In troubling times, a renewed commitment to equity

May 29, 2020

Editor’s Note: Boston Foundation President and CEO Paul Grogan shared thoughts on current events around the country with TBF staff on May 28. It is reprinted here.

These are troubling times.

This week, we reached a grim milestone: More than 100,000 of our fellow Americans have now lost their lives to COVID-19 and a disproportionate percentage of the victims are from communities of color. At the same time, the nation is transfixed by three videos—from suburban Georgia, Minneapolis and New York’s Central Park—that portray racism and racist violence on a more intimate, brutal scale, that has left Black men dead in Georgia and Minneapolis, and sparked a chain of events that could have escalated into a dangerous incident with a third man in New York’s Central Park.

These stories differ in scale, but they share a troubling common thread. They are all sobering reminders that, even as we and millions of others across this country work to highlight and address the inequities in our society, inequity and the racism clearly are at the root of these vicious, inhumane acts.

Many years ago, we created a Values Statement for the Boston Foundation: “In everything we do, we seek to broaden participation, foster collaboration and heal racial, ethnic and community divisions.” I still believe in those values, but at a time when Black men like George Floyd are being killed by police, when Ahmaud Arbery is chased down and killed on video with no charges filed against the perpetrators for months, when Latinos and immigrants are being deprived of basic legal rights, and Asian Americans are being scapegoated for a global pandemic, it is hard to see hope and progress through the hatred and violence.

But progress is taking place. Last week, in a webinar with Boston leaders, including Tanisha Sullivan, Esq., President of the NAACP’s Boston Branch, and Michelle Wu, a member of the Boston City Council, I reminded people about how far Boston has come. In the 1970s, our city came close to full-on race riots at Carson Beach at a time when the city was ravaged by blight and devoid of hope. Progress is uneven, and cruelly inconsistent, but it is taking place.  That doesn’t mean that we should accept the status quo.

There is no single answer, no panacea that can fix the anger, frustration, or despair that we feel during times like these. I am writing to let you know how troubled I am by the emotional and psychic toll of these events.  You are not alone in feeling their impact. The fact that we are forced by the pandemic to work in separate spaces at a time like this adds to the feeling of isolation, but none of us are truly alone in our feelings or our desire to address the underlying issues that have led us to today.

What can we do as a community foundation?  I have reached out to R.T. Ryback, the former Mayor of Minneapolis (who now leads the Minneapolis Foundation), to offer our support.  We will continue to use a racial equity lens in our COVID-19-related grantmaking, as well as in all of our programmatic work.  We will continue to commission, produce and publish research that exposes the severe racial disparities in health, wealth, education, law and political representation, and support bold policy agendas to address those disparities. We will also continue the Boston Foundation’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) work with an even stronger conviction and dedication.  Most of all, as individuals, as community residents who love this city and this country, we will continue to be there for our brothers and sisters, as a community of residents who love this city and this country—and who passionately believe in social justice.