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Social justice groups are ‘already solving the problems.’ Now they need more from philanthropists, panelists say.

Makeeba McCreary (left) and Devin McCourty speak during a Globe Summit 2023 session moderated by Boston Globe's Shirley Leung, a columnist and host of the Globe podcast “Say More."Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

For philanthropic leaders, simply talking about social justice issues is not enough to move the needle. Instead, two of the state’s leading humanitarians said Thursday at the Globe Summit that using your platform to support grassroots advocacy groups already doing the work is necessary and will take social justice work further.

“It’s all about finding local nonprofits in your area,” said former New England Patriots star Devin McCourty. “I don’t need to have a better idea ... I just need to get with them.”

In a panel on “Championing Social Justice” moderated by Globe business columnist and associate editor Shirley Leung, McCourty and Makeeba McCreary, president of the New Commonwealth Racial Equity and Social Justice Fund, or NCF, shared their paths to giving back and highlighted how benefactors can be better at helping movements.


The panel was part of the third annual Globe Summit, a three-day hybrid event which brings together some of the day’s brightest minds, trendsetters, and barrier-breakers to consider some of the greatest challenges facing society. This year’s summit, with the theme “Today’s Innovators, Tomorrow’s Leaders,” wrapped up Thursday at WBUR CitySpace.

The two panelists first connected through their shared vision of supporting community causes. NCF formed in 2020 when 19 Black and Latino executives, disillusioned with the plight of the COVID-19 pandemic and police killings of Black people, sought to fund on-the-ground organizations quickly and effectively.

Doing so, McCreary said, allows those organizations to enact change as they see fit.

“They’re already solving the problems,” McCreary said of community groups. “They just don’t have the resources to do it effectively.”

By the time McCourty first convened with NCF in 2020, when the social justice fund created by New England Patriots players gave the organization a grant, he had made headlines lobbying for eliminating disparities in public schools and raising a fist during the national anthem. But such actions didn’t come easy, McCourty said.


“Playing for the Patriots, it wasn’t popular to talk about topics outside of football,” he said. But “once I got out into some of these neighborhoods, I could really tell that my voice could have some impact.”

“We didn’t care if we were fired,” McCourty added. “We just wanted to be on the right side” of history.

Since then, NCF in August added McCourty to its board of directors.

“We’re excited we get to take advantage of [McCourty’s] star status, but we also appreciate the work he’s done and what he brings to the table,” McCreary said.

NCF has raised $35 million in its three years, McCreary said, but she said she feels the fundraising energy that marked 2020 has slowed down, and many corporations who pledged to give back in the year after George Floyd’s murder — what some estimate as $200 billion nationally — have gone silent.

Continued momentum is critical because the issues that plagued 2020 are just as widespread today, McCreary said. She called on nonprofits and corporations to publicize their contributions and show the actual progress they’ve made.

“Leveling the playing field is critical, and that starts with telling the truth,” McCreary said.

Though Massachusetts has a wealth of nonprofits and philanthropists eager to fund organizations, groups doing work outside of Boston are often left out of these funding networks, McCreary said. To combat the disparity, she said NCF is visiting sites in cities such as Brockton and Randolph to ensure they can access necessary funding.


“We want it to be clear that we’re a Commonwealth-wide funding resource,” McCreary said.

Beyond financing social causes, McCreary and McCourty agreed there are other ways to lift grassroots organizations. McCreary said that NCF is also encouraging such groups to ask for help to navigate the grant application process.

For McCourty, it includes “taking two hours out of the day” to visit a nonprofit organization and deciding “You matter.”

“Things happen, things will continue to change, obstacles will continue to be there,” McCourty said. “But there will always be perseverance.”

Tiana Woodard is a Report for America corps member covering Black neighborhoods. She can be reached at Follow her @tianarochon.