Sankofa: A look back at 2022


During this season of the year, I am often deeply reflective, taking stock of the year that is passing and applying learnings and vision for the year to come. In the Twi language of Ghana, this practice is called “Sankofa,” which means to “go back and get it” and “to take from the past what is good and bring it into the present to make progress in the future.” As we near the end of 2022, I greet you in the spirit of Sankofa.  

Over the past year, we concluded our historic funding areas and awarded our final Healthy Communities, Mental Health, Safety Net, and applicant defined grants. We know this change hasn’t been easy for some of our partners, and we appreciate the grace you’ve given us as we’ve worked through the details. We also know that change is a natural and necessary part of progress.

We are filled with gratitude for our nonprofit partners and many others who have been a part of the Health Forward community over the past 17 years. Because of our work together, we are well positioned to implement our new purpose plan in a way that honors and builds upon the essential work that’s been accomplished. And we are resolute to make real impact in our journey toward healthy people, community power, and equitable and just places in 2023 and beyond.

In January 2022, after engaged and thoughtful conversations with and in community to consider the best and highest use of our leadership, advocacy, and resources, we shared our new purpose: Every day, we work to support and build inclusive, powerful, and healthy communities characterized by racial equity and economically just systems. Our new purpose plan builds on our historic partnerships and commitment to health equity.

Throughout the year we’ve deepened our relationships with organizations whose impactful work we’ve been proud to support, without whom we cannot achieve the impact we seek. We also began cultivating new relationships with partners who have proximity to the problems we’re challenged by, and intimacy with the communities and resident leaders who carry the solutions. In doing so, we focused our efforts on listening to and supporting communities that have borne the brunt of health injustice.

Our work centers people of color whose health outcomes are shaped by structural racism and other socioeconomic conditions and people in rural areas where structural urbanism and systemic barriers hinder optimal health. By prioritizing these communities, we made a commitment to invest in solutions and support policies that uproot racist and oppressive systems and build health and wealth to improve conditions for everyone.   

Here are some highlights from our work in 2022.

Understanding there is no quality without equity, and no equity without quality, we convened more than 50 organizations through the Kansas City Health Equity Learning and Action Network. Partnering with the KC Health Collaborative, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, and many people with lived experience, we are working to instill antiracism, equity, community, and humanity into our regional health ecosystem. Action Network organizations have committed to make health equity a strategic priority and to diversify their boards of directors with people of color.

We deepened our investments in Black, brown, and rural-led organizations to strengthen the effectiveness of these leaders and build stronger nonprofits through three major efforts:

  • Through the Stronger Nonprofit Initiative , we worked to enhance the financial management capabilities of 10 nonprofits to support them in overcoming systemic barriers to accessing and managing capital toward financial health and greater impact. We are grateful to be in partnership with IFF, J.P. Morgan Chase, and BDO FMA in this work. Kansas City was the seventh city nationally to participate in the initiative.

  • Our partnership with Resilia, a Black woman-owned and led tech firm, provided coaching for 42 nonprofit organizations to enhance their effectiveness, creativity, workflow, and capacity to achieve their missions. As leaders of color often experience narrower networks for coaching, many participating organizations deem the resource a game-changer for growth-focused guidance.

  • We know powerful communities are healthy communities. But how do people in the communities we serve define and experience power? We explored this question and gathered authentic stories of power with Ad Astra Community Innovations Group. Through this work we learned from community members and resident leaders with lived experience in all six counties of our service area. For them, notions of resilience, self-determination, truth-telling, and community voice characterized not just power, but their power. These stories will be shared in 2023 and will be used to inform our future work.

We know that access to stable, quality, and safe affordable housing improves health outcomes and that homeownership is a wealth-building opportunity. Health Forward supported a regional housing partnership to mobilize stakeholders convened by MARC and LISC to enact systemic change to grow the supply of affordable housing and increase equitable access to it.

Through our partnership in the launch of Right to Counsel, KCMO residents with a qualifying income who are facing eviction now have access to free legal representation — ultimately helping more people stay housed and healthy. In the first three months of the program nearly 400 tenants facing eviction were able to receive free legal representation. Eighty-nine percent of these residents were able to avoid eviction and stay in their homes.

Health Forward was also proud to support Question 2 on the November ballot, which passed by a 71 percent to 29 percent margin. This measure adds $50 million in general bond revenue to KCMO’s Housing Trust Fund, representing the largest ever investment in affordable housing.

In an effort to catalyze change and bring people together using stories that promote health equity to create inclusive narratives, Health Forward and BeGreat Together, in partnership with the Convergence Partnership and Assemble, announced a new four-part film series called DocuCourse. Each film elevates the stories of Black and Latino/a changemakers from the Kansas City area and highlights the strategies they use to make a difference. The first DocuCourse debuted during Hispanic Heritage Month and featured Diosselyn Tot who used her experiences as a Guatemalan immigrant to shape her art and advocacy work. Diosselyn’s story was recently nominated for the Chicago Indie Film Awards. We look forward to sharing more stories in 2023. Subscribe to DocuCourse so you never miss a film release.

We are leveraging our invested resources to advance our purpose by investing in strategies that provide services to racially diverse populations and that are owned or managed by people of color. Between 2021 and 2022, we increased assets under management by Black- and Latino/a-owned managers from 1.5 percent to 34 percent ($90 million in assets) in deployed or committed capital. Contextually, in 2020, zero percent of our assets were managed by Black or Latino/a managers. To advance economically just systems, a critical component of our purpose, our board has established a goal of reaching 45 percent by the end of 2024.

In recognition of the outstanding work taking place in our region to address health equity and the promise of new partnerships and political will to secure a fair and just region, Health Forward was blessed to receive a one-time, unrestricted $15 million grant from philanthropist and author MacKenzie Scott. We look forward to using the resources to deepen our strategic investments specifically related to health and wealth building, such as advancing safe and affordable housing and homeownership, and increasing representation of people of color in the region’s health sciences workforce.

To round out the year, we announced our new funding approach for 2023. As we continue to pursue our purpose, we will use every tool in our toolbox — advocacy, grantmaking, leadership, research, communications, and investments — including social impact investments.

We will begin 2023 by sharing our policy agenda and our community-engaged process for arriving at our policy priorities. We appreciate all our partners for engaging with us to gain more insight into their advocacy work and how we, together, can best meet our community’s needs.

As we close this year and look toward the promise of a new year, we thank you for the work we’ve accomplished together to build inclusive, powerful, and healthy communities. Whether a new partner or long-time partner in this work, we are honored to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you as we embark on the work ahead. Happy holidays and Sankofa!