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President's Blog: Honoring the Life and Legacy of Biddy Mason, One of L.A.'s First Philanthropists

Friday, March 12, 2021

Dear SCG Community,


Last week, I was delighted to see NBC Los Angeles recognize the life and legacy of Biddy Mason for International Women’s Day and highlight the Biddy Mason Charitable Foundation, one of TRHT-LA’s recent grant recipients. For several years, SCG and TRHT-LA have celebrated Biddy Mason's birthday and commemorated her philanthropic work and efforts to build a Black community in today’s Downtown Los Angeles. 

Biddy was born into enslavement in Georgia and forcibly relocated to Southern California in the early 1850s. After winning her freedom in 1856, Biddy pursued a career in medicine and steadily built her wealth through real estate investments in a budding Los Angeles. She became a renowned philanthropist, co-founded the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, and continuously invested in the Black community. Today, Biddy is considered the “Grandmother of Los Angeles,” and her story has started to gain wider recognition. 

As we celebrate Women’s History Month on the heels of Black History Month, I would like to honor Biddy Mason’s legacy, not only as one of our region’s first philanthropists but also as a Black woman who overcame unimaginable prejudice and inequity in 19th century America. In many ways, Biddy modeled a giving practice that is still relevant today: one centered and led by communities most impacted by injustice. However, the lives and contributions of Black women — and women of intersectional identities more broadly — are often forgotten or actively erased from our nation’s history. Women have always been at the forefront of movements advancing our communities, culture, and policies in more equitable directions. As our sector recognizes Women’s History Month, we’d be remiss not to remember and learn from women like Biddy Mason, who advocated for her community even as she navigated multiple levels of oppression. 

Today, we are still fighting against the legacies of systemic racism, sexism, and all their intersections. Women, and particularly women of color, have been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The California Budget and Policy Center reports that Black and Latinx women’s employment fell by over 20% in the pandemic’s early months. Today, women of color are also still struggling to navigate the pandemic financially. Even as we remain hopeful that the Equality Act will advance through Congress — and provide federal protection for many women, people of color, and LGBTQ people who experience gender-based oppression and sex discrimination — we recognize it is still an uphill battle, culturally and in the Senate. 

I believe gender justice is a critical lens to apply to our systems change work. As Bia Viera, Chief Strategist at the Women’s Foundation of California, defines in our spotlight of the Culture Change Fund, “gender justice is a framework used to bring about the fair and equitable treatment of people of all genders, and that aims to provide them with the resources they need to achieve joy, justice, and dignity.” This month, we would like to elevate the efforts and voices of people advancing gender justice in our network through various focus areas, including narrative change, impact investing, and climate change efforts. We hope that this month, you celebrate the legacies of women historically excluded from our collective history and join one of the many initiatives to advance gender justice in our culture. 


In Partnership,

Christine Essel

President & CEO, Southern California Grantmakers



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