The True Reformer Building could easily get overlooked if a larger-than-life mural of Duke Ellington adorning the side of the beautiful historic landmark didn’t first greet passersby.
Like the accompanying piano on the mural, Ellington’s eyes draw the curious.
The musician counted among the most famous performers in the building’s iconic history.
Located at 1200 U Street in Washington, D.C., the building stands as the first in America designed, financed, built and owned by the African-American community after Reconstruction.
Designer John Anderson counted as D.C.’s first Black registered architect, and the Grand United Order of True Reformers commissioned the building in 1902. It later enjoyed its dedication in 1903.
Over the years, numerous civic and cultural institutions that serve African Americans have called the True Reformer Building Home.
Perhaps none have had the impact of the Public Welfare Foundation, which Charles Edward Marsh founded in 1947 with a mission to “make gifts for education, charitable or benevolent uses in accordance with a plan which shall meet the changing need for such gifts with flexibility.”
“We’re celebrating 75 years,” said Candice Jones, who joined the Foundation in 2017 as president and CEO. “We are a national grant-making organization. We exist to give money away to organizations that do good work,” Jones asserted.
“Right now, we are focusing on giving money around criminal and youth justice reform all over the country.”
Over 75 years, the Foundation has issued nearly 6,000 grants totaling more than $700 million.
Jones said the Foundation seeks strategic points where funds can make a significant difference. Notably, the Foundation aims to provide grants in social justice areas where organizations can jumpstart reform in adult and youth justice.
“Youth justice is about focusing on youth – usually those under 18 and not considered an adult,” Jones explained.
“If they’re in conflict with the law, whether it’s an arrest, in the court system, or custody, we focus on those youth. Some groups will fund children just because they think they’re cute and redeemable. But we focus on kids and don’t believe in throwing them away. We fund organizations that step in before there is trouble. We focus on organizations who say, ‘these people are redeemable.’”
Jones, who received her J.D. from New York University School of Law and her B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, enjoys a long history of fighting for youth justice.
She served as a senior adviser at Chicago CRED, an organization focusing on gun violence in the Windy City.
In her role at Chicago CRED, Jones helped secure significant investments for violence intervention programs as an alternative to the criminal justice system.
She also served as director of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, pushing significant reforms that reduced the number of youths in state custody.
According to her Foundation bio, Jones also served as a White House Fellow, managing a portfolio within the U.S. Department of Education that included developing education strategies for correctional institutions and shepherding a plan to reinstate federal Pell grants for youth and adults in custody.
Earlier, Jones worked as a program officer with the MacArthur Foundation, managing a grant portfolio focused on decreasing racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system and improving the quality of defense for disadvantaged youth.
“At the Public Welfare Foundation, we want to get resources to communities of color that tend to be over-policed and spend too much time being incarcerated,” Jones stated.
“We support the kind of programs and services that will help. Research shows that programs and services – pound for pound – net better results than spending money on incarceration. Youths who get services and support will have a better chance of outcomes than youths arrested and sent into the prison system.”
As she provided another tour of the famous True Reformer Building, Jones reflected on those who made the landmark possible.
“The True Reformer Society was a society of individuals who came together to pool resources because they wanted to offer services,” Jones reminded.
“They knew that [Black people] would be able to get those services on the market – the people fleeing racial terror in the south. You couldn’t go out in 1899 or 1900 to buy insurance and be assured that it would be honored. You couldn’t walk into a bank and get a small business loan. That is what the Society was there for, and the designer and every sub-contractor who worked to build this place were Black. So it was important for people doing that kind of work on behalf of racial justice.”