Jackson nonprofits win grant to plan local change

April 8, 2013

(JACKSON, MS) – Five local nonprofits were collectively awarded $100,000 from the Open Society Foundations to jointly design a plan to increase low-income and minority communities’ influence and access to economic, civic and policy opportunities in the area. The planning grant is part of the foundation’s new Open Places Initiative, which aims to increase the capacity of local nonprofits and communities to bring about systemic change relating to equity, justice and the democratic practice.

The nonprofits working on the Jackson Open Places project are Mississippi Economic Policy Center, Mississippi Center for Justice, Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights, One Voice and Southern Echo. These organizations collaborated to submit a proposal that outlined both the real challenges and the opportunities facing Jackson.

“It is an exciting time for Jackson and we believe this grant provides an opportunity for wide collaboration to elevate programs and initiatives that are bringing about positive change at the local level,” said Beth Orlansky, Mississippi Center for Justice advocacy director. “The grant provides resources for us to compile information and data about those programs, uncover needs that exist at the local level and embark on a plan to replicate solutions citywide. We want to help the city move forward by developing a vision for improving schools, developing new business, expanding affordable housing and addressing infrastructure improvements.”

In its proposal, the group acknowledged challenges including a declining population and tax base, as well as problems within the juvenile justice system that disproportionately strips young African American males out of the public school system and into the jailhouse pipeline.

“There are real, entrenched challenges facing our city, and we must be honest about the root causes of the problems and willing to recognize the racial and social injustices brought about by those problems,” said Derrick Johnson, One Voice president and CEO. “But, just as our downtown and the area surrounding Jackson State University have undergone resurgence in recent years, we know it’s possible for the entire city to engage in the building of pathways to opportunity for everyone.”

During the planning grant phase, organizations will work together to conceptualize and design a multi-issue, multi-faceted plan that—through policy, procedural, administrative, judicial or other kinds of reform—secures greater justice and opportunity for local populations. They will assess the current local civic capacity to bring about lasting change and identify goals and strategies to expand that capacity.

Nonprofits in seven other regions across the country were also awarded planning grants. Each site will determine the priorities it will address and propose a multi-issue, multi-faceted plan for building the region’s capacity to bring about long-term change. In late 2013, the foundation will award implementation grants to three to five sites with funding of up to $1 million per year for a minimum of three years and potentially, a full decade. 

In addition to the five Jackson nonprofits, planning grants went to collaborations of organizations in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Buffalo, New York; Denver, Colorado; Louisville, Kentucky; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; San Diego, California; and Puerto Rico. 

“There are fundamental changes occurring in local communities across the country—budgetary, demographic, technological, and otherwise. Local leadership and knowledge are the starting points in developing the necessary tools and capacities to manage these changes in ways that further local equity and justice interests,” said Ken Zimmerman, director of U.S. Programs at the Open Society Foundations. “We congratulate the groups that won planning grants. They have great potential to chart a new course.”  

By gaining new skills, increasing civic capacity, and expanding local and national relationships, the Open Society Foundations expects the final Open Places sites to develop more innovative and coordinated approaches to address local challenges for the long-term. The Open Places sites’ successes and failures will provide lessons for replication in other cities, regions, and states. 

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Representatives from organizations participating in the Jackson Open Places grant are available for interviews. Please contact Sharon Morris at (769) 230-2835 to schedule an interview.