Genesis of the Dissertation

While pursuing a Master’s degree in Sociology at the University of Chicago, I wrote a thesis on collective efficacy and neighborhood change. Additionally, I worked with the University of Chicago Southside Health Initiative on improving health outcomes of people of color. Both of these experiences brought me into direct contact with Black-led nonprofit organizations. I was fascinated by their work and motivated to think more about them in the future. These experiences were the catalyst for my dissertation.

Dissertation (Cliff Notes Version)

My dissertation is a comparison study that examines how Black-led Organizations (BLOs) navigate what I term the racialized nonprofit industrial complex – a sophisticated liminal-level social structure in which race influences the activities practices, and outcomes of BLOs (and others) through a complex underlying schema with the aim of undermining their agency. The comparison cases are Madison, WI and Montgomery, AL – chosen primarily because I can hold many things constant (e.g. state capital, total population, etc.) and examine how contrasting racial demographics might impact the racialized nonprofit industrial complex.


There are three primarily contributions of this dissertation: (1) I develop a novel theory, the racialized nonprofit industrial complex, that advances a new way of understanding organizational outcomes within the sector. (2) I show that place matters for understanding the impact of race in the sector. (3) By focusing on cases outside of the sociological canon, Madison, WI and Montgomery, AL, I embark on a new empirical frontier that challenges longstanding theoretical and empirical views about how we understand the experiences of historically excluded individuals within cities.

Abstract (Academic Version)

Sociologists have typically attributed differences in formal organizational experiences and outcomes, with less attention to nonprofits (NPOs), to factors such as willingness to embrace isomorphic tendencies. Nonprofit analysts, focusing exclusively on the nonprofit sector, have discussed these outcomes by generally emphasizing more practical day-to-day experiences such as inability to fundraise; exclusion from networks; and lack of diversity in leadership positions. In different ways, both Sociology and nonprofit analysts avoid attending to the ways in which other factors such as race might be structurally embedded within the nonprofit sector that have important implications for the experiences of organizations led by people, particularly Black-led organizations (BLOs). Moreover, within both fields of study, we lack a theoretical framework that could help explain how race operates and what it means for BLOs in their efforts to support their clients. Still more, ongoing efforts to understand the salience of race have often ensued in prototypical cities – those boasting significant population density – thereby raising questions about the reliability of existing ways of seeing across race and place. In an effort to better understand these issues, this dissertation aims to: (1) examine how race influences the behavior, decision-making, and activities of BLOs in the nonprofit sector; (2) develop a theoretical framework that takes race into consideration in a manner that allows us to properly analyze these organizations’ experiences; and (3) examine the extent to which the influence of race in the nonprofit sector varies by place.