A message from Henry Berman, CEO of Exponent Philanthropy
One week ago today, we witnessed an assault on our nation’s Capitol. One week from today, that same Capitol will host the inauguration of our new president. Both events will be defining chapters in tomorrow’s history books. But tomorrow is not today. We cannot stand idly by — we have work to do.
Last week’s events again highlight the massive societal flaws in our nation. As President-elect Joe Biden said in response to last Wednesday, “No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday, they wouldn’t have been treated very, very differently from the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol . . . We all know that’s true. And it’s unacceptable. Totally unacceptable.”
The attack demonstrated the deep-seated racial inequalities that are woven into the fabric of our country, and have been since its inception.
Last spring, the murder of George Floyd spurred many to action. Funders rushed to offer aid, words, thoughts and prayers. Surely sent with good intentions, I wonder if the urgent gifts were as much to soothe the giver, as to help the recipient. Were these thoughts and prayers and statements on the web and social media sincere gestures, or virtue signaling? And perhaps most importantly, will the investments in racial equity be ongoing?
What are you going to do?
Will you, as part of the philanthropy sector, commit to genuinely addressing our country’s racial inequities? Can we, and more importantly will we, all commit to developing and implementing long-term solutions to combat systemic racism and white supremacy in the United States?
Taking the time to process, consider, and take meaningful action can be difficult and uncomfortable. Sending immediate aid is powerful and should not be ignored. But what do you do once the check has cleared? How can you commit your philanthropy to continued and meaningful impact?
I have learned you need to ask difficult questions about your own biases, beliefs, and behaviors. You open your mind and listen to others. You listen more, and still more. You ask questions to learn, not to respond. You double your dose of humility pills and understand that you don’t know the best way forward for communities that you are not a part of, no matter how many books you’ve read or seminars attended.
I know it’s hard! I am an older, white, straight male who has been blessed with privilege since birth.
One outcome from my own equity journey is that I have chosen to commit time and funds to an organization that serves communities of color and is led by a woman of color. Accepting the invitation to join their table, rather than inviting them to mine, has been humbling. Learning to take a back seat, while difficult for me at first, has allowed the organization to act in its best interests.
Every one of us, regardless of background or heritage, has the power to open our eyes, ears, hearts, and minds to listening, sharing, and learning from each other.
I urge you to engage in this work and mission. Addressing the needs of society, especially those relegated to the sidelines, demands that none of us shirk our responsibilities and moral obligations. To do any less is philanthropic malpractice.
In Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, a section of the Jewish Mishnah, Rabbi Tarfon says, “It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.”
The road is long.
The work is hard.
The cause is righteous.
We cannot stop moving forward.