In these uncertain times, I hope this finds you and your family safe and healthy.
In the waning days and hours before he transitioned from this earthly life, Congressman John Lewis authored a poignant NYTimes Op-ed. In many ways, this was a concluding invocation to the people of a nation that he loved dearly. In it, he charged his fellow Americans to “study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help [us] find solutions to the challenges of our time.” He implored us to “continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe, because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.”
As a native Georgian and a son of the Civil Rights Era, news of Congressman Lewis’ passing weighed heavily on me. Mr. Lewis dedicated his life to bettering the impulses of a nation, that it might form a more perfect union. Of his many civic triumphs, he is likely best known for leading the first of three Selma to Montgomery, AL marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in an incident known as Bloody Sunday. It was here that Lewis was tear-gassed and beaten with nightsticks, the results of which included a fractured skull and scars that he would wear on his head for the balance of his life. His was indeed an exemplary life. His dedication to change is an example from which we can all learn.
In contemplating the year to date, 2020 has provided us with copious instances for further cultural and social examination. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has exposed longstanding racial disparities in healthcare outcomes and inequities in our economic system, the scapegoating of Asian-Americans has sewn threads of division, and the documented killings of unarmed black men and women remind us of continued presence of anti-black racism, which for too long has hidden in plain sight. Taken individually, these are all dreadful tragedies but collectively, they are a painful reminder that the roots of racial and social injustice are profoundly interwoven into our country’s institutions and structures.
When I joined the foundation as President and Chief Executive Officer nearly six years ago, we adopted a new mission to “eliminate structural barriers, advance racial equity, and transform political, social, and economic outcomes for all who call the East Bay home.” In partnership with over 400 fundholders, we believe that all people have the right to a dignified life, equal access to health, well-being, and economic opportunity. Ours is a collective vision of a world in which all people can create, nurture, and strengthen society through deep engagement and inclusive connections across our differences. It is why I am encouraged by the multitudes of multi-ethnic and multi-national, demonstrations – both here in the East Bay and across the world – of those who are banding together to bring attention to the need for reckoning and reform. Through their actions, both peaceful and forceful, these coalitions are helping to architect a new reality by loudly proclaiming that in the face of racism and injustice, indifference and inaction are too high of a cost to bear. In the spirit of John Lewis, they are engaged in the struggle of a lifetime, unafraid to get into good, necessary trouble – “until true freedom comes, until the revolution of 1776 is complete.”
Over the past several years, EBCF’s focus has reflected the import of social justice for East Bay communities. We’ve changed how we deploy resources to help foster an inclusive, fair and just region. We’ve made critical investments in regional, Black-Led Organizations to build the sustainability of nonprofits serving Black communities and Black constituencies. We’ve reimagined how we use our collective power to change policies and create equitable outcomes. And we have affirmed our commitment to supporting movement organizations, which inspire radical imagination and unwavering courage.
Our experience thus far in partnership with Black-Led Organizations reveals that they are an essential fabric for the creation of healthy and prosperous Black communities, which then support health and prosperous Black families and individuals. As a steward of this richly diverse region with significant Black talent and assets, EBCF stands in solidarity with Black communities across the country who have for generations endured the burdens of systemic racism and oppression. We believe that our work in ASCEND:BLO offers an important solution for those communities as we move forward.
Because community is at the cornerstone of our identity, this current moment also requires us to engage in greater dialogue with one another to create an awareness of the origins of inequity and an understanding of the experiences of oppressed groups/classes. By leading with our values, we believe this approach can open opportunities for important organizational learning and individual growth. This is what is required of us. As a philanthropic institution, we certainly have limitations, but as a community foundation, we also have a unique ability to leverage our strengths to achieve lasting change for East Bay Communities.
To meet the measure of this moment, each of us has an obligation to act – to soberly see human suffering in all of its forms, and especially when it comes at the hands of injustice. As a 92-year-old institution founded a mere 63 years after the ratification of the 13th Amendment which abolished American chattel slavery, we believe that we have a moral and ethical responsibility to work with all communities to rectify centuries of racial injustice, exploitation and oppression. We must be willing to move beyond the comforts of our individual lives and embrace an empathy and compassion that honors the worth and humanity of all people. It is this level of personal and collective accountability that will enable us to create the change that we seek.
The conversation about how our community can actively promote equity and social justice will be an enduring one. Through it all, we will continue to honor and lift up the strength of community members who persist in the face of overwhelming odds. But we remain confident that together, we can build a future that works for all people.
We look forward to this continued journey with you.
James W. Head
President and Chief Executive Officer
East Bay Community Foundation