By Ron Chimelis - email@example.com Ronn Johnson could not have imagined a better giftfor the holidays.
“This is such great news. We are all struggling and trying to meet people’s basic needs,” the president of Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services said upon hearing his agency was awarded $50,000 from the New Commonwealth Racial Equity and Social Justice Fund. We applied in October.
We’ve been running some programs at a deficit because the need is great. We serve a lot of families with essential workers. We established a remote learning center, and this funding will help us round the corner on a deficit that got pretty large over the past three months.” Ronn Johnson President and CEO of Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center
Ronn Johnson is president and CEO of Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in Springfield. The Springfield agency was one of two local services to receive $50,000 from the New Commonwealth Racial Equity and Social Justice Fund. Pa’lante Restorative Justice Program of Holyoke was also among 20 local and regional nonprofit agencies in Massachusetts to receive $50,000 each from the $1 million fund. (HOANG ‘LEON’ NGUYEN / THE REPUBLICAN)
Students do their work in the remote learning center at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center. (HOANG ‘LEON’ NGUYEN / THE REPUBLICAN)
They wanted to get us the funds by the holidays. We were told on a Zoom call, and the looks on our people’s faces was amazing.” The agency is one of two in Greater Springfield to receive this good news. Pa’lante Restorative Justice Program of Holyoke was also among 20 local and regional nonprofit agencies in Massachusetts to receive $50,000 each from the $1 million fund. The fund was created by a group of minority corporate executives in Massachusetts to eliminate systemic racism throughout the state. The grants come just five months after the sponsoring organization and fund campaign was organized. For MLK Family Services, help is coming just in time.
“We’ve been running some programs at a deficit because the need is great,” Johnson said. “We serve a lot of families with essential workers. We established a remote learning center, and this funding will help us round the corner on a deficit that got pretty large over the pastthree months.”
Funding from the New Commonwealth program will be targeted to ensure that minoritychildren receive accessto education and development during the COVID-19 pandemic; deliver high-quality affordable health care and mental health services to communities of color disproportionately impacted by the pandemic; and help communities and political leadership address criminal justice policies and practices that unfairly target and harm minorities.
Pa’lante works to build youth power and organize for policies and practices that dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline in Holyoke and beyond. In Springfield, the funding will especially help remote learning. The MLK Family Services program must remain open-ended, since it is not known when schools will be able to fully reopen safely.
Johnson said other needs will be addressed as well. “We have never been able to hire a development person. A good organization works as a team. There is a real need for a grant-writing and fundraising individual,”he said. “This will allow me to bring in a fundraising specialist, a partner in our work that will help take us to the next level.”
To this point, Johnson has served as his own grant writer, which evidently he does well, considering he wrote the request for the New Commonwealth grant in October. “We need some help, but I don’t think I’ll ever take myself totally out of the process. That’s not my personality,” he said with a chuckle.
The grants to MLK Family Services and Pa’lante were the only funding packages earmarked specifically for Western Massachusetts agencies. Nine of the 20 grants went to Boston-based agencies, with several applied to statewide programs and others in Lawrence, Brockton, Chelsea and Worcester.
The New Commonwealth Racial Equity and Social Justice Fund has raised more than $20 million in pledges and seed money to address and eliminate systemic racism and racial inequity in Massachusetts. Priority in the 2020 grant process was given to agencies that needed urgent or emergency funding to maintain essential programs.