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Gratitude Report

Who We Are

James Bell founded the Haywood Burns Institute (BI), a Black-led national nonprofit in honor of his friend and mentor W. Haywood Burns. Today, BI employs a three-person Executive Director leadership structure with a diverse team of bold visionaries. Always challenging racial hierarchy and the social control of communities of color by the justice sector and other public systems, BI employs strategies and tactics to establish a community-centered approach to transformation that is anchored in structural well-being.



“It’s been a long time I shouldn’na left you. Without a strong rhyme to step to…”

For those of you who know your hip hop history, you’ll recognize Eric B. and Rakim’s “I know you got soul” as a musical celebration that encourages listeners to connect with their inner self and allow their soul to move with the beat. Well, it’s about that time.  

It’s been several years since our last annual report, and much has happened since then. Life-altering events gave us pause to reassess how we do what we do, and why we do it. As that inner-self work stirs, we prioritize well-being and align our work with our values. If the work is our beat, it must move the soul.   

Like you, Covid-19 changed our world and how we work—moving from physical to virtual offices, refining our organizational structure and approach, and most importantly, finding ways for our team to feel connected.  

While America’s boisterous, yet time-limited racial reckoning kept us very busy, it also sharpened our discernment as an organization—realizing the limitations of grand statements of commitment to racial justice, with unchecked and unmet investment and impact goals. Yet we found new, nontraditional partners reaching out, donating, and making shifts toward real change. 

And while the ever-present “affective” political polarization has played as the primary soundtrack for far too long, it has overwhelmingly demonstrated the need for us all to re-center our humanity and lead with love.  

So, while on this wild ride, we’ve learned many lessons and are excited to share them with you. Throughout this report, you’ll hear some of our brilliant and bold colleagues discussing a range of projects, from small places doing big things to efforts sparking massive change. We have new partnerships and have launched new efforts, all of which will illustrate the depth and breadth of Structural Well-Being.

We’re also going to take you behind the scenes to answer some of the many questions about our shared leadership and organizational structure. With four years under our belt, we can now share deeper insights about sharing power, building trust, making decisions, and being values-driven.  

A wise colleague once told us that we should be an organization who speaks when we have something to say, so as you can see after four years, we have plenty to share. So, sit back, put your feet up, grab your favorite beverage and lean all the way in… 

Sam, Mike and Tshaka

Shared Leadership

Sam, Mike and Tshaka chop it up about the complexity, hilarity, and rewards of sharing leadership.

Gratitude Spotlight

BI recognizes the numerous contributions to our ongoing growth and success: from Annie E. Casey Foundation’s seed investment to connect us with the strategic planning gurus at Community Wealth Partners; to our executive coach Inca Mohamed who masterfully holds us in love and accountability; and to our Board and BI Team of bold visionaries who keep us humble with their candor and commitment, patience and perseverance, laughter (even at us) and love.



Ramsey County (MN), where BI has worked since 2005, has been journeying with us toward system transformation that transcends status quo, “race-neutral,” approaches, tools, and technologies. We’ve done this as a Learning Community, in collaborative exploration of how racial hierarchy in the human service administration of justice and provision of human services perpetuates racial and ethnic disparities. A diverse group of public servants from some of the County’s most central departments (i.e., Public Health, Social Services, Public Safety, Housing and Economic Development, and Attorney’s Office), in partnership with community, joined us in this pioneering work when others in the national justice network, including field practitioners and philanthropic entities, would not.



Tulsa is the site of historic racial harms and exactly where the nation must look to understand the complexity of revisiting and repairing this harm. As one of the organizations convened by Blue Meridian Partners’ Opportunity Accelerator initiative, BI helped facilitate the City of Tulsa’s work with the historic Greenwood-Black Wall Street communities to address the injustice and resulting inequities arising from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre as well as urban renewal policies that stunted Greenwood’s economic growth. The transfer of 56 acres in the Kirkpatrick Heights-Greenwood districts to a community-led development is an investment in the well-being of Black North Tulsans, in particular, and a blueprint for equitable business development.



Since forming to disrupt construction of a $75 million dollar youth prison, Free Our Kids coalition (FOK) has actively reimagined youth justice in Alameda County (CA). BI has been right there to support them in policy advocacy, accountability, data analysis, and workshops.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

Since beginning our lead facilitator role in January 2020, BI has led the community-systems partnership to reimagine youth justice in Los Angeles County. This unprecedented effort is utterly transforming youth justice, steadily increasing velocity after the unanimous approval of the report Youth Justice Reimagined and the monumental establishment of its key recommendation in 2022: the Department of Youth Development. As we continue this work, BI feels increasing confidence in this bellwether of possibilities and potential for care-first youth justice systems nationwide.

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Certificate Training Series

When James Bell founded BI as a declaration of his unwavering commitment to racial justice, there was little philanthropic giving or charitable donation-making for nonprofits explicitly focused on race, and very few for justice. We laugh now, but he couldn’t have chosen a tougher mission for which to fundraise. James never looks for the easy path, only the right one.

Gratitude Spotlight

Expressing the immense gratitude we feel for you, our first inaugural class of DISRUPTORS, is hard! But we’ll begin with a special shout-out for your fellowship, trust, vulnerability, and love. #inspiration

Julia Baez, Holly Child, Andrea Calderon, Serita Fontanesi, Albino Garcia, Jr., Sylvia Garcia, Fernando Giraldo, Cherrell Green, Leslie Gross, Loren Gomez, Tiffany Iheanacho, Alani Jackson, Zachary Markovits, Sefanit Mekuria, Samatha Nemana, David Onek, Jennifer Park, Candace Reyes, Erik Rivera, Jason Szanyi, Danielle Torain …this group will always be legendary!

Financials and Partner Acknowledgements

Major Contributors

No Data Found

Gratitude Spotlight

A special thanks to: Burlington Charitable Foundation, Capital Group’s Nathan Scott, and Universal Music Group’s Task Force for Meaningful Change.  

Ahead to 2024

We’d like to share our foremost goals in three areas: our work, our culture, and our sustainability.

Learning Exchanges. We’ll be increasing the frequency and depth of these exchanges which are paramount in vitalizing our interpersonal relationships and surging the direction of our work alongside current or prospective partners. The absolute highlight of our 2022 staff retreat in Puerto Rico was an exchange with the feminist nonprofit organization Taller Salud. Located in Loiza (roughly 30 minutes from San Juan), a town settled by formerly enslaved Blacks in the 16th century and now the present-day Black epicenter of the island, Taller Salud enhances women’s health care access, promotes community violence reduction, and fosters economic development through education, organizing, and advocacy. In our time together at the Loiza Community Center and at Rancho Amor Mio, where community violence interrupters led us in horseback riding, and we drank from coconuts, we bonded over our shared missions promoting well-being and safety through community-centered dialogue.

Expanding our Certificate Training Series. We intend this successful new initiative to increase the accessibility and availability of our Structural Well-Being approach. To date, participants have come from throughout the US, including Baltimore (MD), Austin (TX), Washington, DC, Asheville (NC), Santa Cruz (CA), Boston, and Albuquerque (NM).

Navigating through political shifts. We expect that the upcoming national elections will influence the field of racial justice and system transformation, as well as philanthropy’s major role in seeding, supporting, and increasing mainstream interest in this sector through their vast networks of influence and social capital. Long-standing race-based political strategies intended to foment tensions, divide citizens, and mobilize party membership have silenced many philanthropic partners. Consequently, philanthropic institutions increasingly adopt a “bipartisan” approach to advance policy priorities and charitable giving—shifting away from an explicit focus on racial equity—to appear neutral, avert potential political pitfalls, and maintain their “big tent” approach. This often involves avoiding any explicit language used in political rhetoric regarding race, racial justice, and references to power-shifting/sharing and community organizing.

As a racial justice organization that receives and relies upon philanthropic giving, we know that this silence is harmful and hurtful. While we recognize the need to develop and maintain partnerships across the political party spectrum, we believe those relationships must always be anchored in the well-being of all people, while shaping a more honest and accurate discussion of the very issues these partnerships must consider to achieve universal well-being. We know to expect upheaval, partisanship, and change, and will remain vigilant in our commitment to centering people’s well-being. This is what steadies us.

Team-building in a virtual world. How can we foster a cohesive team virtually? How do we see, acknowledge, and take care of one another? How do BI’s staff policies and practices reflect the well-being model we promote nationally? The questions are endless, and finding the answers takes a serious, ongoing commitment. Every day, on every call, in every in-person gathering. We don’t avoid complexity, we embrace it. Seeing and appreciating each person’s full humanity is our aspiration. Our diversity is our strength, and conflict—loving conflict—comes with it. As we institutionalize ways to address these questions, these aspirations, we’ll share them and encourage others to as well.

We recognize that well-intended organizations like ours, with hardworking and dedicated staff, often face significant financial challenges that lock them into a perpetual state of reacting instead of moving forward in an intentional and deliberately planned manner. Every day, we work to ensure that BI is viable and effective for decades to come. To achieve financial stability and sustainability as thoughtful stewards of our resources, we establish philanthropic partnerships that align with our values and mission, and engage in creative strategies to maximize our resources and develop revenue streams, such as the Certificate Training Series which will reduce our reliance on foundation grants.

We also actively engage our current Board of Directors, benefiting from their decades of professional and personal experience, while recruiting new Board members who possess the skills to support and maintain our organizational stability for years to come.

Gratitude Spotlight

The path ahead looks promising in many ways, but we know that challenges await us—all of us: our partners, champions for racial justice, the communities we love, care about and respect, and those pushing for change within the very institutions we seek to transform. So, as we step into 2024, we must see each other, lift each other up, and our efforts to disrupt the status quo, dismantle structural inequity, and rebuild a better path forward. For those who boldly walk with us, hand in hand, we’re grateful for you!


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