Picking Up the Pieces: Our Reaction to the Assault on American Democracy
Author: Janine Lee, Regan Gruber Moffitt and Robert Dortch
Over the past week, we have seen images that will be forever seared into our minds: an armed mob laying siege to the heart of America’s government; a lone Capitol Police officer successfully defending the Senate chamber against armed insurrectionists; other officers being beaten and crushed; lawmakers in the House chamber, fearful for their own safety.
The horrific events that enveloped the Capitol last week were unprecedented – but we cannot say they were unexpected. They were the culmination of dangerous trends, decades in the making, that have sought to divide us while providing a space for disinformation to take hold. Too many political leaders, instead of trying to reverse these trends, have unfortunately sought to exploit them – this time, in an effort to overturn the results of a free and fair election.
These actions brought into the halls of Congress people whose ideas run counter to the principles our country aspires to uphold. While some of our nation’s greatest social movements have fought for equal justice under the law, inclusiveness and equity, the insurrection at the Capitol was led by groups that promote hatred based on race, religion, ethnicity or ideology.
We were glad to see that, despite this warrantless attack, Congress succeeded in doing its duty, affirming Joe Biden as President-Elect and Kamala Harris as Vice President-Elect. We look forward to working with their administration and lawmakers at all levels of government, in both parties, as we work toward building a society that rejects bigotry and disinformation and, instead, embraces equity and objective truth.
The work of rebuilding democracy cannot be left exclusively to elected officials in Washington and elsewhere. This moment, like the COVID-19 pandemic and the fight for racial justice, is another call to action for philanthropy. No other sector of society enjoys the combination of social, moral, intellectual, reputational and financial capital that is prevalent in the charitable sector. We are obligated to do all we can to reverse the forces that brought us to this point. We must recommit to the belief that a strong America is synonymous with a strong participatory democracy.
This task will not be easy, and the solutions are not obvious. But we strongly believe they begin at the community level. We must rebuild trust – in each other, and in major institutions. We must revive meaningful dialogue that embraces difference, encourages peaceful dissent and seeks to win hearts and minds instead of defeating them.
Philanthropy, particularly in the South, is deeply rooted in community – this is why we are confident that philanthropy not only must help lead the way forward, but also is up to the challenge.
Janine Lee is president and CEO of the Southeastern Council of Foundations. Regan Gruber Moffitt is Chair of the SECF Board of Trustees and Chief Strategy Officer of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. Robert Dortch is Chair of SECF's Equity Committee and Vice President, Programs & Innovation, at the Robins Foundation.
A Call to Action for Southern Philanthropy
Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin
The murder of George Floyd and the week of protests across the country in response have focused people’s attention as never before on issues of racial justice and police brutality. These events have coincided with a pandemic that has disproportionately affected communities of color through deaths, hospitalizations, health care costs, job losses and business closures.
These events weigh heavily on all of us. But they have also sparked a profound conversation on our nation’s long and painful history of systemic racial inequity, injustice, bigotry and discrimination. This conversation is long overdue – we cannot allow it to fade or dissipate, only to restart when another act of injustice commands our attention. Southern foundations should leverage their reputational capital and convening power to bring people together, bridge divides and ensure this dialogue not only continues, but also results in transformative changes.
As a network of Southern philanthropic organizations, we are acutely aware of our region’s own history. The names are etched into our memory: Emmett Till, Addie May Collins, Carol Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Rosamond Robertson, Johnny Robinson, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, Jimmie Lee Jackson, John Geer, William Chapman, Henry Glover, Kathryn Johnston, Anthony Hill, Walter Scott, Trayvon Martin, Jamarion Robinson, Alton Sterling, Keith Lamont Scott, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, David McAtee – they are only some of the people on a list that includes millions of enslaved Africans, thousands of victims of lynching and countless others whose deaths, whether at the hands of racist law enforcement, mob violence, or bigoted individuals, have continually been minimized, justified, ignored or even encouraged and carried out by those in power.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an Atlanta native and a victim of racial violence himself, spent years leading a movement based on the principles of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience – principles he never abandoned even as he and his supporters were often met with firehoses, attack dogs, tear gas and vicious beatings. While denouncing violence, he also understood the context in which it took place, saying “I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.”
We urge everyone in Southern philanthropy, as well as our political and civic leaders in the region, to keep these words in mind. Focusing on the actions of a few bad actors distracts us from the cause that has sparked this week’s protests. It also distracts us from discussing a far greater evil: hundreds of years of racial violence, discrimination and exclusion that continues today and is a direct cause of disparities in health, wealth, education, and other key measurements of prosperity.
In recent years, the Southeastern Council of Foundations has sought to highlight and improve understanding of these inequities and others. In our Equity Framework, we call on philanthropy in our region to acknowledge the historical roots of inequity and the present-day systems that perpetuate it, and to then use its resources to spark transformation that allows all people to reach their full potential, unhindered by hatred, bigotry, exclusion or discrimination.
Foundations have many tools at their disposal to create unity, promote peace and support justice for the people in their communities. Beyond financial resources, our social, moral, intellectual and reputational capital must be expended if we are to achieve real change, advance equity and embody the very meaning of philanthropy: love of humankind.
The past week not only shows just how important this work is, but also strengthens our commitment to it. We ask all people who share this goal to join us so that we, together, may build a region where all people can participate and prosper.
SECF's Values & Guiding Principles Seen Throughout Pandemic Response
Author: Janine Lee
Note: This letter from SECF President & CEO Janine Lee originally appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Inspiration. SECF members can view and download the latest issue of Inspiration here.
As I write this, our country is in the grips of a public health emergency unlike anything we have ever seen. The COVID-19 coronavirus has brought public life in America to a halt – schools have been closed, church services canceled, and mass gatherings banned. By time you read this, our health care system could be completely overwhelmed, with nearly all Americans living under a state of lockdown.
This virus has no cure, but we are not powerless in the face of it. Frontline health care workers – doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians, hospital support staff – are putting their lives on the line and doing all they can to address the health consequences of the pandemic. We in philanthropy have assumed a different role: addressing the outbreak’s effects on our communities – particularly nonprofit organizations whose existence is threatened even as they work to support vulnerable populations and marginalized communities.
Community foundations in every state in our region have launched rapid response funds designed to distribute resources quickly and effectively. Many of these funds have attracted significant support from private foundations. We have kept a running list of these funds – one that continues to grow – on our COVID-19 Resource Hub at SECF.org/COVID-19.
In several states, strong coalitions and coordinated efforts have emerged. In Kentucky, the One Louisville Fund reflects a partnership between local government, the Community Foundation of Louisville, the James Graham Brown Foundation and a corporate partner, Humana. In South Carolina, the One SC Fund is the product of a partnership between the South Carolina Grantmakers Network, the nonprofit community, the local United Way and the Central Carolina Community Foundation.
Immigration Enforcement Must Put Families First
Author: Janine Lee and Sammy Moon
Earlier this week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) carried out a series of raids at facilities throughout Mississippi that resulted in nearly 700 men and women being apprehended and accused of being in the country illegally.
It quickly became clear that these actions did not take into account the impact on the families of those taken into custody. The raids came on the first day of school – many children emerged from what should be a day of promise and possibility to find no one to pick them up, with no information on what happened to their mother or father. In some cases, children lost both parents to these raids.
We have since seen images of children crying in the street, confused and afraid. Many children were left with, literally, nowhere to go. The local residents and businesses that volunteered to house these children until they could be connected with loved ones deserve our highest praise. While many of those initially taken into custody have since been released, hundreds more are still in detention.
Sadly, these actions are all too reminiscent of the family separations that took place at the Southern border last year. Back then, SECF leadership wrote that “the treatment of children and families is not a political issue – it is a humanitarian one.” This remains the truth today.
An Incredible Year Sets Up SECF for An Even Better 2019
Author: Gilbert Miller
When my plane took off from Louisville's airport, I could see the Ohio River and the bridges that spanned it, reaching out into Indiana. The cloud cover was low, and the image quickly dissolved into white, leaving me to reflect on the meeting I was leaving behind.
It's hard to sum up an SECF Annual Meeting. It's one part family reunion, one part conference, one part tent revival, one part continuing education, and one part party. In 72 hours, we cover a lot of ground, and I remain amazed each year by all that happens for the betterment of our membership.
This year, however, felt different. From all corners, I heard talk of a "feeling," of a sense of something intangible that wove itself to the entirety of the event. Attendees felt more "together" than they had in the past, and the conversations outside in the halls were of partnerships and collaborations. Embracing the theme, it is hard to not feel like bridges were being built, or at least, that bridges in disuse were being crossed once again.
Looking back on the year, it is hard not to see those same bridges being built across our entire membership. As chair, the view I am afforded is awe-inspiring, giving me great hope for the times ahead.
Family Separations are a Humanitarian Issue
Author: Janine Lee & Gilbert Miller
Like all of you, we have been horrified and disturbed in recent days by the images and stories of children being separated from their families at the southern border. We are speaking out today because we believe the treatment of children and families is not a political issue – it is a humanitarian one.
Any parent can understand the importance of holding and cuddling children, and the power of nurturing to calm them. The idea of not being there to hold them, and never being certain about when we might see them again, would be unbearable.
Separating children from their parents must not happen, and we hope the executive order issued yesterday prevents future separations. It is also critical that every effort is made to reunite families that have already been separated.
Resolution & Transformation
Author: Robins Foundation
Editor's Note: We wanted to share this item from one of our members, the Robins Foundation, a family foundation in Virginia. You can view the original item on the foundation's website.
Hate has no place in our work.
Many of us have been saddened, confused and angered by recent events highlighting the fractures in our society and community fabric. The fissures created by hate highlight the need for more dialogue and more engagement, not less. We value love, patience, inclusion and teamwork. We value diverse voices and diverse perspectives.
Athlete and sports team protests, Tiki torches, monuments and/or gun violence have ignited more open conversations about racism, bigotry, root causes and possible steps. These conversations yield opinions of many perspectives and we, as a community stakeholder, appreciate those perspectives. We recognize the impact of history on the movements of today. Our region (Richmond, Virginia specifically and the South, generally) was the seat of the confederacy and that, segregation in schools, red lining and other past public policies have consequences that have echoed and magnified for generations. Coincidence that we continue to see downward mobility in marginalized communities here? Coincidence we read that particular evidence in grant proposals on the plight of children and families struggling against 39% child poverty in the City of Richmond? Every day, people living in poverty make heartbreaking decisions between affording rent or childcare, food or shelter, safety or healthcare.
Can we do better?
I consider private philanthropy to hold the greatest potential to creating and ensuring a just society. While philanthropy does not provide the greatest resource – recognizing the outsize investment the public sector does and should play to drive equity and outcomes – it has always possessed unparalleled opportunity to catalyze and advance the essential conversations, work and investments to change conditions that keep folks poor, powerless and silent.
A few weeks ago, I posted the following blog on my Facebook page. I have worked at a foundation for more than 16 years, yet in this post I speak not as a philanthropic professional but rather as an African American in America. Sharing this post within the SECF family, I recognize that I have a unique advantage of speaking to an audience that many don’t get to speak to – colleagues, many of whom have become lifelong friends. I present it with an appeal to do the disciplined thinking that we have been trained to do… to hear… to ask not just “what” but “why”… to seek truth… to innovate… to right the scales.
All around us communities are exploding and imploding, creating and falling into breaches that threaten the whole. If philanthropy is, as I believe, the force that can be the change, we must be brave enough and humble enough to search for solutions within and without, that build our understanding and increase our impact.
Mourning the Loss of a Truly Exceptional Leader
Have you ever had one of those moments where the sky seems less bright, the hill gets suddenly steeper and energy appears to decline as if there is less oxygen to breathe? I felt that way when I got an email June 13 telling me that Laurie Moran had passed away.
I know I was not alone in that feeling of loss. Many of us knew that Laurie had been fighting cancer for some time. She did not hide her illness, nor did she use it as a way of asking for sympathy. Laurie faced cancer the way she faced many things, head on without making a big deal out of it.
And she seemed to be beating it. I watched her come back from earlier rounds of treatment and we all hoped her progress would continue.
But it was not to be. At 56, she had given so much and she had so much more to give. But it was not to be.
Staying in Touch With Philanthropy
“Let’s stay connected!”
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard and overheard phrases like this exchanged among SECF colleagues. Our members crave connection with one another for a variety of reasons. Some appreciate the opportunity to learn and share information about best practices. Others enjoy the camaraderie of friends and colleagues who share a common passion and purpose. Some relish the tailor-made resources and network of potential collaborators. Still others rely on their SECF relationships to build networks beyond their local geography. For most, it’s a combination of the above.
For all these reasons and more, SECF serves as a source of deep and lasting regional connections. Through relationships, conversations, events, reports, newsletters and more, we’ve built a network like no other. And now, we’re pleased to introduce another way to communicate with peers, learn from experiences and opinions, and share stories: ENGAGE, the SECF blog.