A view of the East Oakland flatlands as seen from the hills. Credit: Amir Aziz

An anonymous donor pledged to contribute $10 million to Rise East, a community-led initiative to raise $50 million from local philanthropy to help tackle systemic inequities facing Black residents in East Oakland.

Publicly announced in August, Rise East is a decade-long, privately-funded initiative to invest in a roughly 40-square-block portion of East Oakland, called the “40×40,” starting in 2024.

Building on long-standing efforts to form a Black Cultural Zone in East Oakland, Rise East hopes to center—rather than displace—the neighborhood’s more than 30,000 Black residents.  Many of these residents are considered low-income and have a lower life expectancy compared to white residents in the Oakland Hills, according to a report on Rise East’s website.

Blue Meridian Partners, a national philanthropic organization based in New York City that aims to invest in communities most impacted by poverty, has promised to contribute $50 million to the effort if local philanthropic groups match that amount, potentially increasing the total fund to $100 million.

Since August, Rise East has secured about $20 million in pledges from local entities such as Kaiser Permanente Northern California, the Akonadi Foundation, and PG&E, according to a press release from Rise East spokesperson Justin Berton. With the latest commitment of $10 million from an anonymous donor, Rise East has approximately $30 million left to raise by the end of the year.

“$100 million to cover 10 years is really just the beginning,” said East Oakland Youth Development Center (EOYDC) CEO Selena Wilson. Raised in the 40×40 area, Wilson said in an interview that she feels “tremendously grateful” for the support Rise East has received so far.

“I recognize that what we’re doing has never been done in this way before,” she said. “We’re asking for funders to join us in this journey of reimagining what community-driven change and true collective impact can look like.”

Rise East’s 10-year plan outlines a framework for investing in key areas such as education, health, public safety, and professional and economic development to help Black children and families in the region thrive. Over 400 East Oakland residents contributed their ideas to the plan according to Melanie Moore, CEO of Oakland Thrives, a coalition of community leaders and policymakers that helped develop it.

“It’s an exciting feeling that these funds are one step closer to the goal at hand, especially if it’s going to help Oakland natives stay in their city,” said Keyanna Trahan, a longtime East Oakland resident and the athletic and holistic resource manager at EOYDC.

The Akonadi Foundation, an Oakland-based philanthropy founded in 2000 to make Oakland a better and more racially just place for younger residents, has committed $1 million to the effort. Ray Colmenar, the foundation’s president, said he’s also excited about this latest pledge from an anonymous donor.

“I would encourage other funders—locally, regionally, and nationally—who care about improving the well-being of Black young people in Oakland to invest intentionally in Rise East,” Colmenar said. “If we invest in the communities and families that are the most marginalized and improve conditions for them, it’s going to benefit all of us.”

Kaiser Permanente Northern California, which co-founded Oakland Thrives, has promised to donate $5 million to Rise East. “We’re honored and pleased to be part of this effort,” said Colin Lacon, public affairs director for Kaiser Permanente Northern California’s East Bay service area. “We’re excited to get other people involved, and we want other people to invest in this.”

While individual donors with the means to contribute to Rise East are welcome to do so, Wilson emphasized that this round of funding is targeted at the local philanthropic community.

“We’re calling upon Bay Area-based foundations—whether they be family foundations, community-based foundations, corporate foundations, and the like—to step up and join this anonymous donor,” she said.

Roselyn Romero covers small businesses for The Oaklandside as a 2023-24 Poynter-Koch Media and Journalism Fellow. Previously, she was an investigative intern at NBC Bay Area and the inaugural intern for the global investigations team of The Associated Press through a partnership with the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting. Roselyn graduated from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo in 2022 with a bachelor's degree in journalism and minors in Spanish, ethnic studies, and women's and gender studies. She is a proud daughter of Filipino immigrants and was born and raised in Oxnard, California.