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A Call for Change

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D5’s session at COF’s Annual Conference in Chicago, Engaging the Heart and Mind of Philanthropy, was a call for change. A change in how philanthropy thinks about risk.  A change in how philanthropy assumes change happens.  And a change in the rules that govern how philanthropy does its work.

The opening COF panel of mayors focused on the challenges of gun violence; the D5 conversation highlighted the work being done in communities to address this issue and strategies for how philanthropy can play a role.  A distinguished panel of leaders shared stories that were both clear and stark.

Dr. Ted Corbin, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Drexel University, established the gravity of the situation and the urgency for change: It’s been shown that of the young men – mostly men of color – who come to the emergency room in urban areas with gunshot, stabbing and other assault wounds, 40% will be again be victims of intentional injury and 20% will die from another similar assault. The sense of the futility with patching up youth only to send them back into the same dangerous environment led to the creation of the Healing Hurt People program as a means of intervention and prevention.

Professor  Cathy J. Cohen’s research and work with African-American youth, through the Black Youth Project, reflects the importance of placing young people at the center of the solution.  Woods Fund Program Officer and former community organizer, Jay Travis echoed this thought. “It’s more than giving youth a voice, but actually hearing them and engaging them in problem-solving conversations.”

Rev. Michael Pfleger, Senior Pastor of the Faith Community of St. Sabina and founder of the Peacekeeper Basketball league between rival gang members, called for community transformation.  It’s not enough to say, “stop shooting,” or “value life.” We need to value those lives as well and  “think differently” about how we see these young people and what it takes to support changes in both behavior and in community conditions.

Josina Morita, Trustee of the Woods Fund and Executive Director of the United Congress, described her foundation’s work to bring the issue of racial equity into the equation in its own work. That decision grew out the Fund’s long-standing work related to social class once it connected this to dynamics related to racial divisions in the community.

How did the panel feel philanthropy could be a better partner in engaging the community in effective and long-lasting solutions?  Strengthen your internal human resource capacity to be open to leaders who make us feel “comfortable,” draw upon data that allows you to understand and value different kinds of ‘capacity,’ manage the need for esoteric  “frameworks” and take leaps of faith on approaches and people who are putting their lives on the line to make change.

The message was clear: the values that philanthropy chooses to embrace and live by matter.  When diversity, equity, and inclusion are core values for foundations, the impact in communities can save lives.

The session opened with a powerful spoken word video called “Janitor,” by Bobby LeFebre. It speaks to what the session was all about – the importance of understanding and ‘seeing’ the communities that philanthropy is looking to change.

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