You put a Black Lives Matter sign in your window and celebrated Juneteenth. What happens next?
As the protests that swept the country in the wake of George Floyd’s murder begin to wane, we’ve been asking ourselves what we can do to ensure that lasting change comes to America. Like many white people who consider ourselves allies, we marched, we put a “Black Lives Matter” sign in our window, we talked to our family and friends about police brutality and systemic racism and we officially acknowledged Juneteenth by closing our foundation and family offices (a first for us). We wondered aloud why we didn’t learn about the holiday in history class, and then confronted the obvious, yet painful answer to that question.
The reason we’re confessing this is that we bet a lot of white people went to their first Black Lives Matter protest in the last few months and had to look up Juneteenth. And from the looks of the best-seller lists, a whole lot of people are focused on learning more about racism. While our national reckoning is long overdue, we’re glad it’s happening. We hope these conversations continue in the context of the Stanford PACS community and at next year’s summit.
But at the same time, it’s overwhelming. We thought we would be ready for a moment like this. At the foundation we co-founded, we have spent the past several years investing time in learning more about systemic racism and our own privilege. We’ve diversified our team and begun shifting how we operate and who we fund. We’re proud of our progress. And we also know we haven’t done enough. We need to answer the question, “what do we do now?” Our orientation is to learn but the moment requires us to act. And the good news is that the roadmap for action is right there in front of all of us.
Promising signs of change are already emerging across the country and they provide lessons about where philanthropy can do the most good. Cities are scrutinizing budgets and asking what it would really look like to invest in people of color and the systems that truly build strong communities. White people are finally acknowledging what Black and Latinx communities have been saying for years: that policing has disproportionately led to unsafe outcomes where they live and work and we should instead be investing more resources in affordable housing, health equity, and perpetually underfunded schools. While this movement may have been sparked by police violence, it’s already pointing at something much deeper – it’s forcing white people to understand systemic racism and the ways in which it pollutes all the institutions we interact with in our lives.
Our responsibility as philanthropists now is not just to listen and learn, but also to create tangible, systemic change within our spheres of influence. That means looking at the makeup of our executive teams, our boards, and examining our strategies, hiring practices, benefits packages, and asking ourselves hard questions about leadership, who gets to make decisions, and advancement opportunities for Black people. It requires us to support more organizations led by people of color, especially Black and Indigenous Americans. And at a deeper level, if we want to see a more equitable world where communities are resilient and access to opportunity is more widely shared, we cannot continue to prop up a system where wealth flows to those who are already well off, while the harms in our society disproportionately fall on people of color.
While systemic change is a long game, the extraordinary power of this movement is something we must not squander. For some, it’s their first time truly reckoning with the deep rooted inequities in our country and the long-simmering rage, generational pain and damage they cause. For others, it’s a recognition that learning and making incremental changes is necessary but not sufficient. When Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King wrote from a Birmingham jail that, “Justice too long delayed is justice denied,” he wasn’t talking about the openly racist politicians or police officers who had jailed him. He was talking about white people who believe in the cause of justice, but who are willing to settle for “eventually” instead of “now.”
We owe it to each other to finally acknowledge this country’s racist past and act on building a future based on equity. So yes, continue to read and learn and fill in the gaps that our education left when it comes to this country’s racial history. But don’t stop there. That might mean that after we finish reading that article about redlining, we advocate for direct investment in redlined communities and against the forces of gentrification. By all means, join an anti-racist book club, but then, together, work to fight voter suppression. We were heartened to see tens of thousands of people in our hometown of Seattle take to the streets to march for Black lives and to celebrate Juneteenth – many of them white. It feels good to get off the sidelines. But for real, lasting change, we must commit to being in this fight until racial justice is a reality, not just until this moment of mourning, grief, and direct action passes.