work that will take place with these initiatives and impact centers speaks to the heart of Utica College’s mission as well as our recent initiatives around diversity, equity, and inclusion. We wholeheartedly support this important effort and look forward to being an active participant, contributor, and partner.”

Anthony Colon, Chair, City of Utica Access and Inclusion Committee
“Real, lasting, change will require the courage to ask difficult questions and the persistence to implement meaningful solutions. The energy must be sustained, and the effort has to be fortified in results. Today is a big day because The Community Foundation has made a commitment toward those ends unlike this area has ever seen. The result will be a better, more inclusive place for our future generations, and I’m excited to get to work.”

Steve Darman, Chair, Mohawk Valley Housing and Homeless Coalition
“We applaud and welcome this new initiative by The Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties, and we look forward to working in partnership with The Community Foundation as our community moves to a place where all our residents—regardless of the racial or ethnic category we have assigned to them—have access to the safe, decent, healthy, and affordable housing that provides a foundation for the health and well-being of all residents of the Mohawk Valley.”

Elyse Enea, Executive Director, Herkimer County HealthNet, Inc.
“This investment made by The Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties will help to strengthen partnerships that support social justice work, create opportunities that bridge gaps, as well as generate economic prosperity for both Herkimer and Oneida counties.”

Meghan Fraser McGrogan, Executive Director, Greater Utica Chamber of Commerce.
“We applaud the Community Foundation’s commitment to address racism in our community,” said “Our Chamber’s mission is focused on the development of a prosperous economic climate that will enhance commercial growth and quality of life for all who reside in the Greater Utica Area, which agrees with The Community Foundations vision of ‘a vibrant region with opportunity for all.’ It’s time we start putting more focus on what ‘all’ truly means, and this is a major step in that direction.”

Joseph A. Griffo, NYS Senator, 47th District
“I thank The Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties for the important work they do to improve our communities and make the region a better place for all. This new initiative creates an important partnership between a variety of stakeholders and strengthens the commitment of The Community Foundation and so many others to address systematic racism in and ensure racial equity in Oneida and Herkimer counties.“

Michele Hummel, Executive Director, Herkimer County Chamber of Commerce
“As a representative of the Herkimer County Chamber of Commerce, I am very encouraged by this commitment from The Community Foundation. Our nation has never been more divided. Our region needs to strive for a more collaborative environment that represents fairness and protection to all regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. This is a much needed initiative for both Herkimer and Oneida counties.”

Jacqueline Izzo, Mayor, City of Rome
“I commend The Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties for their leadership in committing $10 million dollars to the issue of racial equity and social justice issues. Our city is fully committed to participating in this initiative along with our Police Chief Kevin C. Beach continuing to lead on this issue through his Citizens Advisory Committee. We hope the Citizens Advisory Committee will be an active partner in the establishment of ‘impact centers’ which will assist our communities to continuously address systemic and systematic racism in our area.”

Patricia N. Kilburn, District Superintendent, Oneida-Herkimer-Madison (OHM) BOCES
The Oneida‐Herkimer‐Madison BOCES commends The Community Foundation on its commitment to
addressing racial equity and social justice issues in Herkimer and Oneida counties. This initiative will
unquestionably have a positive impact for the students we serve each day, our staff members, our
organization and our community at large. As leaders of an education institution, we bear a great responsibility for shaping society. Our teachers and staff have the unique privilege of working with children and young people as they are forming their values and world view. We also have the great responsibility to work for a better, fairer and more just world for our students to inherit from us. We share in The Community Foundation’s commitment to being actively conscious about race and racism and taking actions to understand privilege and end racial inequities. We believe that addressing systematic racism is everyone’s responsibility and that we all have a role to play in stopping it.”

Kevin Marken, Utica Director, On Point for College
“I applaud and thank the members of the Board of Trustees and Community Foundation President/CEO Alicia Dicks and the Cuccaros for their leadership and commitment to launching an initiative focused on racial equity and social justice, and the implementation of “impact centers” in high-needs neighborhoods. On Point for College-Utica is honored to be a partner with the Foundation and other great organizations in the Oneida County and Herkimer County communities as we continue to work toward these goals and empower hundreds more students each year to college access, success and good local jobs.”

C. Sonia Martinez, Executive Director, Mohawk Valley Latino Association
“The Mohawk Valley Latino Association congratulates and applauds The Community Foundation for the announcement of this vital initiative and the launching of the Racial Equity and Social Justice Fund. MVLA is committed to true action for our diverse communities to create an environment of engagement, respect, and collaboration.”

David Mathis, Former Member, Community Foundation Board of Trustees
“Race prejudice has shaped our history decisively; it now threatens to affect our future. This multimillion-dollar community investment will go a long way to end racial inequity and social injustice in the greater Utica community.”

Cathleen C. McColgin, Ph.D., President, Herkimer County Community College
At Herkimer College, we believe strongly in and work every day to foster an environment that promotes civility, creativity, diversity, open communication, social responsibility, and mutual respect. We applaud and support the investment in this initiative, as it is providing a tremendous opportunity for learning, listening, and creating greater equity and justice for all people in our communities.

Mark Montgomery, Ph.D., Chief Diversity Officer, SUNY Polytechnic Institute
“SUNY Polytechnic Institute continues to be a proud partner of The Community Foundation, and as people across the nation—and the world—consider ways to address systemic racism, news of this significant investment that aims to support long-term equity and social justice efforts throughout our local community is heartening while we all work to bring about lasting understanding, impactful change, and opportunities for all. We look forward to working with The Community Foundation to achieve these critical goals.”

Delvin J. Moody, Councilmember, 5th District, City of Utica Common Council
“I am thankful for The Community Foundation stepping up and reaffirming its commitment to racial justice and equity in the Mohawk Valley. As one of our region’s leading agencies, I am confident that having their support in this important effort will lead to sustainable change in the area. The time to act is now!”

Jacqueline Nelson, President, NAACP, Rome, Branch #2174
“What The Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties is doing for the community is commendable. I believe that the Rome Branch NAACP holds the same values as this organization, and we are proud to support the launching of this initiative that is focused on social injustice and racial equity. We look forward to positive changes in our community.”

Peggy O’Shea, Past President/CEO, The Community Foundation of Herkimer & Oneida Counties
“As a nation, the United States is at a crossroads. A call to action clearly exists and some communities across the US will respond to the call. The Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties has quickly responded to the call, action will happen! The work promises to be both challenging and positive. As citizens we will have opportunities to be directly involved—collaborations and partnerships will be integral. Herkimer and Oneida counties are fortunate to have the seasoned Community Foundation to lead the way.”

Robert M. Palmieri, Mayor, City of Utica
“The Community Foundation is a great partner and positively impacts the lives of countless people in our community. I commend CEO Alicia Dicks, her team and The Community Foundation Board of Trustees for investing in bold initiatives that will promote equality, justice and opportunity for our residents.”

Anthony J. Picente Jr., County Executive, County of Oneida
“The Community Foundation continues to be a leader on crucial issues that impact the people of Oneida County. I commend Alicia Dicks and the board of trustees for focusing on addressing racial inequities and social justice locally. I look forward to partnering with them on this effort, as we have in our Oneida County Vision 2020 initiative that has addressed the needs of historically underserved populations.”

Alice Savino, Executive Director, Workforce Development Board of Herkimer, Madison and Oneida Counties
“Opportunity for all people is at the heart of the mission of the Workforce Development Board as we work to bring opportunity to all the people of our region. There is no stronger way of achieving racial and social justice than by helping disadvantaged individuals receive the education and training they need to take the good-paying jobs that are being created in our region. This effort will help advance the culture of our region into one that looks for creative ways to make the future stronger for all people, particularly those who have battled barriers for far too long.”

Sandra R. Sherwood, District Superintendent, Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES
“The Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES is in full support of The Community Foundation’s initiative to address systemic and systematic racism in the pursuit of social justice in Herkimer and Oneida counties. As district superintendent of the Herkimer BOCES, I agree that this is a critical time for our community and country and I applaud The Community Foundation for allocating funds to start living up to the promise embedded in the Pledge of Allegiance that every schoolchild says each morning, “… liberty and justice for all.” This effort is at the heart of our democracy and the foundation of our nation, so it is certainly worthy of the largest investment that The Community Foundation has given to any single cause.”

Rev. Dr. Maria A. Scates, Chief Executive Officer, Johnson Park Center
“Johnson Park Center commends The Community Foundation’s Board of Trustees for approving this $10 million plan, the most substantial single investment in the organization’s history. This will address many problems and have tremendous positive impact on our community’s high-need areas. We are confident that this community initiative, facilitated by The Community Foundation, will bring positive change to those who need it the most.”

Kristen Skobla, Executive Director, Center for Leadership Excellence, Mohawk Valley Community College
“The Center for Leadership Excellence (CLE) enthusiastically supports the Community Foundation’s efforts to address systemic racism in Herkimer and Oneida Counties. CLE values the Mohawk Valley’s diversity and recognizes that the most effective leaders are able to work across cultures and engage people with different views in the spirit of collaboration. We are proud to call The Community Foundation a partner and look forward to the significant impact this investment will have on our region.”

Sandra Soroka, Executive Director, The Neighborhood Center, Inc.
“Despite this being 2020, we still see and experience the social injustices in our world. There are families still hungry, inequality in opportunities to learn, grow and be nurtured, housing disparities, racial discrimination, and a rate of poverty that should not exist in a developed country such as the United States, yet it does. In order to truly make a difference the playing field must be level for all not just for some. The Community Foundation does not take on these challenges alone, but they do challenge all of us to be the difference we want to see for our future and for future generations.”

Dianne Stancato, Chief Executive Officer, YWCA Mohawk Valley
“We at YWCA Mohawk Valley are proud to have partnered with The Community Foundation on many initiatives over the years and stand in solidarity as we collectively eliminate racism, strengthen families, and build healthy communities. This incredible commitment to racial equity and social justice will make a significant impact on thousands of lives across the Mohawk Valley. We look forward to seeing our communities flourish as a result of this investment.”

Randall J. VanWagoner, Ph.D., President, Mohawk Valley Community College and Member, Community Foundation Board of Trustees
“As a member of the Board of Trustees I am so proud that The Community Foundation is seizing this moment to lead necessary change against systemic racism and as president of Mohawk Valley Community College, I am committed to partnering however possible to advance equity and systemic inclusion.”

David Wippman, President, Hamilton College
“On behalf of the students, faculty and staff at Hamilton College, I congratulate The Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties on this bold plan to address racial equity and social justice issues in our region. Ours is a community known for welcoming refugees and other immigrants, but we are not immune from the persistent and far-reaching effects of the racial inequality and discrimination plaguing our country. This initiative provides leadership and a call for all in our community to take action against systemic racism whenever and wherever we encounter it. We look forward to partnering with The Community Foundation and others in our community on this important work.”