Leading Us into the Future, The Voice of American South CEO Carmen James Randolph

Carmen James Randolph, Founding CEO & President, is a renowned philanthropist and leader known for championing sustainable transformation from the intersections of gender, racial and social justice. Her quiet yet powerful and unflinching approach galvanizes funders, donors, policy makers and grassroots activists to forever change communities, organizations and people for good. Most recently serving as Vice President for Programs at the Greater New Orleans Foundation, Carmen is an innovator, strategist, expert grant-maker, and collaborative leader committed to the prosperity of communities of color. She is a 21-year veteran of philanthropy, initially launching her philanthropic career at the Eugene & Agnes E. Meyer Foundation in Washington, DC. Since launching her career, she has leveraged more than $20M in new investments from national and regional funders to support and transform marginalized communities. Leading programming at the Greater New Orleans Foundation since 2014, she helmed a team of 12 professionals and presided over $11 million in the Greater New Orleans Foundation’s discretionary, donor-advised, and scholarship grantmaking while also directing programmatic work.

In August 2021, the Women’s Foundation of the South (WFS) announced that Carmen had accepted the position of Founding President and CEO of this new entity. Carmen’s expertise in building and leading large networks of grant-makers that advance systemic reform make her ideal for this new role. She represents this exciting foundation, builds its teams, creates and nurtures partnerships with women of color leaders across the South, stimulates investments in and grant-making to the foundation, and oversees both WFS’s strategic direction as well as tactical operations.

Carmen holds a BA in American Studies with a concentration in African American Studies from American University. She is a mother of three young adults, and she lives in New Orleans with her husband and family.

If you could describe your passion in one sentence, what would it be? 

My passion is to drive transformative change so that women and girls of color in the South prosper and achieve the destinies their heart’s desire. 

How did you get your start with the Women’s Foundation of the South? 

I have the honor of serving as the founding president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation of the South (WFS). Building an enduring institution dedicated to serving and uplifting people of color has been a long-held dream of mine. I have worked in the field of philanthropy for more than two decades, and I have been struck by how difficult it is to make the issues confronting women and girls of color areas of priority focus and investment. More than 50 percent of women of color live in the South, and our numbers are growing. Among several indicators for health and economic well-being, we are not doing so well. Yet, we receive the least amount of philanthropic dollars for nonprofits led by women of color and impact investment capital for our businesses. This incredible need is only matched by the untapped, incredible potential women of color offer the South. Establishing the Women’s Foundation of the South with other women of color grantmakers and allies affords me the opportunity to manifest a dynamic vision to build the health, wealth, and power of women and girls of color and fulfill a long-held dream – build an institution that is a permanent inheritance for my sisters. 

Tell us about the work you are doing with mental and maternal health and advocating for women’s health. 

Women of color leaders in the South receive $2.36 or less per woman and girls of color in philanthropic support, and continually, they do the most for the community with the absolute least in resources. Quite frankly, this lack of investment not only limits the capacity of nonprofits led by women of color but also causes significant strain on the leadership and staff. We have learned some leaders must work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Many are marginally staffed and unable to provide benefits. The stress these leaders endure is caustic and constant. The toll is heavy, often resulting in major health challenges from cancer, hypertension, diabetes, and depression. Women of color leaders often mirror the lives of the communities they serve.

In 2021, WFS launched its flagship initiative called WŌC @ Rest (Women of Color at Rest). Through WŌC @ Rest, WFS provides women of color leaders with leadership development grants that target the restoration of the leader. In the application, we gauge the leader’s mental health through a series of self-care questions. The leader determines how exactly the dollars are deployed. Leaders have used the dollars for paid time off, coaching, professional development, and other needs. In addition, we invite the leaders to take a deliberate pause and rest at a 2-day retreat. Along with our curation partner Junebug Productions, we design a retreat experience that is grounded in culture and engages the mind, body, and spirit. We do a six-month check-in to see if the leaders progressed in improving their self-care and the impact of their leadership development grant, and we reconvene the leaders a year later. The impact of WŌC @ Rest is not limited to the leaders, but it has had an impact on their organizations and approach to their work with clients. 

Through WŌC @ Rest, we learn from the leaders more deeply about the issues they are working on and the challenges and opportunities they see. At our inaugural gathering, some of the women of color leaders spoke passionately about the maternal mortality crisis in Louisiana where Black women alone are dying four times the national average due to childbirth. This conversation inspired the creation of our impact video series called, Learn with Us. We produced a two-part video production that delved into the maternal mortality crisis, accompanying infant mortality crisis, policy work, and solutions from the perspectives of women of color in the South who are most proximate to this work. Watch Episode 1 and Episode 2 of the series to learn more about nonprofit leaders working at the forefront of maternal and child health in Louisiana. Watch a short preview here.

WFS has supported convenings sponsored by our grantees on maternal health and policy, sponsoring the Black Birth Matters: Healing Our Wombs conference hosted by Birthmark Doulas Collective, a birthing justice organization dedicated to supporting, informing, and advocating for pregnant and parenting people and their families. We have joined our grantees at the State capital to advocate for policy changes including the 10th Annual Women’s Health Day & Retreat led by the Louisiana Center for Health Equity. Also, we have cohosted a discussion among women of color leaders on the impact of the fall of Roe v. Wade and trigger laws in Louisiana. Our leaders see reproductive justice and maternal health as integrally connected. 

Why is maternal health and mental health important?

The lives of women of color are intersectional. Maternal health and mental health directly tie to the health and well-being of the community, and for people of color, these issues are intertwined regardless of income. The impact of institutional racism, medical racism, toxic stress, and the myriad of disparities women of color endure from lack of safe affordable housing, income inequity, environmental injustice, and access to healthcare combine to put Black women and other women of color at grave risk. As the cornerstones of the community, when Black women and other women of color are suffering, so is the community.

How can women implement self-care in their daily life? How does self-care play a role in mental health awareness? 

The first and most important step is giving oneself permission to put oneself first and make self-care a habit. This is difficult for all women. However, for women of color, we have a long and painful history of being denied the right to put themselves first. From Black women who were denied agency over their bodies and had their bodies commodified for labor as well as forced care of other people’s children to Native women who were taught self-sacrificial labor on behalf of the tribe come first, and immigrant women who labor multiple jobs to support themselves and families in their homeland – rest is often allusive and permission is not easily given – by partners, family, employers, children, or community. I often say women of color hold up the sky. 

However, women of color must come to understand as poet and Black feminist Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.” It is my hope that fewer women experience a health scare or mental break to come to terms with the need to embrace self-care. I have found great wisdom in the words of Michael Hyatt, “What gets scheduled, gets done.” Make a point to carve out time for quiet, rest, reflection, and joy regularly. Establishing a rhythm of self-care is important. So, I try to schedule a daily morning ritual, a weekly soak, and activities that bring me joy – whether that is a visit to a museum, a bike ride alone or with a friend, or a date night with my husband. For me, a morning ritual is the most critical component of a successful day. When I take time to be quiet, meditate, pray, journal, and/or do a yoga practice, I find I can approach the day grounded and centered. Journaling and reflecting on gratitude can shift your mindset and your heart set. When you focus on the blessings mentally, it can make life’s challenges and pitfalls seem smaller and inconsequential in comparison. 

I love this quote from Anne Lamont on radical self-care:

“Radical self-care is the secret of joy, resistance, freedom. When we care for ourselves as our very own beloved—with naps, healthy food, clean sheets, a lovely cup of tea—we can begin to give in wildly generous ways to the world, from abundance.”

What are you doing to change the socioeconomic status of the South? 

First, we are building WFS to be a permanent, endowed public charity. We recognize that the challenges that face women of color are generational, and it will require generational investment to shift the South toward prosperity for women of color. We are ground-truthing what a Southern agenda to build the health, wealth, and power of women and girls of color should look like by connecting and investing in women of color leaders state by state in our 13-state footprint over the next five years. 

In five years, we will have touched more than 300 women of color leaders. This network of leaders will contribute to our grantmaking strategy. We also are conducting a Community Development Finance Institution (CDFI) landscape analysis in partnership with Tulane University to understand how capital is flowing to women of color entrepreneurs and determine how WFS will invest in women of color-led business investment strategy.  

What is next for you, where can your supporters expect to see you next? 

We are expanding WŌC @ Rest to Texas and Atlanta this year. 

WFS is also hosting its annual fundraising gala Crescendeaux: A Carnival of Culture. This fashion shows fundraising gala will feature women of color designers from across the South and will take place on November 4th in New Orleans.

What message do you hope women take away from your platform as a whole? 

I hope women are inspired to imagine what is possible for the South and our very country if women and girls of color had more, are thriving, and are a vibrant and integral part of our social discourse. When we shift the South for women and girls of color, we can change our country for the better. 

What is your definition of a Pretty Woman Who Hustles? 

A pretty woman who hustles is a woman who not only sees the world as it is but also how it can be. She decidedly dedicates her time and resources to being the change she wants to see in the world. Her hustle not only benefits her but it benefits others. I hope all pretty women who hustle understand the importance of rest and take every opportunity to do so. We can’t dream if we don’t sleep. The recipe to change the world is made up of our dreams. 

Please provide Social Media Handles and Website

Women’s Foundation of the South

Website: www.womensfoundationsouth.org

@womensfdnsouth – InstagramTwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn

Carmen James Randolph – LinkedIn and Instagram 

Jakia Cheatham - Myles

CEO/Founder of Pretty Women Hustle Magazine

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