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La Crosse Community Foundation announces first fund aimed at Black equity

October 16, 2020

Jamie Schloegel, Executive DirectorBy Jamie Schloegel, Executive Director

Announcing the Black Empowerment Fund

Well, friends, this inspiring news has been a secret hard to keep!

We are elated to announced the formation of a new fund designed to support nonprofit organizations and activities in La Crosse County that, with guidance from members of the Black community, work to advance racial justice.

Pic of press conference announcing Black Empowerment Fund

Announcing the Black Empowerment Fund with fund creators Jean and Sam Skemp, and local activist and educator Shaundel Spivey

Established by local community members Sam and Jean Skemp, the “Black Empowerment Fund” will support projects and organizations working to build racial equity in the community, with preference given to nonprofits led by Black people.

The fund provides a permanent resource for local initiatives that build equity in the Black community and offers an opportunity for individuals to leave a lasting legacy to this work.

A legacy of building Black equity with a match opportunity

The Skemps seeded the fund with a $50,000 donation. We offered a $25,000 match opportunity that was quickly met, then an anonymous donor offered a second $25,000 match challenge! As of December 23rd, we are about $8,000 away from meeting the second match.

With your help, the fund will reach $150,000 by year-end and will start making grants in 2021. The fund will have its own advising committee consisting of Black community members.

The reason behind the gift

Sam Skemp said his biracial granddaughter, Zoe Skemp, inspired the gift. It began one day when she said, “Grandpa, you’re a racist.” Sam objected to the characterization, so Zoe sent him information supporting her opinion.

After reading what his granddaughter sent, Sam also read, “Waking Up White,” by Debby Irving.

“That pointed out the racial injustices throughout society,” he said. “I was born and raised in La Crosse, so for much of my life, I’ve not been exposed to the problems facing people who are Black.”

“Exposure around here is important,” added Jean. “People here have not lived with much diversity. Often, they don’t have ill will; they just haven’t been exposed sufficiently to see the injustice.”

But sometimes people do have ill will, and the Skemps have seen that, too.

“Someone said to remain silent is to remain a racist. I agree with that and felt I had a moral obligation to help,” said Sam, so he turned to the La Crosse Community Foundation, figuring they would have some existing funds to which he could donate.

Working together on Black equity

When Sam learned the foundation had no funds established specifically to aid the Black community, we worked together to create something. Local activist and educator Shaundel Spivey consulted to ensure the fund would create change.

“This is an important step forward in both the Black community and the larger La Crosse community. Being able to name it the Black Empowerment Fund acknowledges that historical oppression has existed, and putting serious funding behind it shows a genuine intent to address racial inequities,” said Spivey.

“I hope others will follow the Skemps and donate to this important cause,” he added.

Joining resources to help

If you’ve felt compelled to help this cause locally as well, we urge you to consider making a gift to the fund. The first $25,000 donated from community members like you will be matched by LCF.

Click here to donate to the fund and then type “Black Empowerment Fund” in the designation box.