Tag: civil rights

Reflections on my recent civil rights tour: My eyes were opened

By Tamara Copeland
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

Last week, I spent four days in the Deep South. WRAG and Leadership Greater Washington sponsored a civil rights learning journey that spanned Memphis, Tennessee; several locations in the Mississippi Delta; Jackson, Mississippi; and Selma, Montgomery, and Birmingham, Alabama. Over the years, I have learned a lot about the Civil Rights Movement and I thought I understood. I didn’t. My version was sanitized. My knowledge was incomplete. I had focused on the structural side of racism. This trip revealed the power of personal hatred combined with government sanctions.

It wasn’t until I was immersed in the historical morass of this trip that I began to understand. I sat in the Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Philadelphia, Mississippi, population 7,361, listening to two women in their sixties. They described how, in 1964, their parents were beaten by the Ku Klux Klan and left at night on the side of a dark, country road, seriously injured, but afraid to seek medical care. The Klan was looking for civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, chasing down church members to locate them. Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner were caught another night and killed. It wasn’t until I heard from Jerry Mitchell, an investigative reporter, whose efforts led to the arrest and conviction of one of their murderers 41 years later that I began to understand.

It wasn’t until the docent at Medgar Evers’s home in Jackson, Mississippi, described that he had his children sleep on mattresses on the floor, and asked the builder to place the windows higher than normal to lessen the possibility of bullets shot through the windows hitting them. Also at his request, his house was built with a side entrance, under a carport, rather than with a front door. He trained his children to always exit under the carport, on the passenger side of the car, closest to the entrance to their home to lessen the likelihood of being a target, a practice that he didn’t follow on the night he was shot and killed. I saw his blood stain on the driveway. Then, I began to understand.

It wasn’t until I went to the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, saw where the bomb was placed right outside the church under a stairwell and learned that the police arrived immediately following the bomb blast that killed four young girls – too immediately, some thought, for them to be responding to a call. Again, I began to understand.

At the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum, I saw a haunting photo of a black, imprisoned teenager in 1932 Georgia with his hands and feet bound, lying on the ground curled around an iron post. He looked like a lassoed animal going to slaughter. It was then that I remembered seeing the massive, privately-run, maximum-security prison as we drove through the Mississippi Delta the day before, on our way to the courthouse where Emmett Till’s murderers were acquitted. Then everything truly fell into place. In this huge complex, with only slits for windows to let in some light, encircled with barbed wire, human beings were confined.  Not only did I recognize that African-Americans have formed the basis of our country’s economic advancement for centuries, I also recognized their treatment like animals – some would say worse than animals – for centuries. 1619, 1850, 1964, or 2018, the form that the oppression may take is different, but oppression it still is.  Raw violence has evolved, to some degree, into more subtle, nuanced actions, but racially-motivated violence still occurs.

African-American parents still have to try to protect their children, just like Medgar Evers did. While African-Americans can’t be legally turned away from a hospital, health care access and health status still vary considerably by race. And, we still wonder if the government, be that in the form of a police officer, a governor, or a US senator, represents the interests of all Americans.

The depth and insidiousness of the maltreatment of black people in America is far more entrenched than perhaps I understood or believed before I went on this learning journey.  The racism – no, let’s call it what it is – the terrorism that existed with slavery simply evolved into Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan. It still evolves today, with the continued advancement of public policies that advantage and disadvantage based on race, and a political and cultural climate that is fostering a more visible white supremacist movement. This combination is toxic and powerful. We must be vigilant, active, and courageous advocates for racial equity and justice.

Point-in-time homelessness survey shows varying results for the region

HOMELESSNESS | Results from this year’s point-in-time survey, which counts the number of homeless individuals who aren’t sheltered on a given night, shows a decrease in DC, Montgomery and Arlington counties, but small increases across the region. (WaPo, 5/8)

In Fairfax County, the number of homeless people is slightly up from last year, though still lower than 10 years ago, with 987 homeless people in the county of 1.1 million residents, compared with 964 last year. In 2008, the county counted 1,835 homeless people.

In Prince George’s County, the number of homeless people fell from 532 in 2017 to 478 in 2018, a 10 percent decline.

CIVIL RIGHTS | Rebekah Seder, senior program manager at WRAG, discusses why WRAG & LGW are taking funders and other civic leaders on a 3.5 day learning journey to explore the history of the Civil Rights Movement – and urges others to join. (Daily, 5/9)

Related for WRAG/LGW Members: Register for the Civil Rights Learning Journey from Memphis to Birmingham, AL here.

CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY | Congratulations to these WRAG members for making Corporate Responsibility Magazine’s 2018 list of 100 Best Corporate Citizens! (CRM, 5/7)

34. IBM
45. Northrop Grumman Corp.
73. Wells Fargo & Co.
74. Bank Of America Corp.
79. JPMorgan Chase & Co.
81. Boeing Co.
94. Capital One Financial Corp.
95. Citigroup Inc.

– Half of the Smithsonian museums have acquired new guides to lead people to less visited parts of the exhibits and to provide general assistance to visitors. They are robots. (WAMU, 5/7)

– ‘The Memories We Keep:’ New Art Exhibit Puts Spotlight On Refugee Artists (WAMU, 5/9)

CENSUS 2020Foundations Push Census Turnout in Worrisome Times (Chronicle, 5/7 – Subscription needed)

Flying taxis could be in your near future.

– Kendra

Traveling from Memphis to Birmingham to take off our historical blinders

By Rebekah Seder
Senior Program Manager, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

In September, WRAG and Leadership Greater Washington are taking a group of funders and other civic leaders on a journey to learn firsthand about the Civil Rights Movement. We are traveling from Memphis to Birmingham, visiting sites of key activities, meeting with movement leaders and contemporary activists, and attending a number of museums and other institutions. I am incredibly excited about this trip. But, I suspect that some may be asking, “Why would 35 people whose careers are dedicated to improving the Greater Washington region travel to Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama? Why, when the need to act on today’s problems is so urgent, would we be focusing on events of 50 years ago?”

Throughout WRAG’s two-and-a-half year examination of structural racism, “I just never learned about this” has been a constant refrain. I suspect that for many of my colleagues, especially those who, like me, attended predominantly white schools, our history education was similar. Certainly we learned key facts – the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Emancipation, Jim Crow. Then, we learned that the Civil Rights Movement happened, because a tired Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, a group of people marched from Selma to Montgomery, and Martin Luther King had a dream. Then, voila, America achieved racial equality.

This trip will open participants’ eyes to a much fuller story.

More than that, I think that this trip will begin to address a wrong that is perhaps more subtle than the many forms of racism that preoccupy our attention. The segregation of history – the idea that black history is somehow different and apart from American history, that the history of black Americans is not intrinsically intertwined with that of white Americans, and that it can be summed up in a chapter or two in a history textbook. A racism that flattens a rich and complex history, renders courageous and groundbreaking leaders as bit players, and writes a historical narrative that raises up white men as agents of change and black and brown people as those that history happens to. This way of imagining the past is like wearing blinders that make it impossible to see and understand the present.

I encourage WRAG members to consider what rewriting their understanding of history could mean for them personally, as well as professionally for their grantmaking and their engagement in the community. We know that it is a commitment of time and money. But, for those funders who are committed to advancing racial equity in our region and within their own institutions, I hope you will join me on this journey. I believe that this trip will be an investment that will pay dividends.

WRAG & LGW Members: Contact Rebekah Seder to learn more about this trip.

New Equal Justice Initiative museum memorializes America’s lynching victims

–  The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a museum in Montgomery, Alabama opened by the Equal Justice Initiative, uses sculpture, art, and design to memorialize known and unknown lynching victims in America. (Yes!Magazine, 4/26)

By including women in the historical narrative of lynching, the new memorial in Alabama reveals a more complete understanding of this devastating social practice.

The monument sheds light in an unprecedented and innovative way on the reasons and circumstances surrounding the death and torture of countless victims, including women and children, who suffered at the hands of vigilante mobs. By unearthing the soil and pinpointing the counties where such cruel and inhumane acts were committed, the monument sends a powerful message and conveys to its audience a desire for deeper understanding.

Related for WRAG Members: WRAG and Leadership Greater Washington are pleased to announce its Memphis to Birmingham Civil Rights Learning Journey this fall. Throughout the Putting Racism on the Table series, we have underscored the importance of understanding the history of race in America. WRAG & LGW members are invited to explore history first-hand on a learning journey through the South from September 23 to September 27.

We’ll visit the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel, the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Southern Poverty Law Center, the Equal Justice Initiative National Memorial for Peace and Justice and more. Learn more.

NONPROFITSRise of Robots Makes Nonprofit Workers More Essential Than Ever (Chronicle, 4/30 – Subscription needed)

HEALTH | Last week, Prince William County approved a budget that will significantly increase its services to combat substance abuse. (Prince William Times, 4/30)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE | Education in prisons still reinforces gender roles, which robs women of vocational programs and men of other skills. Advocates want to change this. (Atlantic, 4/30)

EDUCATIONDocuments show ties between Virginia university, conservative donors (WTOP, 4/30)

Happy May Day (aka International Workers Day)! Here’s why we celebrate it.

– Kendra

Daughters of the Dream – or – What I Did on my Summer Sabbatical

By Tamara Lucas Copeland
President, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

In February 2012, I started writing a manuscript intended to capture my lifelong friendship with seven women. Most of us started Albert V. Norrell Elementary School in Richmond, VA, together. We evolved into a group in junior high, stayed together through high school, and then drifted apart in college and afterward as we finished our education and started careers and families. Once we reached our forties, we came back together and have remained close ever since. Now, we get together three or four times a year; sometimes for a weekend, other times just for lunch.

One day it occurred to me that race and the civil rights movement have been the background theme (sights and sounds) of our lives. Whenever we get together, we celebrate a black milestone like MLK Day, visit a black-themed exhibit, see a movie related to black culture, or simply discuss a challenge facing the black community. It was then that I started to think that this manuscript wasn’t simply about our friendship. It was, and is, about being a silent, but pivotal part of the civil rights movement.

We were too young to march, but our parents put us in the movement in a different way. First, they instilled in us the importance of education. College was a given for us, and we were encouraged to pursue advanced degrees. We also had to act, talk and dress a certain way to be prepared to walk through the doors that were about to open for our race. And we did. We were ready when opportunities finally emerged and “Jobs, Colored” was no longer a part of the employment section of the newspapers.

As I started to write, the name that emerged for my manuscript was Daughters of the Dream. We are the offspring, not only of our parents but of Dr. King’s dream. Of the eight, six of us have advanced degrees, certainly a much higher percentage than the national average. All have been successful in our career choices. We believe that, in large measure, we have been judged by the content of our character, not by the color of our skin.

For several years, the manuscript just sat. I knew it needed work, but I didn’t know what to do with it. I thought I wasn’t working on it, but I was. New ideas and new revelations were being shaped in my thinking. This summer, during my sabbatical, I had the luxury of concentrated time to renew my work on my manuscript. And, of course, the challenges of this summer, particularly Charlottesville continue to reveal that the battle for civil rights, for racial justice, remains. The dream, in many ways, is still just that. My commitment to finishing this project grows stronger every day.

Next year, Daughters of the Dream will be complete. In the meantime, if you want to get a glimpse into the experience of growing up in segregated Richmond, Virginia, follow my just-started, monthly blog at www.daughtersofthedream.org.

From Walking to Marching

By Tamara Copeland
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

In nine months, I will put on heavily cushioned socks and my best walking shoes and challenge myself to the most rigorous walk that I’ve ever done – 60 miles in three days.

I started walking – really walking – in March of this year. At first I was just trying to get to that magical 10,000 step marker, or about 5 miles a day. My goal was personal. I simply wanted to lose weight and be healthier. Now, my goal is bigger.

I want a healthier social profit sector. So I have signed on to walk in the first Charity Defense March.

This journey began in 2008 when I read Dan Pallotta’s book Uncharitable. It crystalized what I had been thinking for years, but was never able to articulate. Why did the environments in which I worked to address the horrible rates of infant mortality in the South, poor school success rates for vulnerable children, and the tragedy of the foster care system always struggle to raise the funds necessary to do this work? Societally, we didn’t want these situations to exist, right? I believed that they were issues to be solved with enhanced public will and the right resources. The problem: we never had the right resources. I finally came to understand that a key contributor to our lack of resources was general ambiguity about where these organizations fit in the social contract.

The organizations that I worked for were routinely given contradictory messages. “Be more business-like,” we were told, “but don’t forget that you are the NON-profit sector.” We were urged to be “outcomes-driven” while never having sufficient revenue to fully engage in the work to demonstrate real, tangible, game-changing outcomes. The social profit sector, as I prefer to call it, is expected to address huge societal problems – homelessness, bigotry, hunger – with limited resources and inherently skeletal infrastructures.

I want to change that. I believe that an important first step in that change lies in making more people understand that we inhibit the capacity of the social profit sector.

I believe that the manner in which the social profit sector is expected to underwrite the costs of doing its critical work hasn’t been truly thought about much by the sector or by the proverbial powers that be. It just is.

As an African-American, the issues of segregation and inequality have always loomed large in my life. They form my frame of reference for many things, and I think they apply here.  For decades, segregation just was. White America didn’t think about it too much and many in black America believed that they could only tinker around the edges of change.  The civil rights movement changed that and marching became a hallmark of the movement, as people quietly walked to their jobs during the Montgomery bus boycott or rallied at the larger 1963 March on Washington. Marching became a profound, visible way to elevate an injustice to a larger societal conversation and action.

So, I am walking June 26-28 as part of the inaugural Charity Defense March. Improving the world in which I live has been my calling throughout my professional life.  Now, I realize that in order to address those problems that I care so much about, I must first address the infrastructure in which social change agents work. I believe this March is a big step toward making a difference.

Why history matters

By Rebekah Seder, Program Manager

History probably isn’t a topic that immediately comes to mind when thinking about philanthropy. But, funders, activists, and others working toward social justice often frame their efforts in terms of addressing the “root causes” that have led to the conditions we seek to remedy today. This summer’s events in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington offered an opportunity to reflect on the long history of the fight for racial equity, from slavery and the Civil War, Reconstruction and segregation, to the civil rights movement and the debates around equity that continue today.

At WRAG’s final Brightest Minds program of the year, Lonnie Bunch, the founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), discussed this history and its relevance to today’s society. To Mr. Bunch, whose day job is all about helping people understand and feel connected to the past, “history is as much about today and tomorrow as it is about yesterday.”

According to Mr. Bunch, the March on Washington offers two key lessons that continue to inform social change efforts. First, it is a reminder that change does happen, but that it is fragile, it ebbs and flows and is not inevitable. The original March on Washington was a landmark event. But, as Mr. Bunch noted, while Dr. King’s speech was a resounding high point in the civil rights movement, just a few weeks later four young girls were killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham. Reconstruction after the Civil War led to Jim Crow laws. And, the Voting Rights Act and other achievements of the 1960s are still grounds of contention today. The March on Washington was just one, very powerful, episode in a struggle that has gone on for centuries.

Secondly, the March on Washington – both the 1963 and the 2013 versions – underscores the importance of collaboration. The original March on Washington and the civil rights movement more broadly brought together civil rights activists with labor, Catholic, Jewish, and other groups. The success of the movement led to expectations of fairness and equality across racial lines, which can be seen in advancements in support of rights for gays, farm workers, Latinos, people with disabilities, and native peoples, to name a few. Anyone who participated in the events in August could see this reflected in the many groups marching in support of economic and social justice for all.

The idea of the enduring relevance of history is especially powerful right here in D.C., a city that holds such a prominent place in African American history and culture. At the same time, the social and economic disparities in this city are a stark reminder of, in Mr. Bunch’s words, “the unfinished business of the March on Washington.” For Mr. Bunch, helping the public understand the rich history of the black experience in America and how it informs today’s society is an important function not just of the NMAAHC, but of philanthropy as well. An understanding of historical forces is necessary to develop effective strategies to bring about positive social change today. Indeed, false notions of history all too often inform decision making at even the highest levels of government. Grantmakers can play a role in engaging the public and ensuring that everyone, especially young people, learn about, and feel a connection to, the past.