The question that remains with me from the Facing Race 2016 conference is the one posed by Race Forward executive director Rinku Sen at the opening plenary - a question first posed by Dr Martin Luther King’s speechwriter, Vincent Harding: Is America Possible?
Even before I had heard that question, its multiple dimensions and many possible answers had put themselves front and center during a pre-conference bus tour of Atlanta - an introduction to social and racial justice organizations operating across the four corners of the city. This was on Thursday, November 10, barely two days after Donald Trump's election to presidency. In my conversations with folks - from Minnesota, northern California, New York, Kentucky, and (of course) Atlanta - who I talked to over the day, we shared a set of emotions that ranged from fear to fury to uncertainty about the prospect of life and policies in Trump's America. But the main theme I sensed throughout the day - and this would hold constant over the entire conference - was an urgency to action purposefully, alongside a diverse coalition of allies.
So as I listened to presentations from a number of Atlanta-based groups - Project South, a student-led nonprofit organizing for change in the public school system, or Athena's Warehouse, an organization supporting immigrants rights and workforce development among the Latinx, Vietnamese, Somali and other communities along Buford Highway, or the group Sister Song that's been leading a nationwide organizing efforts among African-American women for greater reproductive rights and HIV education, or SONG (Southerners on New Ground) that creates shared housing and education centers for LGBTQ folks in communities in color - I was introduced to individuals for whom the question Is America Possible? wasn't abstract or vaguely aspirational. Rather, I listened to the fights that so many in communities across Atlanta were taking on with the intention of creating a society where their lives, loves, bodies, and beliefs counted, too - and where they were safe. None of this was assured, and particularly not in Trump's America.
I'm a straight, white male from San Diego, and as one would guess from the look of me, my self and body generally go unthreatened, unprofiled. But complacency and resignation, the admixture of an unexamined life, don't run in my blood. There are a thousand small and large decisions that I've made (and my parents, before I made my own calls in this world) that led to me sitting on a tour bus in Atlanta, experiencing the lives of others, reflecting on the America we all inhabit. What wouldn't otherwise be apparent from the look of me, though, is the extent to which race, race consciousness, and the fight for racial and social justice live actively and urgently within me. They are part of my own history, facing race - my own and others' - starting from a very young age.
Looking back at the conference, one of the great takeaways was to understand better the concept and conditions for allyship. The opportunity to hear and speak to Chris Crass was invaluable. The question he posed, which I have before and will continue to work on: What needs to change in order to create anti-racist practices in white communities?
Lori Villarosa (Philanthropic Institute for Racial Equity) reinforced this line of questioning a day later in one of the most memorable (and EPIP relevant!) sessions of the conference on activist philanthropy. Beyond white allyship, the packed room and speakers did a wonderful job of presenting the idea of “accompaniment” – applicable to funder networks and philanthropic actors looking for support racial and social justice organizations. Funders that accompany grassroots and on-the-ground organizations go on learning journeys together, and it better enables funders to know when and how and how much contribution is necessary to sustain momentum in a movement.
Ingrid Benedict (Daphe Foundation) underlined that, post-election, social justice organizations need to take measures to ensure greater security: physical security, data and financial security, and legal protections. There are many tools that organizations can draw from, and it will be in the hands of funders to support investments pro-actively toward heightened security.
Finally, the Giving Project and its collaborative members like the Chinook Fund (Denver) and Tidewaters Foundation (Twin Cities) is a model that I’ve already shared with my EPIP San Diego steering committee. As a network model to pursue to scale local / regional efforts for emerging practitioners and the overall funder community to engage with greater intention in areas of racial and social justice movement making, the Giving Project holds great promise.
On the flight home from Atlanta, I was most thankful to have met everyone in the EPIP network, and enjoyed such a thoroughly engrossing dinner together. Onwards!
Impact Without Borders
EPIP-San Diego Chapter Leader, Co-Chair