A Partnership for Learning
As young as I fancy myself to be, I have worked for the Council on Foundations a long time, learning from and with many different peopleincluding three Council presidents (see my Q&A with Council President-elect Steven Gunderson, page 12). Those myriad lessons have been about philanthropy, the world and even myself. I reflected on some of them while working on this issue's pieces on philanthropy in Hawaii, diversity and advocacy.
In 1997, I made the pilgrimage to Honolulu for the annual conference, which was headed by then conference chair Cole Wilbur, who is now the Council's interim president (see his "The Council Needs You," page 11). The ambiance fostered by the "aloha spirit" made for a conference unlike any other. Some sessions were held on couches in a living-room style hotel suite where grantmakers exercised the Native Hawaiian "talk story" style of indirectly making a point by telling a personal story. And young people from far-flung U.S. philanthropy projects rendered emotional accounts of overcoming obstacles like time zones and personal differences to reach a grantmaking consensus. The Council's 2006 Family Foundation Conference ("Philanthropy in Paradise," page 14) promises a similarly enriching encounter.
Also during that '97 conference, Peter Goldmark observed in remarks entitled The Phuzzy Physics of Philanthropysubtitled Phutility of Criticism"We listen and smile as [grantees] regale us with stories about how impossible another foundation is to deal with . . . but we don't put them on the spot and say: 'Now tell me about our last three goofs.'" Well, anonymously, grantees have done that in "Funders' Little Shop of Horrors" (page 18). Some will view this as airing foundation dirty laundry. One lesson I've learned about myself is that laundry is the bane of my domestic existence. Yet, what practical choice do we have but to wash it? And, given the choice, wouldn't you rather wash your laundry at home than in a public laundromat?
As an African American and native Minnesotan, something I learned about my home state's dirty laundry (in "The Cost of Sticking Your Neck Out," page 42) astonished me. At one point, 15 percent of the state's African American men were essentially denied the right to vote. As former felons, they were being disenfranchised by a system with no procedures established to restore their voting rightsas promised by the state constitution. That is, until The Minneapolis Foundation stood up for advocacy on behalf of social justice.
Searching online, I found a definition for social justice dating back to the 1800s: "The belief in an equitable, compassionate world where difference is understood and valued, and where human dignity, the Earth, our ancestors and future generations are respected." In "Beyond Diversity" (page 32), The Denver Foundation aims to push the discussion of difference, or diversity, into one of inclusiveness. The authors write, "Inclusive organizations must be diverse; however, diverse organizations are not always inclusive." I believe that in the crawlspace between those two different realities is where a social ill like racism yet breathes and has its being.
I've been places where it was clear my presence was welcome, not my participation. I've patronized stores and gotten surveillance versus assistance. I've been asked for more identification than posted policies required. I've been bypassed by cabs for white fares. I've attended a foundation press conferencefor this very magazineand been directed where deliveries were accepted. And I was born in the last three weeks of 1969, so I'm not referring to Civil Rights-era occurrences.
In 1991, I was in the inaugural class of the Gannett Foundation's Chips Quinn Scholars Program, charged to "open doors to news careers and bring greater diversity to the nation's daily newspaper newsrooms." During my internship with one of Gannett's southern papers, a reporter asked me what my being an A student at a historically black college would amount to at a "regular college." The importance of the program and the work of foundations clicked for meminds like those gather and interpret facts, and decide their newsworthiness. This gives me pause about imbalanced coverage of a Super Bowl "wardrobe malfunction" versus a religious leader's public call for assassination of a foreign head of state, or scant coverage of the lack of unanimous support for the recently passed Senate bill apologizing for past failures on anti-lynching legislationa full 50 years after the yetunsolved lynching of Emmett Till.
However, race is not the totalitybut a realityof who I am. So, I'm thankful for working with and learning from you all, who represent the spectrum of foundations serving as neutral conveners to those funding controversial issues. All of your work comes together to safeguard our human dignity, ensuring our "talk stories" don't fall on fallow ground and wither, but take root and blossom, beautifying and bettering realities for the generations to come.