A statement from SOWA about harm we caused

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Dear Community, 

We are writing to acknowledge that we recently caused harm to Key to Change, an organization that we featured in our Community Spotlight story series. For the purposes of transparency and accountability, we want to share what occurred, our learnings, and some of the steps we are taking to ensure this does not happen again.  

On February 14, as part of a Community Spotlight series on Black-led youth arts programs for Black History month, we featured Key to Change, a Black-led nonprofit that inspires underserved youth through world-class music instruction and leadership development. 

Our communications team mistakenly thought Key to Change was a grantee from an earlier grant process we had administered in 2020.  They also did not realize that Key to Change had applied to receive funding through the 2022 Summer Fund and was awaiting a funding decision.  

Shortly after the story was finalized, we notified Key to Change that they were not selected for funding through the 2022 Summer Fund.  

We are grateful to founder and director Dr. Quinton Morris for reaching out to us to let us know about the harm we caused him and his organization by publishing this story which was immediately followed by the funding decision. In this context, the story was tokenizing and racist. We acknowledge that the story, followed by the funding decision, replicates the negative patterns of harm too frequently experienced by Black leaders within inequitable, racist power structures. This did lead to many learnings for our organization, but we are sorry that came at a high cost to Dr. Morris and Key to Change. We accept responsibility for this impact and are committed to doing better.  

We acknowledge our organizational failures. We made some genuine mistakes. We recognize that we need stronger coordination between our grant-making teams and communications team. We also need to be more attentive to the power dynamics that come with serving as an intermediary grant-maker. And this is even more true as a white-led, mainstream organization navigating this position of power.  

Going forward, we will be more thoughtful about how and when we tell stories. We will ensure that we are open and transparent with organizations we feature, and that we are explicit about the power dynamics and the request. Moving forward, we will not reach out to any organization for a spotlight that is awaiting a funding decision and we will clarify that their decision to participate (or not) in a Community Spotlight will not hold any bearing on future funding.  

We cannot undo the harm that was caused, but we are committed to learning and doing better.  


Elizabeth Whitford 

CEO, School’s Out Washington