On July 19, I attended a Philanthropy Northwest program: Reflections on Philanthropy from Today’s Leaders: Kelly Brown – The Power of Diverse Networks. And afterwards, I had the privilege of continuing the discussion with the Grantmakers of Color Affinity Group and with Kelly Brown. Kelly is the D5 Coalition Director whose five-year mission is to grow philanthropy’s diversity, equity and inclusion.
So what was I, a white female from Eastern Washington, doing in the midst of this diverse group of thoughtful leaders? While it was a question I definitely asked myself, the real question was why weren’t more of us at the table listening to this very important work? Why wasn’t an auditorium three times the size filled to the brim with all of us wondering, questioning, pondering and learning?
I live in a community where 89.2% of the population is white. Should I repeat that? 89.2% is white. 2.1% Asian, 1.9% Black, and 1.5% Native American. What an opportunity for thinking outside of the box in our communities. What a great way to expand the idea of diversity far beyond color and to look at it through many lenses that offer us glimpses of economic diversity, generational diversity, diversity of style (thank you, Richard Woo!), educational diversity, religious diversity and the list goes on and on.
And as the discussion deepened, I found myself asking harder questions, looking inward, asking myself what can our organization—Empire Health Foundation—as a funder bring to the table? How can we challenge ourselves to become greater advocates for our own diversity by opening ourselves up to greater discussions around this very question?
I don’t have any answers to these questions, of course. I only have a wellspring of more questions—which I think was one key piece of the morning for me—ask more questions. And the longer we talked, the more it became apparent that what should really be at the heart of the work that all of us do is relationship building; in other words, establishing trust with one another in a culture that needs to place a greater value on relationships.
As funders, I think this is critical. It is easy for us to sit at our desks and think about strategic and practical ways to write checks, to establish initiatives around ideas that we think are important, to convene meetings among leaders to discuss lofty ideas, to hold board meetings, to sponsor conferences, to gather data and measure outcomes. But what about sharing a cup of coffee, listening to the voices in the communities where we are afraid to enter for fear of: safety, uncertainty, differences from one another, (add your greatest fear to this list!).
For the past few months I have had the unbelievable privilege of spending large amounts of my time in Indian Country. I have been welcomed into the offices and homes of people I didn’t even know six months ago. I have deepened relationships with tribal members that I now consider to be friends, and I have witnessed heartache and joys on levels that I didn’t even know were possible. And what I have learned is that if we want to learn about resilience, if we want to learn about community, if we want to learn about cultural norms, there is no greater way to learn that than by getting out of our offices and walking amongst one another, listening, sharing stories, being present.
Eight years ago, I experienced what only 1% of the population of mothers in the United States experience. My third child died shortly before birth. Grace Susie Bain was stillborn on June 1, 2003. And in that moment, I became a statistic that hardly gets mentioned. I joined a population of women who are hidden from the public as parents because our children were never born living. In fact, in Washington state a parent cannot receive a certificate of birth for a stillborn baby even though that parent is handed a certificate of death.
I tell this story because I have joined a unique population of grieving families whose stories need to be heard more often. We are a different kind of diversity that is often nameless in nature and so I challenge you to look deep within yourself and within your community to discover one another in ways that you didn’t understand previously. Not all diversity, of course, is grief-filled by any means, but grief is another kind of diversity. In fact, I would say boldly that in this country, we have a long ways to go before we even begin to do grief well. And I am here, I hope, as one small voice, to stand up and challenge the way we grieve.
Who are the lost voices in your community? Who are the unsupported voices? When was the last time you could put a face and a name to the population of grantees that you serve? When was the last time you stopped working on your Excel spreadsheet and met a potential grantee for a cup of coffee or a walk through the park? Or even spent large amounts of time with one of the individuals who benefitted from your grant making?
My daughter Grace may have died without ever having taken a breath, but I can honestly say that her life has empowered me to say yes to the world in ways that I never knew were possible before. And I am guessing that there are a multitude of people in my community, that I have yet to meet, that have more to teach me about myself, about giving and receiving, in more ways than I can imagine.
How lucky we are to be in this world where philanthropy exists? I hope that each new day brings greater relational understanding of one another so that I can be better in my work. I cannot think of a better way to spend my life than by being in relationship with others.