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Alabama Power Foundation holds annual Elevate conference for nonprofits

The Alabama Power Foundation on Tuesday concluded its annual Elevate conference for nonprofits, designed to support philanthropic organizations working to improve quality of life for Alabamians.

Nearly 300 people, from a wide array of nonprofit and community organizations, participated in the event June 21-22, which was held virtually for the second year in a row because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to remarks from Alabama Power and Alabama Power Foundation leaders, the conference featured a broad offering of training sessions to help nonprofits further their philanthropic missions. Sessions explored issues ranging from fundraising to communications, strategic planning to employee and leadership development.

“This year’s Elevate conference was powerful and insightful,” said Kate Carver, executive director of the Dumas Wesley Community Center in Mobile.  “The speakers were fabulous, and the subject matter was timely, relevant and thought-provoking. We are proud to partner with Alabama Power Foundation. They are always leading the way in innovative and meaningful initiatives.”

Issues of economic and social justice and racial equity were of particular focus during this year’s event. Tequila Smith, Alabama Power vice president for Charitable Giving and president of the Alabama Power Foundation, spoke of the foundation’s intentional efforts to explore innovative strategies and devote greater resources toward economic empowerment, education equity and criminal justice reform.

On education, for example, Smith said the foundation “is increasing investment in underrepresented groups and placing greater emphasis on measuring outcomes related to reading and mathematics.” She said the foundation will continue its longtime and strong support for historically Black colleges and universities “that provide students with opportunities to succeed.”

As for criminal justice reform, “We are looking at a number of initiatives, including programs that smooth transition and reentry, and reduce recidivism.”

“I am confident that by working together, we can build a more just and a more equitable Alabama, a place truly focused on closing the historic gaps between rich and poor, between Black and white, between those of privilege and those who, for so long, have lacked the resources to succeed,” Smith said.

“These are bold goals. But they are achievable.”

Alabama Power Foundation Elevate Conference 2021 from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Among the conference’s highlights was a panel discussion about supporting minority business growth in the state. The panel, featuring experts from Prosper Birmingham, Urban Impact Inc. and the Penny Foundation, explored how Alabama nonprofits can collaborate to support Black-owned businesses.

Also in line with the conference’s focus on equity were remarks by keynote speaker Carlos Whittaker, an  author, musician, worship leader and “disrupter” with a powerful presence on social media. Whittaker spoke about the need for more people to look inside themselves and consider their own biases as part of the ongoing national reckoning about social and economic justice.

“Equity starts with you,” Whittaker said. “How can every single one of us look at the bias inside of our hearts, and speak to it, and correct it, in order for us to move forward?”

Whittaker said organizations can change policies, as many are doing to address issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion. But real change won’t occur unless the shift moves “from the head to the heart,” he said.

“Protests may change policy … but conversations change community. Just changing a policy isn’t going … to accelerate us to the healing. Because if the heart doesn’t change … then that policy is just going to crumble.”

For real change to take place, he said people need to be willing to undertake tough conversations – “heart-changing conversations” – that can lead individuals to take a hard look at their biases. These are the kind of conversations, he said, that can shift the dynamics of difficult relationships and lead to healing and understanding.

“Issues aren’t issues; issues are humans … living, breathing human beings. Don’t stand on issues, but walk with people. This is the desire of our hearts,” Whittaker said.

“It is actually possible to be in relationships with people that vehemently disagree with you, in great relationships with them, when you learn to walk with people. You begin to understand where they’re coming from – when you walk with them.”

During the conference, the foundation shared with nonprofit leaders its 2020 Annual Report. Titled “At the Point of Change,” the report highlights the good works of several Alabama nonprofits and how the philanthropic community helped address critical needs across the state during a year that included multiple serious challenges, including the pandemic, an economic downturn and calls for racial and social justice.

Smith told attendees about the foundation’s plans to hold a series of additional, smaller Elevate seminars this summer and fall, which will provide more support and training for nonprofits and dive deeper into issues of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

Smith also announced updates to the foundation’s Elevate grant program. In the past, Elevate grants were designed broadly to help nonprofits increase their capacity to do good. Smith said this year’s grants will focus more intentionally on collaborative giving and technical support, with greater emphasis on DEI.

The Alabama Power Foundation is committed to empowering communities, bridging the gaps of inequity and improving the quality of life for all Alabamians. Funded by shareholder dollars, the foundation provides philanthropic support to Alabama communities, nonprofits and educational institutions. To learn more about the Alabama Power Foundation and its charitable initiatives, please visit