"Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?" Martin Luther King.
Updated: Feb 6
That critical question has remained top of mind for LaDawn Sullivan during her more than two decades of community-centered work with The Denver Foundation. But more importantly, it continues to fuel her drive as the executive director of the Black Resilience in Colorado (BRIC) Fund. She has always been focused on investing in historically marginalized people and communities to ensure they have what they need to succeed. In doing so, laying the ground for strong Black communities to grow. Her unwavering vision, perseverance, boldness and collaboration established programs such as Strengthening Neighborhoods, Elevating Philanthropy in Communities of Color (EPIC) and Executive Directors of Color Institute (EDCI), all of which led to the launching of Colorado's first Black community fund. Today, the BRIC Fund has granted almost $3 million to more than 170 Black-led and serving nonprofits and is forging an independent path forward as a fiscally sponsored project of The Denver Foundation. Read and learn more about LaDawn and the work of BRIC.
1. LaDawn, you have spent most of your career in philanthropy and focused on social justice and equity issues. Where does this passion and drive to make an impactful difference stem from?
My passion and drive come from both a personal and community place. My family, particularly my grandmother, was the first woman to lead CORE (Congress for Racial Equality) in Colorado, advocating for racial equality, inclusion and equitable communities throughout her adult life. She instilled a heart and head for community in her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. But more importantly, the understanding that this life was not given to us to take from others but to give to others and fight for all historically marginalized people, starting with our own (Black) community. That passion and work are in my DNA.
Add to that the professional path of my career. For over 25 years, I have been blessed to work in and alongside community – supporting their leadership and efforts to increase and sustain equality and equity, from connecting with their neighbors to organizing for policy and law changes that create the communities they desire and deserve.
It is rare that one's personal passion and chosen career intersect in a way that supports positive impact and progress for Black communities... my community. I am proud to stand on the shoulders of my grandmother's legacy and incorporate the experiences and fervor of my ancestors in my quest for justice and equity for all.
2. In just three years, BRIC has made significant progress and investments within Colorado's Black communities; what is your vision for how the organization will continue to build and move forward?
BRIC supports Black-led and serving nonprofits as they continue to address the unanticipated community needs related to COVID-19 and ongoing escalated racial unrest and police brutality. As BRIC moves forward, BRIC will continue to build and strengthen the Black leadership pipeline, support strategies that increase the impact of Black-led and serving nonprofits, and wield its power and influence to affect law and policy to foster equitable communities. BRIC's growth is dependent on its growing number of donors, partners and leadership - a diverse group of Black Colorado community members who bring their collective lived experiences and community relationships to guide BRIC's vision forward.
3. You describe BRIC as more than a fund but a movement…what does that mean?
BRIC is a living, breathing entity...its heartbeat is Colorado's Black communities. True to the civil rights movement, the results of racial inequities fueled the necessity for the BRIC Fund to be created, not just to address the immediate exhaustive needs of COVID-19 and the world-witnessed murder of George Floyd, but the steady 400-plus year historic drumbeat of systemic inequality, inequity and hate. BRIC is one of many Black-focused community-rooted funds that make up the landscape of intentional resources addressing Black issues, pushing for progress and ultimately striving for equity. BRIC is a fund of the people for the people!
4. What responsibility do you believe individuals have in investing and owning their community's future growth/development?
Our history, family history, and ancestral accounts speak to how Black folks specifically pooled their resources (5Ts) to collectively support each other and our community - both current and future generations. I believe that it's not the amount but the collective participation (each person contributing what they can) that helps US create the community we wish for ourselves. We (Black folks) have a responsibility to invest in ourselves and our children -- history proves we cannot and haven't been solely reliant on whites to get us to this point. Mobilizing our resources in our community - supporting Black businesses, giving to Black-led and serving nonprofits, marshaling our influence, and socially and politically fueling our growth and development.
5. How can people get involved, specifically those who don't consider themselves philanthropists?
For the record, everyone is a philanthropist! Philanthropy is a fancy word that describes how one gives from the heart for the betterment of humanity. That giving is inclusive of the 5Ts - Time, Talent, Treasure, Testimony and social Ties. That said, we can:
Make a donation of any size to BRIC - one-time or recurring to support BRIC's efforts.
Share the good news and impact of the BRIC Fund and/or our community partners by sharing our website (link here) and/or e-blasts.
Connect and volunteer with a BRIC community partner (Black-led and serving nonprofit) (link here to grantee list)
Invest your professional expertise (ex. accounting, legal, communications, etc.) through board service or in-kind donation.
Black Resilience in Colorado (BRIC) Fund is the first Black-focused community fund established in Colorado, explicitly providing financial resources and support to Black-led and serving organizations. Through BRIC, nonprofits can leverage community assets, build organizational capacity, and secure emergency relief resources during times of crisis. Together with donors, emerging philanthropists, community networks, and national peers/networks, BRIC helps nonprofits shift from surviving to thriving. Through the BRIC Grant, BRIC Loan, Executive Directors of Color Institute and other programs provide valuable resources to dismantle systemic racism and strengthen the work of nonprofit organizations in Black communities BRIC by BRIC. The BRIC Fund is fiscally sponsored by The Denver Foundation. For more information about BRIC, please visit www.bricfund.org, or subscribe to get monthly news updates.