As the movement moment that emerged in 2020 continues to expand in its breadth and importance, the entirety of the philanthropic sector wrestles with a fundamental question: what can we do that will make meaningful change in the conditions that have led us to this precipice of racial reckoning?
Recently, Dwayne Marsh, CEO of Northern California Grantmakers, and I were reflecting on how many foundations in our memberships are looking to change direction and move toward racial equity. In an ice-bucket-style challenge, Dwayne posted his thoughts and then tagged me with the question. I’ll post my answer here (minus the ice and the bucket) and tag one of my favorite thinkers at the end. The answer, from where I sit, begins with leadership. I’ll reflect on my own, as a start.
This May marks the anniversary of what many have referred to as the beginning of new moment of racial reckoning in the U.S. On May 25, 2020, a world confined by a global pandemic witnessed George Floyd, a Black, 46-year-old, father, son and brother, be callously murdered by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. George Floyd was one of many victims of anti-Black violence whose name rose to national attention last summer, alongside Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, and countless others. Their murders furthered the already deepening unrest in the U.S. due to COVID-19, the inequities it laid bare, its disproportionate impact on the physical, emotional, and economic well-being of BIPOC communities, and the increased prevalence of white supremacist fueled violence, mainly against Asian American communities.
I connected with Tanir Ami, CEO of the CARESTAR Foundation, and Michael Heil, Board Chair, during the final week of NCG’s learning series Unconscious Whiteness for Board Members & Trustees, where a cohort of 15 white-identifying board members and trustees came together to learn. We discussed their motivation for participating, the challenges and opportunities CARESTAR has encountered in attempting to center racial equity, and what’s next in manifesting their commitment.
On my very first week of work in philanthropy, I was tasked with hand delivering an important document to the board chair. His office was located in a big, beautiful, glassed skyscraper in downtown San Francisco. It didn’t matter that very few people in the building looked like me. I was in awe and I felt like I belonged. Until I didn’t.
In California, the Newsom administration recently made a bold pronouncement that opened COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to Californians 16 years and older on April 15th — an incredible milestone after a year of challenges that fueled a renewed drive for economic, political, and social equity. However, when it comes to achieving vaccine equity, California has a long way to go. https://hiponline.org/As funders, we need to meet this moment with an even more urgent sense of social justice and equity. We must trust and invest in grassroots organizations that are working to ensure equitable vaccine distribution.
The COVID-19 vaccine will help keep communities healthy and safe and holds promise to bring an end to the pandemic that has had the most severe impacts on Black, Latinx, Indigenous, AAPI, immigrant, and low-income people. Systemic racism created the conditions that put people of color at greater risk for contracting COVID-19 and experiencing more severe health outcomes, and despite this urgency, California’s vaccination effort so far has fallen short of equity goals. We must reach and authentically engage local communities to remove barriers to access and address concerns to increase vaccine acceptance.
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.