Listen, Learn & Act

The past ten days have been pretty challenging for me. The blatant murder of another Black man, this time in broad daylight…and right in front of our faces, still sits in my mind. The video told the story in real time. The sounds of George Floyd’s voice as he cried out for humanity from the officer who pressed his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck. The officer of the law, confident and comfortable, his hands in his pockets, and his eyes fixated on the cameras that showed his shamelessness to the world. My heart pounded as I listened to George Floyd as he pleaded with the four officers who pinned his body to the ground, “I can’t breathe…I can’t breathe.” He called out to his long-passed mother, “Mama…mama…”. And he begged, “Please don’t kill me.” Then his breath left his body, and the stillness of his death was the only sound that I could hear over the shouts of witnesses. “You just killed that man…you just killed him”. And then I felt empty with a sense of hurt that I have yet to define. I just know that it feels terrible.

After days of protests and witnessing more violence against those who simply want to be heard, I woke up at 4 am on Monday, still disturbed and infuriated as our work week began. I knew that we had a plan in place for what we would share with you as a community this week, but I felt that the circumstances called for us to shift from a conversation about Oregon’s future to a reflection about what is happening right now.

I have personally received notes from many of you, each offering concern for me as a Black person in this world, your sorrow for another Black life lost, and your acknowledgement that what we are experiencing as a collective is not what we should want for one another. These touches also encouraged me to reflect on several things that I need to say out loud. I appreciate knowing that people are thinking about me and other Black people in their lives right now. If nothing else, we are aware that our friends and colleagues recognize the challenges that are attached to Black lives. But I have also thought a lot about what happens next…when the smoke clears, and the protestors go home to their everyday lives.

The irony of this fight is dizzying. How can we ignore the fact that those most affected by the pandemic are forced to fight injustice…all while putting themselves at further risk from both the pandemic that highlights the very injustice they’re fighting? The conflict of just “being” in this world as Black people is compounded by centuries-old layers of a sickening narrative, and still, we show up, and we fight for our right to just be.

But we also need to force ourselves to think beyond both crises and work to understand how so much of this is rooted in the very systems that create the need that philanthropy funds in the first place. That is why this confluence of crises is so important. Yes, it is about what we are feeling and experiencing right now. And it is about what we choose to do about this from now on.

I have learned after 32 years in the nonprofit sector that the most long-lasting actions come from when we work to understand the experiences of people who are most impacted by an issue. Understanding leads to commitment and commitment leads to change. It was with this in mind that my team and I made the shift in this week’s newsletter.

In order to help us deepen our understanding of this situation, we are inviting the GOSW membership to do one of the most important things that we can all do right now: Listen to Black People. Six powerful members of our philanthropic community will share their experiences with our membership as Black people and Black leaders. It is important that we remain focused on how we give voice to those who are most affected by this situation so that we can gain a better understanding of one another across differences. And we are fortunate to have some incredible Black people in our lives who are facing forward in their leadership while they carry the weight of this pain. This is their moment to speak and it is our moment to listen.

You will also find some suggestions for actions that you can take to move beyond the sadness and use your resources and leverage your power to catalyze change. We invite you to Listen, Learn, and Act because we need you, philanthropy. We need you more than ever.

Thank you to Michelle DePass, Karis Stoudamire-Phillips, Toya Fick, Karol Collymore, Chabre Vickers, and Kimberly Wilson for the strength of your voices and for your bravery in this world.

— Kendall Clawson