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Reversing the Trend of Intolerance and Exclusion

Monday, March 20, 2017

The theme of our Annual Conference this year is Bigger. Bolder. Stronger. The piece below by NCG's Christopher Punongbayan invites further discussion related to the current political environment and what philanthropy might be able to do in our region to build community across differences.


By Chris Punongbayan, Director, Equity and Social JusticeNorthern California Grantmakers

Srinivas Kuchibhotla is a name that you probably haven’t heard of, unless you happen to have watched or listened to the news on February 24, 2017. Srinivas was an Indian engineer who was shot and killed by a 51-year old neighbor outside a bar in Kansas. Tragic in and of itself, the event was marred further by the fact that the alleged perpetrator was heard to have yelled, “Get out of my country” moments before he pulled out his gun.

Srinivas’ story is a horrible event that struck deeply in the hearts of people of all backgrounds, but particularly those in the communities closest to the issue: Indians and Hindus, yes, but also Asian American, Sikh, Muslim, Arab, Middle Eastern, and immigrant communities. Srinivas was targeted because he was brown and not perceived to be American. These characteristics were enough to cause someone to want to end his life.

When I was first emerging as an advocate for equity and social justice, one of the galvanizing events for me was in 1999 when Filipino American Joseph Ileto, a US postal worker in Los Angeles, was killed by a self-proclaimed white supremacist. His murder occurred on the same day the perpetrator attacked a Jewish Community Center and wounded several people.

I co-organized a vigil for Joseph in New York City where I was living at the time. The Filipino American community was relatively small in the Northeast, but the Jewish community was not. Neither was the immigrant community nor the justice community. We joined together to denounce these horrific acts and continued to work together for years afterwards on a shared agenda to combat intolerance in all its forms.

I believe that these acts of hatred are completely preventable. But what it takes to stop intolerance is a quality that is indeed hard to muster sometimes: courage. It is an act of bravery to say that these events should never happen again. And it takes even more boldness to do something about it.  As Americans we have been working to perfect our multi-racial democracy for centuries.  Clearly, the work is unfinished. To succeed, the usual suspects and unlikely partners will have to come together.

There are bright spots in our sector. One of the leading national efforts is from the Open Society Foundations, which announced a $10 million fund in November 2016 to specifically combat hate incidents. Previously, in the San Francisco Bay Area, philanthropy came together to create the AMEMSA Civic Engagement Fund that finished in 2014.

Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian (AMEMSA) communities are diverse and growing. The organizations that serve these communities must respond to a host of societal inequities, bullying, bias and discrimination – not to mention a federal effort to ban immigration. AMEMSA-serving organizations tend to be relatively small and under-resourced in comparison to the demands they face. According to a 2014 survey of organizations countering AMEMSA discrimination nationally, a majority had only 1-5 staff and were less than $500,000 in annual budget. 

Achieving equity and social justice in AMEMSA communities will take intersectional alliances, trust-building, strategy development, and leadership. The opportunity to build community across differences is ours for the taking. And the reason for doing so has never been clearer: when those who are most vulnerable in our society overcome barriers and succeed, we all do.  

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Northern California Grantmakers is interested in hearing from you about this issue. Is your foundation examining what more you can do to support the field? Let us know your thoughts on this piece or this issue by commenting below or contacting me at cpunongbayan@ncg.org.