Professor Copeland?

Participants in Georgetown Seminar, “Philanthropists’ Response to Racial Inequity in America”

By Tamara Lucas Copeland
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers 

Last year, I was named the Waldemar Nielsen Visiting Fellow, Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University. Quite a mouthful. Quite an honor. And, quite a challenge.

Dr. Kathy Kretman, the Nielsen Chair, had chosen the nexus of philanthropy and race as the focus for the 2017-2018 academic year. Having worked for the last few years on just that juncture, I thought I was prepared to partner with her in both teaching a course and on overseeing a research project, for which many WRAG members and others across the country were interviewed, to examine the impact of our Putting Racism on the Table work. Most importantly, I knew I could not pass up an opportunity to introduce Georgetown public policy graduate students to the roles that they might play both as philanthropists and as policymakers adept at understanding racial equity.

It didn’t take long for my appreciation of educators to grow exponentially. What I imagined as the rigor and intentionality necessary to develop a comprehensive and well thought out syllabus only marginally reflected what reality looked like. And, the notion of orchestrating the 2 ½ hour class sessions with reviews of the assigned texts, exercises to prompt reflection, and in-person speakers to share lived experiences was a new, and difficult, experience. This teaching stuff is hard, really hard, if you want to do it well and I did. I wanted the students to leave the class with a clear understanding of racial equity and inequity. I wanted to play a part in preparing them to use their voice, their emerging clout and power, and their financial resources for racial equity.

Well, it may be a decade before I’ll know if that happened. Will the student who talked about running for an elected position in Atlanta, Georgia actually do that? What will his platform be? Will LISC be the launching pad for another into the realm of addressing gentrification and the racial wealth gap? And, will the Department of the Army never be quite the same because two soldiers took this course? Maybe for the other students their work toward racial justice will occur quietly with their family, friends and neighbors. That’s important, too, but I don’t think these students’ roles will be small or go unnoticed.

Midway through the Nielsen experience, I realized that we were evolving into a true learning community. The students were teaching me how to effectively transmit information as I worked with them to question some of the assumptions they had made and the “truths” they thought they knew. Professor Copeland? No, but I am proud to have played a small part in their evolution as racially aware, public policy leaders.

NOTE: As a part of the Nielsen work, the Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership examined what the local nonprofit community wants and needs in order to pursue a racial equity agenda.