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Moving from Outraged Reaction to Committed Response

Moving from Outraged Reaction to Committed Response

As I am confronted with the social upheaval in the wake of the inhumane killing of George Floyd, the most recent in an abhorrent series of unjust deaths and devastated families among Black Americans as a result of systemic racism, it has left me outraged. And heartsick. And determined to make a difference.

As a white person who recognizes that the necessary transformation can only come through a combination of individual and institutional action, I acknowledge the privilege my race confers in our society. This moment requires me to look inward and decide what I stand for, and what more I can do to help bring about a more just and equitable world.

It is predictable that a community foundation would issue a statement condemning – in the strongest possible terms – systemic racism. We do condemn it. It borders on cliché for a leading community institution to call for the elimination of that racism. We call for it. That’s the easy part. Talk is cheap. And cheap talk is part of the reason we’ve arrived at this moment of social reckoning.

We will no longer speak with a careful institutional voice. We’re interested in something much harder than a statement or a social media post. We’re interested in the achievement of the elimination of systemic racism. We’re interested in the rigorous definition, measurement and urgent achievement of it. We’re interested in working with others to build a moonshot strategy for it.

This crisis comes at a moment when the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is re-thinking the entirety of its potential and role in our community, and this moment has turned that fire of passion for the community we so love into an inferno of intention.

My intentionality compels me to actively listen, learn and commit to a deeper understanding of the virulent systemic racism that is in the historic DNA of our society, a scourge whose symptoms are clearly visible if I am courageous enough to take an unflinching look around.

Now is the time we at the Community Foundation seek to move from outraged reaction to a concerted, sustained response. Our shared future demands nothing less. I do not pretend to have all the answers to deep-rooted issues that are inextricably interwoven. It’s going to take all of us, working together. And bringing people together in a unified effort to address the most difficult challenges facing Southwest Florida is the very reason Collaboratory exists.

We recognize that words on paper are meaningless if they’re not backed by concrete action. Philanthropy as an institution is an element of the larger equation of systemic racism, and the Community Foundation had previously begun to examine how our own implicit biases impact our programs and initiatives. In this way, we sought out barriers to equity and have been working to remove them in order to create more equitable processes to guide our impact.

For instance, one of our key cause areas is education and workforce development as a path to elevating individual lives, promoting social mobility and sustaining a resilient economy. As a result, we serve as the backbone for the regional FutureMakers Coalition, a collective-impact initiative working to create cradle-to-career tracks that stretch from early-childhood education to post-high school credential attainment.

When data from those efforts revealed disparities between the benefits to white students and those to Black, Latinx and Hispanic students, we began an ongoing effort to monitor and modify our processes in pursuit of the elimination of inequitable access and outcomes.

Additionally, the recognition of systemic inequities served as a launching point for the FutureMakers’ Equity Action Team, which provides programming and advocacy aimed at eliminating systemic structures throughout Southwest Florida that perpetuate inequitable outcomes for people of color.

Closely linked is the FutureMakers’ Conversation on Structural Racism & Implicit Bias, a monthly workshop led by a diverse team of FutureMakers partners who facilitate crucial and, yes, difficult conversations surrounding systemic racism and implicit bias.

Further, when it comes to our donor scholarship program, we will continue to be intentional in identifying and working to eliminate inequities. It begins with the vigilant monitoring and analysis of our process as we work to achieve an applicant pool that aligns with the region’s student-population demographics and provides opportunity for all.

Because we know that if something is not visible, it is not solvable, such efforts to acknowledge and confront elements of systemic racism within our own institution are critical to our mission of creating positive, sustainable change for every resident of Southwest Florida.

While these efforts to take an honest look at ourselves is a start, we know we must do more, and as in influential organization we must leverage our platform to help propel change. From extending our advocacy of impact-investing that champions social transformation and uplifts marginalized communities, to continuing our efforts to ensure the composition of our Board is racially representative of the region we serve, to furthering initiatives that support equitable outcomes in economic opportunities, education, housing and health care, we can and must help foster a new course.

Complex challenges oftentimes seem overwhelming, and we can be paralyzed into inaction because we don’t know where to start. We can’t let that limit us, because our shared ability to bring about the equitable future we envision for Southwest Florida is unlimited.

The change we seek will not come overnight. It will require a sustained effort. And while I can’t promise I have all the answers, my pledge is that the Community Foundation is in this urgent effort for the long haul.

The march to end systemic racism will be a challenging journey requiring courageous steps, and we are looking for partners and allies to join with us to work toward an equitable future. Because there is no going back.

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About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation

The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created more than 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the Foundation invested $7.7 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $134.9 million, it has provided $85 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. The Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are now located in the historic ACL Train Depot at Collaboratory in downtown Fort Myers, with a satellite office located in LaBelle (Hendry County). For more information, call 239-274-5900 or visit www.floridacommunity.com

 

Sarah Owen
Sarah Owen

Sarah Owen, President & CEO of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, leads a passionate and diverse team dedicated to driving regional change for the common good. The Foundation is committed to engaging the community in conversations and action that creates sustainable positive change and provides the funding to make those changes a reality. More