Nonprofit and Philanthropic Leaders Gather at Upswell to Tackle Racial Justice and All Forms of Health

Local, regional, and national leaders, activists, youth trailblazers, and journalists meet virtually to build community, strengthen trust, and take collective action toward positive social change

(WASHINGTON, October 8, 2021) – Independent Sector is expected to host more than 1,000 changemakers at its virtual Upswell Summit on October 20-22, 2021. Changemakers include nonprofit, philanthropic, and corporate leaders, activists, social entrepreneurs, and academics who will come together during what continues to be a momentous time to learn, share, connect, re-charge, and consider new and innovative ways to create positive change and equity for communities around the country. 

In the face of systemic racism, the need for justice and equity, and coping with COVID-19, Upswell is reimagining power, community engagement, and convenings for anyone working toward improving lives and the natural world. Upswell is powered by Independent Sector, the only national membership organization that brings together a diverse community of changemakers, nonprofits, foundations, and corporations working to ensure all people in the United States thrive. The 2021 Upswell Summit also will include special conversations about the Accelerating Charitable Efforts (ACE) Act and equity and the effort to create a federal office to represent the nonprofit sector.

The 2021 Upswell Summit is being held virtually this year given the need for health safety during the pandemic.

To request a media pass, please email Bradley Wong at

WHAT:             Upswell 2021

WHEN:             October 20-22, 2021


WHO:               More than 1,000 changemakers nationwide and 180 speakers at 80 sessions about racial justice and health, in all forms.

Highlights include:

Wednesday, October 20 at 1:45-3:00 PM ET

Main Stage: Dr. Gail C. Christopher and Professor john a. powell. You can’t thrive if you don’t belong. If you consider the biggest challenges our society faces today – the racial, economic, and ideological divides that are rapidly deepening as they tear us further apart – it’s clear that systems are not set up to ensure all people belong. So, how do we change that and heal deep wounds? The answer might be found through an exploration of the intersectionality of healing and belonging. Dan Cardinali (Independent Sector) will moderate a powerful exchange that explores the possibility at the intersection of belonging, bridging, and healing with two visionary experts on the subject: john a. powell (Othering and Belonging Institute) and Dr. Gail C. Christopher (National Collaborative for Health Equity), recipients of the 2021 John W. Gardner Leadership Award, which this year is sponsored by the New Pluralists Collaborative – a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

Wednesday, October 20 at 3:15-4:15 PM ET

From Ace to Z: Equity Considerations in the ACE Act: The sector has been debating about the need to improve philanthropy for two decades. The exponential growth of donor-advised funds and the recent introduction of reform legislation has made this debate even more relevant in 2021. Join us for a lively discussion about the potential need for philanthropy reform and how equity factors into many of the policy proposals at the center of the debate. Your input during this session will inform Independent Sector’s own policy positions on these issues. Join this insight-filled discussion involving Marlon Williams (Philanthropy New York), Laurie Paarlberg (Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University), and Roger Colinvaux (Columbus School of Law at Catholic University of America).

Thursday, October 21 at 10-10:45 AM ET

2021 American Express NGen Fellows: What’s possible when 12 of the country’s most innovative, creative, and bold young leaders put their minds together? Find out at this special session! Over the year, members of the 2021 American Express NGen Fellows are tackling tough topics like operationalizing racial equity and systems change. In an interactive workshop, they’ll share their insights about what the future holds – and how we can (and must) approach it together with optimism and resilience. Come listen to the ideas and work of Dion Dawson (Dion’s Chicago Dream), M. Michelle Derosier (, Gabriel Maldonado (TruEvolution), Jazmin Chavez (Hispanics in Philanthropy), Jimmy Simpson, Jr. (The Center for Effective Philanthropy at YouthTruth), Kahina Haynes (The Dance Institute of Washington), Melaak Rashid (Smart Development), and Nellie Tsai (Michigan Nonprofit Association).

Thursday, October 21 at 11-11:50 AM ET

Main Stage: LaTosha Brown and Angela Davis: There’s no argument that this is a moment of historic opportunity. People are deeply unsettled. We’re asking huge questions about the way things are – and opening our imagination about the way things should be. But that doesn’t matter much if we’re just talking. We need to get to action. And to do that, there’s a single question that’s more important to answer than any other: What will it really take to create a racially just and healthy society? The scale of that question is enormous. So, we’re calling in the expertise of two women who have the power, knowledge, and experience to change entire systems. LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Votes Matter and New York Times contributor, is in the midst of literally transforming the American political landscape by building power in the nation’s predominantly Black communities. Iconic activist Angela Davis has spent more than a half-century for social and racial justice. She’s been on the frontlines of some of the most impactful movements in American history – having worked tirelessly to shift public perceptions about what’s radical to what’s reasonable, and now achievable. Joining to moderate this rich discussion will be Angela Glover Blackwell. She is Founder in Residence at PolicyLink, the nonprofit organization she started in 1999 to advance racial and economic equity for all.

Thursday, October 21 at 2-3:00 PM ET

Main Stage: Health of the U.S. Nonprofit Sector report and Elisha Rhodes, Ekundayo Bandele, Stacy Palmer, and Dan Cardinali. As the pandemic ravaged our communities in 2020, the number of individual donors in the U.S. increased for the first time in many years. Great news, to be sure, but that headline buries the lede. If you dig deeper, unexpected findings from Independent Sector’s 2021 Health of the U.S. Nonprofit Sector report show that the pandemic actually created a series of extremely alarming problems for the sector – ones that specifically harm both our legitimacy and ability to fight for racial justice and societal health. Organizations headed by Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) leaders, arts organizations, and small organizations all took disproportionately high financial hits last year. And organizations that already faced capacity issues before the pandemic struggled even more. That’s not the worst of it. Perhaps the most disturbing development is that, as organizations were forced to lay off staff, the nonprofit workforce became less diverse. That’s just not acceptable. We can’t be the people calling for – let alone leading on – equity and justice if we’re not even living up to our own standards. On this Main Stage, Elisha Rhodes (YWCA USA), Ekundayo Bandele (Hattiloo Theatre), Stacy Palmer (The Chronicle of Philanthropy), and Dan Cardinali (Independent Sector) will engage in a candid and urgent conversation about reversing these trends – before they get worse.

Thursday, October 21 at 4:30-5:00 PM ET

Main Stage: Maria Yuan, 2021 winner of the American Express NGen Leadership Award. A passion for fixing systemic problems by leveraging creativity and determination to achieve world-changing results and impact. That’s what led Maria Yuan to found IssueVoter, an online platform that enables individuals to stay informed on key issues, make their voices heard, and track their representatives’ voting records. Her determination to widen avenues for civic engagement led to her being named 2021 winner of the American Express NGen Leadership Award. Her role as leader, connector, and strategist enabled IssueVoter to launch new partnerships with organizations – bringing together those serving communities whose voices were previously not being heard. Maria will join us on the Main Stage to accept the 2021 award for her exceptional work, and to energize us all about why we should be engaged in the public square not just during presidential elections, but all year-round.

Thursday, October 21 at 5-5:30 PM ET

Main Stage: Putting the Nonprofit Sector in the White House with Congresswoman Betty McCollum, Nonoko Sato, and Dan Cardinali. When it comes to changing the system, there’s no tool more powerful than legislation. From health to housing, retirement to racial equity, public policy has the power to impact the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans. But the effectiveness of any legislation – it’s very potential to improve lives – requires the knowledge and expertise of changemakers in the nonprofit sector. Unfortunately, nonprofits have historically been an afterthought when major legislation gets written, and our communities have suffered as a result. Some legislators get that, and many others don’t. Yet. Join us for a conversation with a congressional champion who understands this reality and is leading the charge to put nonprofits at the table in every policy conversation. Since coming to Congress in 2000, Congresswoman Betty McCollum (MN-04) has prioritized investments in nonprofit organizations in the fields of education, health, arts and culture, environmental protection, and more. Hear about her passion for the nonprofit sector, her plan to put nonprofits in The White House, and other initiatives that will advance the sector’s health through equitable access to data, expanded national service, and fairer rules for nonprofit advocacy.

Friday, October 22 at 11-11:50 AM ET

Main Stage: Dr. Han Ren, PhD. What’s the difference between shame and guilt, and why do we experience these emotions? With a focus on health, wellness, and inclusion, learn the evolutionary basis of shame and guilt from an interpersonal neurobiology framework, and their essential roles in conscience and character development. Shame can be transformed to guilt, which fuels reparations and grounded action. These are necessary steps in the pursuit of collective liberation and racial justice. How can we better understand our own shame templating, to move from shame to guilt more actively and adaptively? How do we model and teach healthy metabolism of shame for our communities? Join renowned psychologist Dr. Han Ren for an immersive experience that aims to provide you with a new understanding of these primal moral emotions and illustrate the adaptive roles of shame and guilt in the stages of learning to become antiracist.

Friday, October 22 at 2-3:00 PM ET

Main Stage: Grace Kelly and J. Dash. Creating a better future asks us to take an artist’s perspective on our work. During this special Main Stage, presented by the NAMM Foundation, unequivocal musical prodigy, singer-saxophonist-songwriter-composer, and band leader Grace Kelly will kick things off with a rousing performance. If you aren’t one of the millions who witnessed her viral sensation Fish & Chips video, then you’ve surely experienced one of her brilliant collaborations with Lin-Manuel Miranda, Questlove, Harry Connick Jr., Gloria Estefan, or Wynton Marsalis. She also famously performed at Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration at age 16, was a soloist with the Boston Pops at age 14, has played over 900 shows as bandleader in 35 countries, and even played in the house band for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Following her performance, Grace will join rapper-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist visionary (and returning Upswell legend) J. Dash for a conversation about how the incredible power of music can help us shape our nation into a racially just and healthy one.

For the full schedule and more information on the sessions and speakers, including updates and changes, visit You may also follow along on social media using #Upswell2021.

Upswell is grateful to its sponsors for their kind and generous support, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic: ActBlue, American Express, Bank of America Charitable Foundation, Barr Foundation, Center for Creative Leadership, Cleveland Foundation, Columbia University School of Professional Studies, Fetzer Institute, Heal America powered by Stand Together Foundation, NAMM Foundation, the New Pluralists Collaborative – a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Perlman+Perlman Attorneys at Law LLP, Peter G. Peterson Foundation, Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR),, and iWave.


Independent Sector is the only national membership organization that brings together a diverse community of changemakers, nonprofits, foundations, and corporations working to ensure all people in the United States thrive.

Media Contact:


Bradley Wong

Types: Press Release
Global Topics: Agency, Arts, Culture, and Humanities, Civil Rights, Civil Society, Community, Congress, Dialogue, Dignity, Equity, Identity, Innovation, Leadership Development, Nonprofit Health, Purpose, Race, Equity, and Inclusion, Upswell, Voice
Focus Areas: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Policy Issues: Charitable Giving, Civil Society Infrastructure