Liberty Hill Foundation

Liberty Hill Foundation


* Assets: $18,603,643 (2017)
* Grants Received: $13,370,104 (2017)
* Grants Awarded: $6,322,322 (2017)

The California-based Liberty Hill Foundation (LHF) was established in 1976 by wealthy scions Larry Janss, Anne Mendel, Win McCormack, and Sarah Pillsbury. These founders were inspired by the writings of the socialist novelist Upton Sinclair to do everything in their power to radically transform America, which they perceived as a society replete with class inequality and exploitation. LHF’s name was derived from a speaker’s platform, dubbed “Liberty Hill,” which had been erected in 1923 by striking port workers in San Pedro, California.

LHF’s founders believed that charitable institutions which were devoted to merely “treating the symptoms of society’s ills” – without addressing “the root causes of social injustice” – were “often simply maintaining the status quo.” Thus the founders sought to promote deeper, structural changes in social institutions. Consequently, much of LHF’s philanthropy during its first decade (1976-85) was allocated to training programs where grassroots community organizers could learn how to maximize their effectiveness as agents of such change. By LHF’s telling, “the election of Ronald Reagan in 1981 had a significant [negative] impact on the lives of the poor and people of color in Los Angeles” – most notably by sparking an increase in homelessness. To address the purported crisis, LHF awarded numerous large grants to organizations fighting for the creation and expansion of taxpayer-funded “affordable housing.”

Opposed also to the Reagan administration’s interventions against Communist forces in Central America, LHF in the early 1980s awarded grants to organizations working to “end U.S. covert action in Central America’s civil wars.” Moreover, LHF funded the Central American Resource & Education Center (CARECEN), which was established in 1983 by Salvadoran refugees and has since become the largest legal and social-service agency for Central Americans in the United States.

In the 1980s as well, LHF supported numerousanti-nuclear and disarmament organizations, women’s and LGBT groups, grassroots media and culture projects, environmental organizations, anti-apartheid groups, and health-related initiatives like the Minority AIDS Project.

LHF celebrated the passage of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which offered amnesty and a pathway-to-citizenship to 2.7 million illegal aliens in the United States, as “a milestone that resulted in a lasting demographic shift.”

In the wake of the deadly 1992 Los Angeles riots, which LHF characterized as a black “uprising” against societal injustices, the Foundation quickly funneled $240,000 to community-based organizations whose work was centered on helping African Americans deal with a variety of social and economic problems.

In 1994 LHF opposed the passage of California’s “Three Strikes Law,” which, according to the Foundation, “push[ed] the rise in imprisonment into an era of mass incarceration” that had a hugely disproportionate impact on blacks and Latinos.

In 2004 LHF initiated the Liberty Vote! Project, not only to register voters for that year’s political elections, but also to “create long-term leadership for energizing new and infrequent voters” – particularly nonwhite minorities, who tend overwhelmingly to support Democratic candidates and agendas.

In 2006 LHF hailed “the blossoming of the immigrants’ rights movement,” when millions demonstrated in favor of amnesty and open borders.

In 2010 LHF launched its Uplifting Change program to “bring together Black Angelenos active in philanthropy and social movements for yearly conferences and events.”

Today LHF administers several major philanthropic programs:

The LGBTQ Equality program seeks to “empowe[r] a new generation of queer youth leaders” to “end the continuing discrimination and exclusion of transgender and gender non-conforming communities.” By LHF’s telling, “young LGBTQ people of color” are plagued by disproportionately high rates of “criminalization,” discrimination, and homelessness. Moreover, the Foundation claims that there are “not enough safe spaces” for them “in schools and communities.”

The Economic Justice program is founded on the premise that “inequality is engineered, not inevitable.” Directing its philanthropy chiefly toward groups that seek to “build prosperous communities through increased voter participation, parent activism, and workforce development,” this program’s key areas of concern include the prevention of “wage theft,” an increase in taxpayer-funded “affordable housing,” and the termination of “unfair [school] disciplinary policies” that “are criminalizing our students and putting them on the path to prison, not college.”

The Environmental Justice program seeks to “lea[d] the resistance” against “global warming” by recognizing that “environmental justice is a cornerstone of social justice.” Specifically, the program asserts that “the dangers of exposure to environmental hazards are most severe” for “low-income communities and communities of color” – where “economic disadvantage and dangerous pollution” place people “at greater risk for cancer and other health consequences than residents of affluent areas.” To address this matter, the program’s grant-making favors groups and projects that aim to: (a) reduce pollution in these “environmental justice neighborhoods,” and (b) compensate those neighborhoods with taxpayer-funded social-welfare benefits.

The Racial Justice program’s mission is to “provide resources” to “people of color” and others “who are denied power.” Toward that end, the program supports organizations that pursue “new strategies to dismantle racism in America.” Moreover, it provides “training and funding to grassroots leaders addressing racial justice in the criminal-justice system, voting, wages, access to jobs and housing, and LGBTQ equality work.”

The Liberty Hill Commissions Training Program trains community leaders to become advocates within local government structures and “readies them to serve on city boards and commissions.” Some related LHF initiatives include the following:

  • Change L.A.” is a nearly-annual event that honors young philanthropists, community organizers, and “social justice visionaries.”
  • The Wally Marks Leadership Institute for Change– named in memory of longtime LHF board member Wally Marks – was launched in 2010 to train future leaders and activists via classroom meetings, individual coaching, and consulting.
  • The Brothers, Sons, Selves coalition gives high-school students representing LHF grantee organizations an opportunity to “come together and work on policy campaigns” that address “inequity” and other “problems they face in their own environments and schools.” One particularly noteworthy member organization of this coalition is the Children’s Defense Fund California.

To view a list of some noteworthy LHF grantees, click here.

For additional information on LHF, click here.


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