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New Commonwealth racial equity fund scores another big donation: $1 million from Robert Kraft

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and his family reached out to the New Commonwealth Fund in December; a Zoom conference followed, and then the donation.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and his family reached out to the New Commonwealth Fund in December; a Zoom conference followed, and then the donation.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/file

The New Commonwealth fund — launched by Black and brown Boston business executives to eliminate systemic racism — has scored another big donation: $1 million from Robert Kraft.

It is the largest donation from an individual to a fund that has raised nearly $30 million since July, largely from Boston-area corporations and their foundations. Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, hopes his donation during Black History Month will spur others to make substantial contributions to the fund.

“It is a statement gift,” said Josh Kraft, president of Kraft Family Philanthropies, who works closely with his father on charitable giving. “One million dollars, hopefully, might inspire others to see the seriousness of systemic racism . . . not put a Band-Aid on it, but to do something lasting.”

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The Krafts also chose New Commonwealth because of the 19 Black and brown leaders who started the fund, many of whom Josh Kraft got to know while he was the longtime leader of the Boys and Girls Club of Boston.

“My dad and my brothers and I, we feel so strongly about the potential and power of this fund,” said Josh Kraft, one of Robert Kraft’s four sons. “It starts at the top with great leadership . . . Whenever great leaders come together to do something to make the community better, you have to support it.”

The fund’s founders hold prominent positions at some of Boston’s best-known companies, including Mo Cowan at General Electric, Paul Francisco of State Street, Greg Shell at Bain Capital, Quincy Miller at Eastern Bank, Dr. Myechia Minter-Jordan of DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement, Linda Dorcena Forry of Suffolk Construction, and Damian Wilmot of Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Some, including Miller, Shell, and Wilmot, also serve on the board of the Boys and Girls Club.

The New Commonwealth Racial Equity and Social Justice Fund, created after the senseless killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, aims to reshape philanthropic and corporate giving, in large part by steering more money to nonprofits helmed by Black and brown leaders. Studies have shown that Black- and brown-led charitable organizations are chronically underfunded, compared with white-led counterparts.

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The fund supports nonprofits working on policing and criminal justice reform, health care equity, economic empowerment, and youth education and civic engagement. But with COVID-19 disproportionately hurting Black and brown communities, the fund’s first batch of grants in November — $1 million across 20 organizations — went to nonprofits that have been focused on addressing the impact of the virus on those communities.

Tanisha Sullivan, president of the Boston branch of the NAACP ― and whose organization received a grant from New Commonwealth — said last year’s racial reckoning highlighted how society needed to spend more time listening to Black people about how to reverse structural racism.

“If you want to make change, the most important thing you can do is listen,” Sullivan said. “By contributing to the New Commonwealth fund, philanthropists and corporate entities are not only listening to Black and brown folks, they are empowering Black and brown folks . . . and that’s powerful.”

Miller, one of the fund’s founders and president of Eastern Bank, said Josh Kraft reached out to him in December about setting up a 15-minute Zoom call with him and his father so they could learn more about the fund.

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The video chat lasted at least half an hour, which Miller took as a good sign. He also knew the Krafts cared about the same issues — in particular, criminal justice reform and health equity — and had given to nonprofits that have been doing that work.

Still, Miller was not prepared for the phone call from Robert Kraft in January.

“When he said a million dollars, I almost fell off my chair,” Miller said.

The money will be disbursed over several years to help create a stable flow of funding. The leaders of the New Commonwealth fund have a set a goal of raising $100 million.

“I appreciate Robert Kraft being committed to this and really setting the bar and challenging others to invest in this work that needs to be done,” Miller added.

Separately, the Patriots’ Players Social Justice Fund made an $85,000 donation to the New Commonwealth fund in January.

Devin McCourty, one of a dozen players who sits on the social justice fund steering committee, said New Commonwealth’s model appealed to them because they knew their single contribution could help multiple organizations.

“We can give here and still spread our wings further,” McCourty said.

Robert Kraft and the Patriots may not be playing in the Super Bowl this year, but they have their eyes on a bigger victory: ending systemic racism.









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Shirley Leung is a Business columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com.