This is not the New Year’s message I was hoping to write. There was a moment this fall when things started feeling like they might just fall into place. We saw progress on the pandemic, and it felt like 2022 might herald a fresh beginning. But reality intervened, as it tends to do.
During our Annual Conference, NCG's President and CEO Dwayne S. Marsh shared a very personal story, one that helped shape who he is today. To celebrate Dwayne at the helm for just over a year now, NCG's Board Chair and Executive Vice President at the California Wellness Foundation Richard Tate spoke with him to dive into the story. Read through the conversation to hear more about why Dwayne centers racial equity, what the past year has meant to him, his hopes for the NCG community, and what he needs from you to get us there.
CCJFG Steering Committee members are excited to share the following books and podcasts that have accompanied us as we settle into Spring 2021. The content ranges from writings on indigenous forms of justice and healing to a podcast tracing the connections between hip-hop and mass incarceration to a mixed media collection of responses to the question, what does it mean to be Black and alive? These stories are rigorous, compelling, and bring us closer to understanding the intersections of history, justice work, and future-making.
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I’ve arrived as NCG’s CEO on the shoulders of many others that came before me. Two of the strongest shoulders belong to my first professional mentor and a heavyweight in philanthropic circles, Joe Brooks. During my seventeen years as a work partner and friend at The San Francisco Foundation and then PolicyLink, I learned more from him than I could ever adequately describe. He had a habit of saying things that were increasingly profound the more you thought about them. One of those sayings was, “how much do you need to know to act?”, often dropped in a setting surrounded by other foundation colleagues where he was about to propose bold action to engage some of the Bay Area’s most vexing social challenges.
In a year of memorable moments, I keep coming back to a conversation I had with my cousin Harold that is shaping my entry into 2021. Harold lives in Chicago and is an ardent student of history, particularly in the pursuit of racial justice. His observations often help me refine my own thinking.
One message stood out: we must stretch beyond what we’ve tried before. Just aligning corporate philanthropy with a company’s business interests will no longer suffice. With our nation’s health, climate, race relations, economy, and democracy under assault, our social order is quite squarely in the balance. The brand that invests in communities' own systems for survival, leverages its voice and influence to advance change, and stands up to be counted, will resonate most.
This month, President and CEO Dwayne S. Marsh has officially taken the reins from Steve Barton and Phuong Quach, senior staff who’ve served as NCG’s interim leaders for the past six months. The three took turns answering questions about the moment in which we find ourselves and the possibilities ahead. As the interview was drawing to a close, Dwayne paused to check if we were going to address race explicitly. And so, signaling the new future into which we are stepping, we did.
We no longer have to wonder what we would have done if we’d been around at the peak of the civil rights movement. Whatever it is, we will be doing it now. These words ring from our conference.
Three weeks ago, the two of us stepped into our new roles as acting Co-CEOs of Northern California Grantmakers. That was the same day the world learned we would need vigorous hand-washing and distance to protect each other and everyone in our community from a new rapidly spreading virus. A most unusual start in our roles. But, then again, these are most unusual times.
A few weeks ago I was asked to help welcome NCG’s inaugural cohort of Rising Leaders with a few words on leadership. At first I was daunted, not sure exactly what I might have to offer on this topic. So I did what I always do when I am trying to get my head around something: I made a list. In the spirit of reflection and learning, here’s what I’ve learned so far.