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Running the Race for Social Justice

Crystal D. Crawford

Oct. 25, 2018—What really drives me in my work is a commitment to civil rights and social justice. If we look at the intersection between systems of oppression, I view the work I do as a relay race – I’m running my leg of the race to advance civil rights and social justice while also seeing my work in terms of standing on the shoulders of those who came before us. Cal Wellness has a long history of boldly confronting injustices based on race and gender. Today, that work is more critical than ever. That’s why we are investing $13 million to support two initiatives aimed at improving the health and well-being of women of color, focusing on HIV/AIDS/STIs prevention and reentry for formerly incarcerated women.

Being a lawyer has complemented my work in philanthropy, especially in a foundation like Cal Wellness where we’ve supported policy and advocacy work for communities living at the critical intersections between race, gender and class. As our President and CEO Judy Belk said in the announcement of the initiatives, “Women are suffering, and communities of color are bearing the brunt of these attacks. Philanthropy can play a critical role in advancing wellness for all by fighting the injustices affecting the most vulnerable among us.”

Community-building and collaboration are important roles of philanthropy. In planning for and developing these initiatives, we’ve used a process involving community participation that has been affirming and team-building. We spent a full year asking for input through community forums, expert round tables, focus groups and discussions with impacted women. We learned the ways in which racial discrimination is such a burden for these women, and with this, we learned the importance of using an innovative approach that is culturally framed, as well as gender-focused.

After we digested what we heard, we crafted the structure of our initiatives. These initiatives give voice to women of color and meets their needs as essential leaders in our communities. The Women of Color and HIV/AIDS/STIs initiative includes an awareness campaign to help inform the public about the disproportionate impact of HIV, AIDS and STIs on women of color, provide resources and and support for women of color (especially Black women who are most impacted), and develop new ways of thinking about HIV, AIDS and STIs among direct service providers, advocacy organizations, funders and policymakers. The initiative supports two demonstration projects focused on documenting and disseminating best practices to address prevention and early intervention for women of color at risk for HIV, AIDS and STIs. What’s been wonderful is being able to foster a relationship where all voices are valued. We think in terms of “how can we make women’s lives better?”

Our Re-entry and Employment Initiative is focused on helping formerly incarcerated women of color, especially Black and Latina women, achieve health through financial well-being. This means funding organizations working on addressing gender inequity as well as three demonstration projects focused on helping women of color develop job skills, find work, sustain careers and build financial assets. This initiative, including the demonstration projects, will promote and advocate for systems and policy change.

Like the planning process, we want the evaluation process to be inclusive of women who have been historically excluded from decision-making in our communities. We also want to share the importance of what we learn from the initiatives to inform others who are doing similar work, such as peer funders. We want to show what worked well so that we can contribute to the field more broadly and create a deeper impact.

I am honored to be part of this important work. I was a grantee before I joined the team at Cal Wellness in the Women’s Health program area, and it is deeply satisfying to be able to continue to support the health and wellness of women of color. My life’s purpose is grounded in running my leg of the race in the civil rights and social justice movement.  As a foundation, Cal Wellness has always invested in gender and race equity work. These initiatives allow us to call out gender and race equity in a different way— including by addressing the determinants to health. The inequities experienced in our society -- in terms of education, employment, and a host of other areas – directly impact how healthy you are. Different people are treated differently in our society and this directly impacts health outcomes.

We are not the only ones who can run this race. We want to change lives by building public awareness, changing systems and providing direct services. It’s important that we have champions for this work and women, whether that is in policy, philanthropy or the community. We need funders and leaders who are already invested in this work to invest more. We need those not yet involved to get involved – we ask you to please join us in the relay race to advance this important work.


Crystal Crawford image
Executive Director, Western Center on Law and Poverty Crystal D. Crawford

Crystal D. Crawford previously managed Cal Wellness grantmaking related to diversity in the health professions; women of color at risk for, or living with, HIV, AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections; and employment for women who have been incarcerated. She is now executive director of Western Center on Law and Poverty.

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