James W. Head is President and CEO of The East Bay Community Foundation.
Read his message below discussing the recent tragedies and the role philanthropy needs to play.
Recent events in Orlando, Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and Dallas have saddened our nation and left many of us wondering, with heavy hearts, how to move forward. Discussions around gun violence, gun control, policing and killing of black people, as well as homophobia and Islamophobia have left our nation reeling at a time of impending political change.
Indeed, these tragedies have led to many a household conversation around race and justice, and have brought into the spotlight the ongoing struggles of people of color, particularly young black males. We have long known that the principles of equity haven’t been realized for all in this country. Study upon study tells us that communities of color lack the same access to opportunity as their white counterparts, that boys and men of color experience failing schools, run-down neighborhoods, poor health, and access to good jobs, and that blacks experience police violence at significantly higher rates than whites. Here in the East Bay, communities of color also experience tremendous disparities in life outcomes. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are far from living in “post-racial” equilibrium in America.
As a country that was founded on the aspirational principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we have a responsibility to do better than this—to ensure that our citizens have equal rights and protections—and that our sons and daughters do not have to fear for their safety. That is why we, as a nation, must purposefully come together and find common ground; however difficult that might be. We must seek open and honest dialogue and collectively find solutions to the gross historical inequities that continue to plague our communities. It is simply not acceptable that we are the most powerful nation in the world, yet experiencing widening income inequality, lack of access to good education, affordable housing, health care, protections, and much more. In the face of this crisis, we must come together in the spirit of collaboration. As President Obama said, “We can do better than this. We are better than this.”
Philanthropic institutions, especially community foundations, must play a critical leadership role in convening stakeholders and leveraging our collective resources. We cannot remain silent and look away from our nation’s troubles. We ought to look deeper and strive to support and further invest in our suffering communities. At the heart of the American spirit is risk-taking, entrepreneurship, and ingenuity. Whether police-community relations, gun violence, or economic and social equity for vulnerable individuals, families, and communities, it is commitment and action—at the local level—that is critical to bringing about needed change.