I’ve lifted my pen to craft this message several times – and it is heavy. Heavy with grief and anguish and sometimes with anger. I’ve digested messages from leaders across our local and national philanthropic field. Messages calling for action, for change and for justice. Messages that recreate and bear witness to the horrific destruction of life that we’ve seen and heard about again and again.
I struggled to follow suit and provide detailed accounts of the horrific killing of George Floyd – laying context for the words to follow. But I can’t. I can’t because as a mother of a 14-year-old African American boy who is almost 6 feet tall and who already looks like a man to many who only see his frame and his skin color and not his boyish grin, the underlying unease I have every time he leaves the safety of our home is now magnified to an earthquake of terror.
So, I won’t recount the facts. But, I will share this Statement on the National Crisis by Dr. Clarence B. Jones, director, Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice, University of San Francisco. Dr. Jones is a civil rights hero and former personal counsel to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He recounts the facts and cause of George Floyd’s death, provides the number of people of color killed by police in the United States every year since 2014 and juxtaposes this recent data with accounts of tragic events seared in his memory from throughout his 89-year lifetime. He lays out the crisis point we have come to as a nation and describes the responses that can no longer satisfy us.
And, it has been several responses that I have seen and participated in that provided enough hope for me to lift my pen. A hope that more people are waking up to the realities that have plagued our country for 400 years. A glimmer of hope by the 750+ Columbus business and nonprofit leaders who originally co-signed a letter to Columbus City Council in support of a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. (The number of signees has risen to 3,000). And the same was declared for Cleveland. A hope that the statements translate into individual and collective action for change in our communities. A hope that other regions of the state are on a path to declare the same, as in Hamilton County.
I also have hope from the outpouring of concern and support from personal contacts, and professional colleagues, who offer words of care but then ask, what can they do? I share that we can all engage our circles of influence to bring about change. To quote Dr. Mark Lomax, II, in his Drumversations podcast “We need to use our access, privilege and status, politically and economically, to engage systems of oppression on behalf of people whose voices don’t get into the conversation.”
The opportunities that Philanthropy Ohio has provided over the last 13 years for members to learn and share how to strategically and intentionally advance diversity, equity and inclusion in our organizations and grantmaking have provided a foundation for how we can be responsive in this moment. Many of you have participated in trainings and convenings to better understand through data and stories the perspective that racism is fundamentally structural in nature. Together we’ve learned to move beyond relying on personal feelings and popular opinion to an awareness of historical factors and data on racial disparities and inequitable outcomes.
Two years ago, I wrote about Why Racial Equity? In the blog post, I described the spectrum along a path to racial equity and acknowledged that many of our members fall along the path from Awareness of Inequity to Understanding of Why Inequity Exists to Transforming Toward Equity. Many of us were then in the Awareness stage. Through participating in the Groundwater and Phase I Racial Equity Institute trainings, the Putting Racism on the Table series and our regional Equity Peer Groups, many have progressed through the stage of Understanding and are now poised for Transforming Towards Equity – in our professional and personal lives.
I’ve spoken with some of our members over the last week who are recommitting their organization’s efforts to fight inequality and promote racial equity. And others are feeling emboldened to start conversations in their organizations, with their board members and in their communities – and in some cases restarting conversations that previously were met with resistance and denial.
Philanthropy Ohio is as committed as ever to provide the opportunities and space for transforming, by bringing training and conversations to more communities in Ohio, by holding space for you to support one another through our regional and now statewide virtual Equity Peer Group meetings and by continuing to scan the field and provide resources to assist you in your work.
It’s not lost on me that this week would have been our two-day Equity Summit originally planned to be held in Columbus. While we’ve postponed the in-person convening, we will determine how to offer the tools, techniques and inspiration needed now more than ever.
We stand with you and will lead and partner with you for a just and vibrant Ohio through impactful philanthropy. The time is now!
Deborah Aubert Thomas
President & CEO