Election, Census and Immigrant Rights Take Center Stage in 2019
The Kresge Foundation Opportunity Fund
By Christine Jacobs
The Opportunity Fund dedicated its 2019 resources toward three key priority areas: Preparing for the 2020 general election by investing in power-building, voting rights and voting access in the United States; ensuring a fair and accurate 2020 Census and supporting the new redistricting reform commission in Michigan; and affirming immigrant rights and legal protections.
The Opportunity Fund centered its strengthening democracy portfolio in 2019 on organizations working to remove impediments to voting and to promote full voter participation. We invested in nonprofits focused on voter education, activation and registration, digital and in-person organizing and civic engagement among a diverse coalition of Americans in the lead-up to the 2020 general election. We reached students and young adults (Civic Nation, Fair Elections Center, Young Invincibles and Funders' Collaborative on Youth Organizing); Latino voters (Mijente); Asian Americans (South Asian Americans Leading Together and 18 Million Rising); and Arab American community leaders in Detroit and other cities (ACCESS). The fund also sponsored the Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation’s 2019 Convening in Detroit.
The Opportunity Fund also sought to advance efforts to ensure a fair and full Census count in 2020 and joined other funders in supporting the Census Equity Fund, which works nationally to promote “Get-Out-the-Count” efforts to reach historically undercounted populations, such as African American, Native American, Latino, Asian, senior, immigrant and low-income communities. The Kresge Foundation also took the unprecedented step of submitting an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, opposing the Trump administration’s efforts to add a citizenship question to the U.S. Census. Such a question would have depressed the count in some communities and could have subsequently been used to exclude people from being represented in redistricting efforts. The fund also supported Count MI Vote’s public education and civic engagement campaign to inform Michiganders about the new redistricting commission, how to apply to become a commissioner and how to participate in the new federal and state district map-making process.
The Opportunity Fund additionally created — alongside the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, the C.S. Mott Foundation and a national immigration philanthropic affinity group — the region’s first immigration and refugee roundtable. Nationally, the Opportunity Fund made grants to expand legal representation available to immigrants (such as our support of the Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative of the Southern Poverty Law Center), and grants to a robust network of state-based immigrant rights advocates through our participation in the Four Freedoms Fund.
Kresge also sponsored the 2019 National Immigrant Integration Conference in Detroit — the largest gathering of immigrant and refugee rights advocates and policymakers in the nation — that uplifted and addressed the most pressing issues facing immigrant and refugee communities in the U.S. Kresge Trustee Kathy Ko Chin, who also serves as president and CEO of the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum, was a plenary speaker. And Ari Simon, Kresge's former vice president and chief program and strategy officer, who oversaw the Opportunity Fund, shared his family’s immigrant and refugee story, and how those experiences drew him to the work of immigrant and refugee rights.
Christine Jacobs is deputy director of external affairs and communications for The Kresge Foundation.