Philanthropy’s Role in Justice & Reform

Last month, GRANTMAKERS of Oregon and Southwest Washington was asked to extend an invitation to funders, policy makers and civic leaders to attend a performance of Hands Up – seven monologues written by six Black men and one Black woman reflecting on the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and their experiences of being Black in America. Hands Up is a production of The New Black Fest and The August Wilson Red Door Project and received support from Meyer Memorial Trust and The Collins Foundation to offer a series of performances free of charge to the community.


The June 30th event for funders was attended by 200 individuals, including colleagues from Philanthropy Northwest.  The production is raw, passionate, powerful, challenging, transformative, healing.  You do not leave it in the theater – it follows you home, changes your thinking and your conversations – becomes something you want to share with those closest to you and with those you’ve yet to meet.  And it’s personal – you are drawn into the truths of the Black experience.  For those who recently experienced Hands Up, the synchronicity of the events of last week is hard to ignore. We can no longer look away.


Alton Sterling was shot by police in Baton Rouge.  We watched the video.


Philando Castile was shot and killed in his car, in front of his fiancée and her four-year-old daughter.  We watched the video.


During a peaceful demonstration in Dallas, five police officers were killed and many more wounded.  We watched the video.


In the days ahead there will be attempts to analyze, contextualize, understand, find meaning, assign blame or offer solutions. There will eloquent speakers calling for unity and reconciliation.  The voice of leaders will challenge all of us to do better.  There will be arguments for and against gun control. Protesters will call for the country to focus on the racial disparities that keep our country divided and our communities in fear of one another.  Racism is an American issue that we should all care about.  The cost of not caring could become what New York Times writer Jelani Cobb calls “open-source terrorism” – a future where we all lose.


For the families and friends of the victims, this is a time for grief and mourning.  For the rest of us, this is not a time to remain silent.  Correcting the source of injustice is the work of generations – what is important is that we step up to the challenge now, standing in solidarity with those working for a more just and equitable world.

Every movement begins with people, and those of us working in philanthropy have both privilege and power.  It is time for us to exercise our resources, our voices and our commitment to a just and fair society.


Our colleague, Sharon Gary-Smith, MRG Foundation, sent this link to a blog you will find helpful as you process all that has happened and as you think about what you can do to make a positive and meaningful contribution.