It is a vivid memory, the day I woke up, opened my eyes, and began to see the chasm that clenches racial inequity in this country and the world—it is pervasive and structural, unyielding and entrenched. The day was a cold afternoon in December 2014, and the news broke that there would be no charges brought in the death of Eric Garner. It was certainly not surprise or shock that overwhelmed me, but disappointment and devastation that this was the world in which we lived. “I can’t breathe” became a call to action: a symbolic chant for protestors, an echo of Garner’s last words. The battle cry personified the feeling of trying to overcome what now could be perceived as routine or status quo injustice after Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin already had their lives cut short.
I was certainly not the only one who was awakened in this moment. Even those never effected by racial injustice could now see the clear affront to an ideal that is supposed to run deep within our society— that we all have an unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. What’s more, I certainly was not the only one who felt lost, powerless, and confused on what to do. How could I go about making a change? How did things get this way, and will they get better? While I felt moved and empowered by marching with hundreds and thousands of protestors, I soon became weary, but never hopeless. The fight for equality continues every day as we continue to witness lives taken away before our very eyes, captured on cell phones and then played perpetually in a loop.
The aim of Alphawood Foundation philanthropy is to work for an equitable, just, and humane society—racial diversity, equity, and inclusion is critical to that mission. My role at Alphawood as a program officer brings a perspective to the work that merely compliments a history focused on creating a fairer world. As a foundation, we work to find new and emerging organizations that are addressing the many areas of inequity. We strive to take risks and fund organizations that may not be supported by the broader philanthropic community, and that may not have access to a broad base of individual donors. We believe it is crucial in fulfilling our mission to fund culturally specific organizations.
I spent most of my life never actually taking racial issues head on, rather simply living with them as they happened to me. Because of my own personal privilege, I perhaps suffered less that others from many of the systematic structures that are nearly impossible to overcome. Particularly in these polarized times, it is not acceptable to sit idly by while so many have their rights taken away. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
As the foundation continues to find new pathways for addressing inequality and supporting diversity, equity, inclusion, it is quite apparent that conversations on race are rare, and challenging. The only way things will get better is if we learn how to communicate, how to have the tough conversations, and how to truly listen to one another. But that’s just the first part. It is our responsibility to make sure that we do something to address inequity not just in our work, but in our lives.
Christopher Audain | @cmmaudain