The Atlantic Philanthropies Establishes New Fellowship Program at Columbia to Dismantle Anti-Black Racism

The Atlantic Philanthropies and Columbia University today announced the Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity, a 10-year, $60 million program for courageous and creative leaders dedicated to dismantling anti-black racism in the United States and South Africa, two nations with deep and enduring legacies of racial exclusion and violence. The program – conceived, designed and led in partnership with renowned champions of racial equity – will enable visionary activists, authors and artists, among others, to enhance their understanding of anti-black racism and strengthen their strategic capacity, individual skills and professional networks to lead successful movements for racial equity in their communities, countries and around the world.

Significant and growing movements around the world are dedicated to confronting longstanding patterns of racial bias and discrimination. Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity will provide advanced leadership training and resources to support young and emerging changemakers in these movements, as well as their more experienced counterparts, to elevate public consciousness of these disparities and to construct more powerful interventions for justice and social change.

The program is the latest in an interconnected set of fellowship programs — the Atlantic Fellows — designed to empower and connect dynamic individuals who are committed to working together across disciplines and borders to address some of the world’s most critical challenges and advance fairer, healthier and more inclusive societies.

“We continue to see around us deep and often dangerous disparities that most directly affect the lives of black people, but that ultimately harm all of us and our desire to live in fair and inclusive communities,” said Christopher G. Oechsli, president and CEO of The Atlantic Philanthropies.  “We have a responsibility to change the discourse of division and exclusion, eliminate racial discrimination and violence in our criminal justice systems, and create a fundamental sense of equality and belonging that transcends the deeply harmful legacies and behaviors of our past.  To do this, we are privileged to make one of our final big bets on dedicated emerging leaders who are determined to achieve these aspirations and right the course of history.”

“We’re proud and excited to be part of this bold effort to build a better, more inclusive future and invest in leaders who can imagine and create that future.”
— Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change


Read more partner statements.

“Universities have an essential role to play in addressing the enduring challenges of race and racism in our society,” said Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger. “We have made the commitment to building a diverse, inclusive and just society a core value at Columbia. So we are especially proud to join with The Atlantic Philanthropies and an impressive group of partner organizations in this innovative effort to train a generation of future leaders for a new and necessary civil rights movement.”

Founding partners of the Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity program include Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity (BOLD), Center for Community Change, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Nelson Mandela Foundation, and the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at University of California, Berkeley.

In the United States, the legacy of slavery and segregation looms large, and racial discrimination, even if unlawful, is systemic and omnipresent. Black men and women remain disproportionate victims of excessive police force and draconian criminal penalties, and are more likely to attend under-resourced schools and to lack access to adequate basic services, including health care. In South Africa, despite two decades of post-apartheid programs to redistribute land, improve employment equity and stimulate development in black communities, black South Africans face continuing hardship and inequality, and levels of poverty, inadequate education and health disparities are crushingly high.

The non-residential program, hosted by Columbia University, will support 350 fellows over its 10-year lifespan, annually supporting up to 35 fellows from the United States and South Africa, and bringing together grassroots and civil rights advocates and scholars working in diverse disciplines, as well as individuals working within government, the media, arts and elsewhere to promote learning and collaboration across fields, sectors and geographies.

“At a time when issues of race and identity are at the forefront of intense debates in South Africa, the U.S. and around the globe, supporting multi-racial and multi-ethnic leadership to lead us forward could not be more urgent or essential,” said Kavitha Mediratta, founding executive director of the program. “I am humbled by this opportunity to help shape Atlantic’s final investment to advance racial equity alongside such a distinguished and committed group of partners.” Ms. Mediratta will step down from her position as chief strategy advisor at The Atlantic Philanthropies on December 31 to assume her new role.

Substantial resources will directly support the Atlantic Fellows and their institutions. In addition, the grant also will support undergraduate fellows programs at Columbia and UC-Berkeley, a program of multi-disciplinary research at UC-Berkeley, and an annual fellow-faculty symposium and board of faculty advisors at Columbia.

“This initiative is dedicated not only to understanding our past, but to illuminating the problems of the present, and imagining a better future for all,” said Alondra Nelson, Columbia’s dean of social science and professor of sociology, who will serve as faculty lead to the Atlantic Fellows program. “Columbia will bring its deep commitment to research, teaching and civic engagement to this partnership and is excited to engage Atlantic Fellows with faculty, students, and the broader community in the urgent work of envisioning and cultivating more just societies.”

The first cohort of Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity will be announced in 2017. Sign up at for application information and updates.

October 24, 2016