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A Charge for Change

One woman's mission to make a lasting impact

Tawanna Black poses

From The Ichabod - Spring 2017

When Tawanna Black, ba ’00, first came to Washburn University, she had no intention of ever going into non-profit public service. Luckily for the organizations and communities she’s served in Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota, the inspiring professors and new perspectives she encountered at Washburn changed her mind and helped her see the value of social service.

“I began my time at Washburn with a desire to be a corporate attorney. I thought social welfare should be abolished, and I didn’t understand the value of government funded charity,” said Black. “The Topeka community was a great teaching ground. Learning how the public, philanthropic and private sectors can intersect to make a difference in a positive way helped shape me and lead me where I am today.”

That original interest in the corporate world now plays to her advantage. As the executive director of the Northside Funders Group in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Black leads a collaborative of corporate, family and community foundations that want their grantmaking in low-income communities to make a more measurable and sustainable impact. She leverages and aligns their philanthropic investments of more than $20 million each year in workforce and economic development, K-12 education and building social capital. She also builds partnerships with the public sector and regional business leaders. By bringing these groups together, Black has helped transform communities across the country.

“Rebuilding low-income neighborhoods isn’t just about bringing attention to the issues or reminding leaders about the issues or disparities. It’s about building ownership for them, and building partnerships to find solutions. It’s about challenging the status quo,” said Black. “The changes we need to see in cities won’t just happen by luck or chance, but by a different type of collaborative leadership.”

One of the major issues Black is currently working to improve is the employment rates of African American men in Minneapolis. By working with organizations to fund workforce development in the area, and helping the state legislature appropriate funding toward the effort, their goal is to get 2,000 African American men to work over the next five years. It’s a big goal, but one Black ispassionate about. It’s a way to help organizations focus on a significant need, and to intentionally produce a targeted result, providing a significant impact on the entire community.

Black is inspired to continue in her charge for many reasons, but finds the calling of leadership as a central inspiration point.

“It’s the ability to inspire others to give all they’ve got. To put it all on the line and try again, often against significant odds,” said Black. “But also knowing the work pays off for years to come, and communities can’t afford for us not to do it – it makes it all worth it.”

Black’s passion for her work is infectious, and others are noticing. In September 2016, Black was named to Living Cities’ list of Top 25 Disruptive Leaders Who Are Working to Close the Racial Opportunity Gaps among other high profile national leaders. The list recognizes individuals who are committed to addressing racial disparities, while empowering and mobilizing others to do the same. Others on the list include Don Katz, the founder and CEO of Audible, Inc., and Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook, just to name a few.

Most recently, she was recognized in Minnesota Business magazine’s list of “The (Real) Power 50 in 2017,” made up of other remarkable “movers and shakers” in the Minnesota business community.

While honored to be recognized, Black gives the credit back to those who have helped her get where she is today.

“I’m a product of everyone that’s poured into me,” said Black. “From my degree at Washburn to family and mentors in my hometown, my work, my friends, my teachers – even all the way back to my elementary school teachers. Knowing they are proud of me and the work I’m doing means more to me than the things you’ll find in a bio or a Google search."

The Ichabod Fall 2018

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2018-19 fall edition online and look for the winter edition in January.

View past editions


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Topeka, KS 66604
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