The Why

I am a Black man, running a culturally specific, nonprofit organization, in Portland, Oregon. That sentence in and of itself is almost oxymoronic as, in our region, there are few Black men, fewer culturally specific nonprofits, and even fewer still Executive Directors of such entities.

How I got to this place is a circuitous tale of educational opportunities, nomadic professional choices, love and marriage and children, and an eventual evolution into the entropy that can result from traumatic life experiences. (I can share more about that post-COVID, over beers. Call me.)

Why I do what I do, however, is an easier question to answer. I am here because of my parents, and their parents, and their parents. I am here because of my children. And I really have no choice.

I attended Howard, a historically black college and university (HBCU). My mother and father, both attended HBCUs in the Deep South, and they required me and my eight siblings to always consider how our actions impacted others. We knew about racism, Jim Crow, and segregation. And, though we were lucky to grow up with a Catholic school education, we were frequently reminded that to whom much is given, much is expected; you must do what you can. It is your obligation because it could very well be you.

My grandfather was recruited by Booker T. Washington to teach mathematics at Tuskegee Institute over 100 years ago. My great grandfather, the Reverend Marcus Mundy, was born into slavery in the mid 19th century, was emancipated, and became a minister and eventual HBCU graduate. I am a fourth-generation college graduate, as a Black man, in America. Another oxymoron.

I have had opportunities that some Black folks can only dream of; and I should probably be a billionaire like Bill Gates. But I am still a Black man in America, so the dots don’t always quite connect.

That is not a lament. I revel in being a Black man. It is joyous.

I only share that history to remind you that I am able to use my past, that education, that experience to help folks of color achieve fairness, because many of them do not have that background. I can be their voice. The work I do is personal. It matters.

Believe me, it ain’t fun asking philanthropy or the business community to give resources to those without access or resources of their own. But I do it with alacrity because I can look 100 years back with chagrin, and 100 years ahead with hope, and know that decisions and investments made today can change the world.

There are those that say we are in a transformational moment.I say – time will tell. It has been 3 weeks – and after 401 years (over 20,000 weeks) of subjugation, oppression, and wanton disregard for one’s humanity – this timeline does not a transformation make.

Transformation comes with how you fund.

Transformation is sustained.

Transformation is deliberate.

Transformation is hard.

But: transformation is worth it.

To whom much is given, much is expected.

That’s why.


– Marcus Mundy