Bernadine Ahonkhai, Ed. D, is the Founder & CEO of Coalition for Racial Equity and Social Justice (Coalition4Justice) a grassroots 501 C (3) organization which serves as a venue for people to share inspiring stories that validate their lived experiences and engage in authentic conversations about racial equity and social justice. Ahonkhai, a seasoned educator and former adjunct educator of Multi-cultural and Early Childhood Education, is an education policy influencer, a long-time community advocate and activist for justice and equity. She is the recipient of several awards and recognitions, including the Pennsylvania Governor’s Family Engagement Recognition & Award, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Human Rights Award, the PowerUp Foundation Social Justice Ambassador Award, the International Organization for Women & Girls’ Lifetime Achievement Award, and the first place winner of the 2024 Social Innovation Journal Award in Equity and Justice category. Dr. Ahonkhai is a visionary and a positive and powerful change-maker, helping to amplify the voices of the marginalized. She founded the Coalition for Racial Equity and Social Justice on the belief that every American deserves an equal opportunity to thrive and be successful and that this happens when we value each other and work together for the common good. She is also a founding member of the International Spring Festival Foundation in Lansdale, PA that brings thousands of people together annually to experience American diversity.
Under her prudent leadership, Coalition4Justice received two grants in 2021 from the HealthSpark Foundation and Montgomery County, Pennsylvania to provide Diversity Ambassador Leadership program to County youth. With the goal of finding purposeful and effective solutions to America’s race challenges, she leads Coalition4justice in partnering with Montgomery School Districts and local afterschool programs to bring Coalition4Justice YouthBuild Diversity Ambassador Leadership Program to students, collaborating with the Hispanic Heritage Association in creating a training curriculum on the history of Latin American countries. In addition, the Coalition has collaborated with the BucksMontCollaborative in developing a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) framework that organizations and institutions can use to help make their workplaces more welcoming and embracing of our diverse population. Coalition4justice also partners with the H.O.P.E. Alliance, a Montgomery County based organization comprising a dozen African American organizations. She is an enthusiastic and impactful leader who for decades has promoted diversity, equity, and inclusion in schools, teacher education, and the community. Dr. Ahonkhai serves on several community Councils, County Commissions, College DEI & Anti-Racism Council (Arcadia University CASAA), and Private Academic School Board. Dr. Ahonkhai, born and raised in Nigeria, West Africa, now resides in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania with her husband, Vincent I. Ahonkhai, MD. They have four adult children and six grandchildren.
“The time to act is now. We must work together to build a safe, healthy, more equitable, inclusive, and just society where everyone is welcome and valued.”
What does power mean to you?
As someone operating in the Social Justice advocacy space, I usually think of power in relation to diversity, racial equity, inclusion, and social justice. For me, therefore, “power” is the ability to influence and make decisions that positively impacts everyone. I look at power more in terms of influence rather than “force”, “privilege, or “authority”. Therefore, power should be shared and not limited to the privileged few. There should be equal representation around the table to work together to promote respect, equity, equality, and the assurance of rights within and between communities, racial and social groups in our society.
What HealthSpark Foundation is doing with the Dr. Frank E. Boston Black Justice Fund is inviting leaders of Black-led organizations to the table, and shifting from what traditional philanthropy has done for years which has severely hindered real impact and compounded inequities ; and now doing grantmaking differently by redistributing power with long-term investment (hopefully) in Black-led organizations in the County.
What excites you about the Dr. Frank E. Boston Black Justice Fund?
I am excited about the Dr. Frank E. Boston Black Justice Fund primarily because historically Black-led organizations are limited in their ability to access unrestricted funding to support their programs. This limitation directly impacts and undermines the health and wellness of Black-led organizations and their leadership. Trends in philanthropy have provided opportunities for white-led organizations to grow and thrive, leaving Black-led organizations to flounder. Even when funded, Black-led organizations are limited to restricted funds that sends a message of distrust to use the funds in the best way possible. Such restricted funds typically led to stagnation.
I am glad that HealthSpark Foundation has opened its doors through the Dr. Frank E. Boston Black Justice Fund to Black-led organizations in Montgomery County. The Dr. Frank E. Boston Black Justice Fund is an example of the movement toward trust-based philanthropy which provides the needed funds to Black-led organizations through a race-specific and liberatory lens and then gets out of the way because the Foundation knows what is best for the community. Trust-based unrestricted funding provides the necessary flexibility for Black-led organizations to respond to the needs of their communities and invest in their growth, development, health, and wellbeing. Such responsive funding model helps sustain progress and creates meaningful change in the communities. HealthSpark Foundation provides the support that Black-led organizations need to succeed, which to me is most admirable and heart-warming. I am anxiously looking forward to the next round of funding the incredible work that our Black-led organizations have been doing in Montgomery County, PA. By recognizing and addressing the historical inequities in funding distribution, HealthSpark Foundation is supporting Black-led organizations and helping foster a sense of racial healing, empowering Black leaders in Montgomery County and ensuring the long-term sustainability of those organizations and the communities of color that they serve. Dr. Frank E. Boston Black Justice Fund contributes to operating, leadership development, building a strong foundation, and leads to long-term sustainability. Of the funded organizations.
And I am most sincerely grateful to HealthSpark Foundation President & CEO, Emma Hertz as well as the Board of Directors for providing Black-led organizations the funds and necessary support, including networking and peer-to-peer opportunities for learning and collaboration, that will help them succeed. I hope that the HealthSpark Foundation will continue to provide funds, resources, and support to emerging and already existing, Black-led organizations.