49th Annual Meeting Spotlights Work to Bridge Divides
Last week, more than 600 philanthropic professionals, experts and thought leaders came together in Louisville for three days focused on how foundations can best address divisions within our communities, our region and even our field.
At SECF's 49th Annual Meeting, the theme "Come Together. Bridge the Divide." resonated throughout the conference. A number of sessions looked at the many fault lines that exist in society today, including racial and gender inequity, political polarization, and even divides between philanthropy and the communities and people it seeks to support.
The theme also ran throughout the Annual Meeting's keynote and plenary sessions. Mark Gerzon, author of The Reunited States of America, got the event off to a strong start as he discussed words and methods foundations can use to bring community dialogue away from us vs. them and instead channel civic energy, participation and creative problem-solving to spark collaboration that leads toward innovative solutions.
At the third annual offering of the Breakfast with Champions of Southern Philanthropy, four foundation leaders shared insights on how they not only work in their communities, but also work to ensure cooperation and collaboration between boards and staff. The discussion, moderated once again by Mark Constantine of the Richmond Memorial Health Foundations, included Terri Lee Freeman of the Community Foundation for Greater Memphis, Jerry Gonzalez of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, Bobby Thalhimer of the Richmond Memorial Health Foundation and Claire Webber of the May P. and Francis L. Abreu Charitable Trust.
While Mark Gerzon looked at bridging divides today, presidential historian Jon Meacham looked at past examples of how the country has moved past times of division and strife. Through a plenary that weaved together stories from history, personal insights and memorable anecdotes, Meacham, author of The Soul of America, gave attendees plenty to think about, noting that even conversations with those on the political extremes reveals a shared culture not often seen in the media. "If you want to be remembered well, you reach out and you surprise people," Meacham said.
Real-world examples of partnership and collaboration held the spotlight during a plenary conversation between Dr. Sherece West-Scantlebury of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. The mayor highlighted successful examples of communities and sectors coming together in support of initiatives that have earned Louisville recognition as one of America's most compassionate cities.
In the Annual Meeting's closing keynote, PolicyLink's Michael McAfee talked with Louisville native Lonnie Ali, wife of the late, great Muhammad Ali, about her own life, the philanthropic work she and her husband carried out, and Muhammad's lasting legacy. "We should all be in a race to do good," Lonnie said.
This year's Annual Meeting also featured the kickoff of SECF's 50th Anniversary celebration. Over the next year, SECF members will commemorate the past, celebrate the present, and look toward the future as we mark a half-century of building and championing philanthropy in the American South. SECF members can also serve as partners in the 50th Anniversary by taking advantage of one of many sponsorship and support opportunities now available.
Stay tuned for more details from this year's Annual Meeting, including videos of select keynote and plenary remarks, as well as a collection of presentations and materials from all sessions!
David Miller is SECF's director of marketing and communications.