SECF50 Celebrates the Past, Marks Turning Point in Journey Toward Equity in the South
After more than two years of planning by SECF staff and members, the 50th Annual Meeting did not disappoint, bringing more than 1,000 people together in Atlanta to mark five decades of philanthropic excellence in the South and begin writing a new chapter with equity as its foundation.
Inspiring opening and closing keynotes created an arc that grounded the 50th Annual Meeting in both the history of the region and the challenges and opportunities facing it today. Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns, opened up the Annual Meeting by discussing the Great Migration of African-Americans from the region to escape Jim Crow and the terror of lynching, yet facing other forms for racism upon arriving in the North.
The meeting concluded with powerful words from Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. In addition to his work representing inmates on Death Row, Stevenson and EJI also established the National Memorial for Peach and Justice, which honors the victims of lynching and racial terror, and The Legacy Museum, which traces a line through history from slavery, to sharecopping and convict leasing, to segregation and lynching, to today's mass incarceration.
Stevenson told a rapt audience that transforming the region will require leaders to be proximate to the places, people and problems they seek to address, change existing narratives, remain hopeful and, most importantly, do things that are uncomfortable and inconvenient.
Wilkerson and Stevenson were also fitting speakers at a meeting where SECF released its new Equity Framework, establishing a foundation as the organization seeks to inspire and strengthen learning, leadership and actions within Southern philanthropy dedicated to the advancement of equity in our field and region. The Framework, as introduced by President & CEO Janine Lee, 2018-19 Board Chair Gilbert Miller and 2020-21 Board Chair Regan Gruber Moffitt, is a pivotal part of the journey to our full potential.
Other plenary sessions this year focused on two of the most pressing challenges facing the region and the nation. A panel including Jennifer Preston of the Knight Foundation, University of North Carolina professor Penny Abernathy, Texas Tribune co-founder John Thornton and Mississippi Today editor Ryan Nave discussed the decline of local media coverage, "news deserts" and how philanthropy can support non-profit solutions.
Philippe Cousteau, Jr., who continues the work of his famed grandfather and father, discussed the mounting ecological challenges, including climate change, that have already started to devastate our oceans and marine life and will soon put many communities -- particularly in the Southeast -- at risk.
As philanthropy works on these and other issues, one of the most powerful tools it has at its disposal is storytelling -- a lesson made clear by Andy Goodman, author of Storytelling as Best Practice, in an engaging and entertaining plenary session that worked in plenty of practical advice in between examples of effective storytelling and no shortage of laughs.
Off the main stage, Annual Meeting attendees benefited from sessions on a diverse array of topics, ranging from succession planning at foundations to the racial legacy of urban planning in the region. Of course, there was also plenty of opportunity for celebrating SECF's 50th anniversary, an occasion marked by photos displayed on-site and the annual Chair's Dinner, which included a recognition of SECF's founding members.
Throughout, the Annual Meeting also provided its greatest ongoing benefit: the opportunity for leaders in Southern philanthropy to connect with one another, share ideas, best practices and lessons learned, and to recommit to transformative change in communities throughout the Southeast.
In the days ahead, we'll share more photos and videos from the Annual Meeting. Plus, all SECF members will soon have access to the presentations and handouts from all our concurrent sessions.
Do you have an Annual Meeting story you'd like to share? Let us know -- we might publish it here!