It’s day 28 of our #DisabilityRightsInBlack series and Ryan Easterly is focused on philanthropy! Currently the Executive Director of the WITH Foundation, Ryan is an ardent advocate of supporting diverse decision-makers with disabilities across the philanthropic sector. Rooted in the concept of leadership by those most impacted, he envisions a world where funding models evolve from charitable gifts to fully inclusive processes governed by individuals directly affected. Read Ryan’s message below on why philanthropy must value more than money.
More than Money: Nothing About Us, Without Us
When we examine the history of philanthropy/grantmaking and disability, much of the efforts have focused on a charity approach — regarding people with disabilities as beneficiaries and recipients of services, not as active contributors with fulfilling lives, loved ones, dreams, and responsibilities. The disability community has a lot to offer the philanthropic sector, particularly our “nothing about us, without us” philosophy. It is with this philosophy that we must continue to advocate that those who are most impacted by an issue be in central decision-making roles. This includes supporting the leadership of people of color within the disability community, as people of color experience the highest incidents of disability. (According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 out of 4 Black people experience a disability).
As a gay, Black man with disabilities who was a former foster kid in the South, grantmaking is not something I had much understanding of or exposure to until college. Thankfully, after working in advocacy and program development, I had the opportunity to join the program staff of a foundation. It was then that I realized how rare it was for people in my communities to be in positions of influence and power in philanthropy. I have spent 11+ years working in philanthropy, currently serving as Executive Director at the WITH Foundation, a foundation that works to advance comprehensive healthcare for people with developmental disabilities. WITH believes all human beings have the right to be treated with dignity and understands that to practice this, we must look at the entirety of a person, including the multitude of their experiences. I work to create further opportunities for people with disabilities, hoping to show future generations what’s possible, not just with words, but actions. I hope that in my lifetime we will see more people with disabilities, particularly people of color with disabilities, in all areas of philanthropy, including funding beyond the disability experience.