I grew up and spent most of my life in greater Boston. This included the 1970s when racial tension in the city was heightened by court-ordered bussing to desegregate the Boston City Schools. It was an ugly time for the region and a city so integral to the American Revolution. If I’m honest with myself, I must admit that my privilege and life in suburban Boston certainly provided some distance from the day-to day-violence and racism on display like an open wound reluctant to heal.
Yet my distance does not absolve me of the responsibility to learn from that era.
In 1977, I found myself working as the sound person on a television network news crew assigned to cover the opening day of Boston City Schools. Thankfully there was no violence to be covered, although I have distinct memories of visceral hate in the faces and body language of parents watching as busses arrived and students entered the school building.
The Foley Hoag Foundation
Bussing children to schools resulted from a federal court order. The Boston law firm of Foley Hoag (neé Foley, Hoag & Eliot) used the fees from their victory in that case to establish The Foley Hoag Foundation, which has expanded its original mission of addressing race relations among youth in Greater Boston to now addressing issues around inequality in every form. It is a small foundation that 37 years later continues to have outsized impact. (Full disclosure: My late father was a partner in the firm.)
The success of The Foley Hoag Foundation extends well beyond all the grants they have made. Like most small-staffed foundations, their impact extends beyond the checkbook. As they write in their Statement of Purpose, “. . . the Foundation is committed to fostering a spirit of mutual respect, understanding and cooperation among people of diverse backgrounds, for the long-term benefit of all residents of the city.”
What glorious words: mutual respect, understanding, cooperation among people of diverse backgrounds. These are sentiments as important today as they were in a racially challenged 1970s Boston, two hundred years after this nation was founded.
Racial Healing—Today and Every Day
Today, decades later in a new century, is the second annual National Day of Racial Healing. A day:
- To reinforce and honor our common humanity and create space to celebrate the distinct differences that make our communities vibrant;
- To acknowledge there are still deep racial divisions in America that must be overcome and healed; and
- To commit to engaging people from all racial, ethnic, religious, and identity groups in genuine efforts to increase understanding, communication, caring, and respect for one another.
In the words of Jonathan Greenblatt, national director and CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, “We should all commit to building more respect for others every day, and the National Day of Racial Healing is an opportunity for us to all take a step back and dedicate ourselves to that goal, recognizing challenges others face and celebrating differences.”
As funders, we have not only the ability but I suggest the moral responsibility to work toward these goals every day. And by “work toward,” I mean considering all points of view in our grantmaking decisions, listening to those we seek to help, being aware of our blind spots, and being willing to truly listen, to see opportunities that may make us uncomfortable, to take thoughtful risks, and to stand hand in hand with everyone in our communities.
We must work toward harmony not just in words, but in deeds. Not just in our minds, but in our actions. If there were ever a time to walk the walk and not just talk the talk, it is today, tomorrow, and every single day going forward.
Racism, sexism, violence, and hatred of every type never take a day off. Neither should we.
Henry Berman became Exponent Philanthropy’s CEO in 2011, previously serving as acting CEO, board member, and committee member. Through his experience as a foundation co-trustee and Exponent Philanthropy member since 2003, he brings a firsthand understanding of the needs of members to his role.