Chapel Hill’s Community Empowerment Fund Receives $50,000 National Grant

Donna Carrington, executive director of the Community Empowerment Fund in Chapel Hill, will join a 10-organization cohort of leaders through a $50,000 grant from the Common Future, a national nonprofit dedicated to closing the racial wealth gap. Photo by Rodney McClain, courtesy of Donna Carrington.


By Michelle Cassell
Assignment Editor/Correspondent

On Tuesday, a Chapel Hill nonprofit, the Community Empowerment Fund (CEF), announced that it just received an unrestricted $50,000 grant from Common Future. Common Future is a national organization that provides financial and other support to both nonprofits and for-profits working to close the racial wealth gap.

CEF was selected from a group of 264 organization applicants from throughout the nation with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) leaders, resulting in its being one of only 10 awardees. CEF supports over 3,000 members annually. They combine person-centered support for families and individuals with employment, housing and financial support goals that pursue equity, according to their mission statement. Historically, people of color have been systematically discriminated against in the home-buying process. Homeownership is recognized as a key wealth-building tool.

Donna Carrington, executive director of CEF, will become part of a 10-member cohort created by Common Future’s new Accelerator Initiative, which was launched last October. This group of like-minded leaders with common goals will attend a three-month intensive program providing mentorship, training, workshops and coaching from a team assembled by Common Future.

“In addition to the unrestricted grant, we are providing wrap-around support to help unlock access to knowledge and social capital to help these organizations find the resources they need to grow and create impact in their communities,” said Andrea Perdomo, director of Portfolio Advancement at Common Future.

Perdomo said, “What is interesting about all 10 organizations is that they are all represented by BIPOC women. We have two Latinos, seven Black women, two Native American women, and one who is North African. It is quite a diverse group of people who bring their work experience from their own communities to share in discussions.”

How CEF was selected

The Accelerator program uses certain criteria to evaluate the U.S.-based, BIPOC-led candidates, as Perdomo enumerated to The Local Reporter (TLR), including, but not limited to: models of solutions that are designed and tested; impacted communities that are integral to the solution; secured funding but seeking capital to be ready for growth; full-time leaders or a clear plan for full-time leadership; and working at the intersection of race and class with an intended outcome that is explicit rather than an accidental byproduct. The full criteria list appears on the Common Future website.

“We want to support organizations that have designed solutions in their own communities and provide them with information, access to capital funding and improve and empower them,” said Perdomo.

“During the selection process, we (the applicants) were part of a boot camp with a very intentional interview process,” CEF’s Carrington said. “I was so happy when I saw the email that we were selected I started crying. Because to me, what this means is that we are going in the right direction. I’m encouraged that the story I tell about why we are doing this is being heard as we work toward ending racial wealth inequity.”

Carrington explained her “story” about the gentrification in Chapel Hill and Durham. “It is real, and opportunities to expand racial wealth are dwindling. We want to be intentional about how we can support people to find homes.” She sees the grant and the training as a chance to help people see the potential that it (home ownership) could bring for people of color.

Perdomo told TLR that the Community Empowerment Fund was attractive to their selection committee because housing has been on top of the national media, especially when it comes to Blacks being discriminated against in the home-buying process. “CEF is definitely working in the Chapel Hill area,” she said.

Most of the other nine recipients are in large metro areas, such as Orlando’s African American Alliance of CDFI CEOs, New York City’s Miren and San Diego’s Cook Alliance. However, The Tender Foundation of East Point, Georgia, and Change Labs of Tuba City, Arizona, join CEF at the smaller population end of serving communities. The full cohort of recipients is listed on the Common Futures website.

The grants are not renewable, but the purpose of the three-month program is “to help support these 10 groups in being ready to accept more capital, as well as providing them connections and introductions to potential funders,” as Perdomo explained.

A large part of the program will be talking about funding and strategy. “We also have a network of funders that, at the end of it, we will make introductions to them,” Perdomo added.

Common Future merged with Uncharted, based in Denver in 2022. According to Perdomo, Uncharted ran an accelerator program similar to this one for 12 years. Through this merger, they can provide an experienced team. Money from fundraising comes via a variety of different sources, including foundations, philanthropic investments from private companies that manage wealthy families’ funds (called “family offices”), and individual donors.

“I am excited to know that I have a chance to grow as a leader and to work with like-minded people I never would have been able to network with without this program,” said Carrington. She started with CEF in March of 2014. Also attending the program from CEF will be Ari Rosenberg, director of Development and Finance.

Correction: This article has been updated to more clearly define the BIPOC acronym. Previously, it was “Black and Indigenous People of Color.” The proper presentation is “Black, Indigenous, and People of Color,” with or without the “and,” and with or without caps for the P and C.

Michelle Cassell is a seasoned reporter who has covered everything from crime to hurricanes and local politics to human interest over the course of 35 years. As assignment editor, she hopes to encourage writers of a wide range of backgrounds and interests in TLR’s coverage of Southern Orange County news.

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