Joanna S. Jackson (Courtesy photo)

After a comprehensive search for their next CEO, the Weingart Foundation’s board members appointed Joanna S. Jackson to the chief executive officer role earlier this month.

She has dedicated her professional career to creating pipelines toward racial justice and aligning the Weingart Foundation’s values, mission, and practice to the needs of marginalized communities for over 15 years. Jackson shared details about her philanthropic journey to CEO and president in an exclusive interview with the L.A. Sentinel.

Together with astute consultants and Koya Partners, The Weingart Foundation board members created an intricate candidate profile, emphasizing key features in their search for the Weingart Foundation’s next CEO and president. Jackson had the proven track record and characteristics to lead at the helm of the privately owned grant-making organization.

Jackson coordinated pathways that led to a successful and diverse portfolio by staying true to the values, mission and practice of philanthropy at the Weingart Foundation; directly responding to the needs of underrepresented societies that directly or indirectly communicate the stress for more resources.

“It’s a part of something I’ve always done— making sure that we are aligned to what we (the Weingart Foundation) say: what our mission is, what our priorities are, what our values are and actually putting that into practice,” said Jackson.

Since 2008, Jackson has carried a people-focused viewpoint that fueled her acts of service in her professional career. Loaning her talents to the Weingart Foundation, Jackson started as a program associate.

From there, she raised her hand at different opportunities to be of service, moving into positions like director of special programs and director of grant operations. Jackson later would exercise her voice in leadership as the vice president of programs and become the interim CEO before being appointed to the executive role.

Jackson emphasized her success comes from her commitment to equity and redefining risk for the organization.

Jackson with members of the Weingart Foundation board. (Courtesy photo)

“Getting to a place where we are talking about investing in people and communities, recognizing and re-evaluating what we consider risk; philanthropy tends to be risk averse, but we want to be able to support those organizations that at one point we would have thought of as risky—for me it’s not about what risks we think we are taking, for me it’s about the risk of inaction,” said Jackson.

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The newly appointed CEO shared that intentionality is a key component to her strategy in strengthening the reach of the Weingart Foundation. Jackson highlighted an evolution in the small grants program; she looked at the investments made and its longevity.

Jackson observed that bigger and more developed organizations had longer periods of support than smaller establishments and she found a way to pivot to see more balance across different sizes of facilities— in order for smaller organizations to see the same longevity in support.

Also, Jackson emphasized the impact of the Weingart Foundation, specifically during the social awakenings happening during the Summer of 2020. In response to racial injustices like the murder of George Floyd, The Weingart Foundation was fast acting in the philanthropic sector, according to Jackson — investing over $5 million over a course of five years to the California Black Freedom Fund.

Describing her view as CEO of a privately owned grant-making organization, Jackson spoke candidly about the familiar pressure in urgency to meet the demand for resources on a regional level.

“This isn’t necessarily a new pressure, it’s always been — the pressure is responding to the urgency. When I look up in our communities and I look at the level of inequity, I look at the attacks that our communities are facing, when I look at the movement that’s not happening —Black home ownership rate has barely budged since 1960 — or Black people overrepresented in the unhoused population at rates that are nearly over four times our share of the population…things are increasingly at a crisis point for our communities,” she said.

Some of her action plans that directly speaks to that pressure includes assessing the problem and finding the best way to heal the hemorrhages in underrepresented communities, in addition to entrusting the organizations that are on the frontlines, facing critical problems head on.

Jackson noted she wouldn’t be where she is today without her village of family, friends, colleagues and mentors. She highlighted her “sister presidents” like Charisse Bremond Weaver; president and CEO of Brotherhood Crusade; and Renata Simril, president and CEO of LA84 Foundation. In addition, people like Blen Vargas, former Weingart CEO and President Miguel Santana, Weingart Board member Fred Ali, Dr. Robert Ross, and Judy Belk kept Jackson aligned with her mission through their support.

Another assert for Jackson is her personal legacy, which is rooted in a family tree of activism. She highlighted the work of her parents, James A. Johnson and Mary Louise Patterson, alongside her grandparents, William L. Patterson and Louise Thompson Patterson.

Jackson noted her role includes building trust internally and externally through the foundation.

“I feel pressure to figure out how to make the most impactful catalytic investments for us—a direct investment in the communities that are impacted,” said Jackson.

“Ultimately we are fighting for humanity, racial justice and equity for everyone in this country.”