raceAhead: A New Black Super PAC, Princeton’s Diversity Experiment, Working While Disabled
A new political action group was announced today, formalizing a longstanding network created by powerful black business leaders. It’s dedicated to, among other things, supporting candidates that meet their specific agenda.
According to the New York Times, the organizers include Charles Phillips, chief executive of the software company Infor; Tony Coles, head of the biotech firm Yumanity Therapeutics; Marva Smalls, global head of inclusion strategy for Viacom; and William M. Lewis Jr., co-chairman of investment banking at Lazard. While they’d been operating as an informal network dedicated to social justice and race-based issues for years, this move brings this group of power brokers, and the causes they care about, into public view.
From the story:
They are focused on areas like access to education and employment, as well as voter participation. But they are still trying to find consensus. Many don’t want to narrowly define the mandate around race, since initiatives like improving school quality and job training are as much about geography and income level.
The 10 or so core organizers, who meet every other Sunday in Manhattan, have hired a lawyer to get the paperwork ready but haven’t started to raise money. They plan to create three structures: a “super PAC” to run political ads or host events; a federal PAC to support candidates; and a 501(c)(4) group, or social welfare nonprofit, that will do a mix of the two.
“What we’ve been doing is just writing checks for years, and we don’t know what happened” once the money was received, Mr. Phillips said. “We’ve got to learn from the Koch brothers, do what they do, have them sign pledges.”
Fortune readers first learned of the existence of this network early last year in Leading While Black, a feature which explored the underrepresentation of black men in corporate ranks.
The informal networks many of the men described in the piece were key to finding jobs, information, and other allies. It’s a clear survival strategy for all underrepresented groups in traditional leadership structures. But Phillips described his to Fortune as having a unique twist — a supper club with a big checkbook. It was clear that they’d developed into a finely tuned decision-making team, debating issues, agreeing on strategies and yes, writing checks.
The group had already established a non-profit and have been working together to support ideas that come their way.
“Everyone cares about education, which speaks to the pipeline. So we tend to focus on that,” Phillips told me last year. “But we talk a lot about the big issues.” And they have a bias toward fast action. Two years ago, a New Year’s Eve chat about the Ava Duvernay film Selma, led a small group of black executive friends to coordinate showings for 300,000 kids of color around the country. In the summer of 2016, the group raised $1 million for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, after president Sherrilyn Ifill attended an informal dinner and shared ideas for a policing reform campaign. Phillips had been affected by the killing of Walter Scott, who had been shot multiple times in the back while running away from a police officer in South Carolina. “She had a good plan,” he says.
While it will be interesting to see what happens next, one message is crystal clear. If Charles Phillips or any member of the new black Super PAC invites you to one of their dinners, you should probably go.
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The Woke Leader
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