Promoting Intergenerational Leadership & Racial Justice in Philanthropy

Philanthropy411, is currently covering the Council on Foundations conference with the help of a blog team.  This is a guest post by Sterling Speirn, President and CEO of the WK Kellogg Foundation.

by Sterling Speirn

It was a “hit the ground running” morning yesterday when I joined the national conference of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP) for a panel awesomely choreographed by Daniel Jae-Won Lee, Executive Director of the Levi Strauss Foundation. I wish that I, lo those many years ago when I was entering the field, had been able to hear the stories and passions for social justice that Sherece West, Urvashi Vaid and Sandy Vargas shared with the EPIP conference attendees.  Their good questions asked during the salon covered so much ground.  The event was a perfect example of what Ambassador Jim Joseph urged the Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE) audience last night to promote: more intergenerational leadership programs.  Much more on his amazing talk below.

Promoting racial equity and racial justice was one abiding theme that got started at the EPIP session and kept pulsing all day for me.  Even when my wife Diana and I raced out in the early afternoon to see the Barnes Foundation art collection for one last time at its original home in Merion, PA before it moves downtown next year, the audio tour reminded me that,  “Dr. Albert Barnes had an eclectic sense of aesthetics and a lifelong commitment to equal rights.”  He worked closely with John Dewey, was passionate about democracy and education and believed that “using the arts to educate would help solve the country’s race problem.” Who knew Cezanne and Matisse would be our allies in this work??

Fast forward to the amazing events that unfolded at ABFE’s 40th anniversary – an evening of awards, lecture, reunion and celebration. We see a lot of big city Mayors welcoming us to COF events, but Mayor Michael Nutter took it to a whole new level.  He started by recommending that ABFE change its name to BFCBM, standing for “Black Folks in Charge of a whole Bunch of Money!”

From humor he went straight to the heart, and shared the transformative experience he had as a participant in the emerging leaders program that Jim Joseph created and has been leading for many years now.  This was the crucible of personal renewal that led to his decision to run for Mayor’s seat in Philadelphia.  And in the City of brotherly love—and sisterly affection, he added—this Mayor loves his city.  Among all his achievements, it was inspiring to hear that later this week he would be announcing the creation of the Mayor’s “Commission on African-American Males!”

And then it was truly an historical moment to hear Ambassador Jim Joseph give the Jim Joseph lecture.  All the four intelligences he urged us to develop—emotional, social, moral and spiritual—were portrayed in his remarks.  The history of the creation of ABFE, the values, vision and vitality that the ABFE founders—our honored guests in the front row—cultivated, were framed across three eras: that of confrontation, of competition and collaboration.  The stirring confrontations of the past—from the election in Montreal of five Black trustees to the Board of the Council on Foundations, to the lawsuit filed by the Black United Fund to gain access to the Combined Federal Campaign were stories I had never heard before.  Later the Ambassador would say, “And while confrontation may today be on the back burner, it should never be relegated to the dustbin of history!”   Diversity he said was never meant to be merely the sharing of communal space. “Diversity is the sharing of communal power.”  The advice he gave us was deeply inspirational and I can’t wait to hear his plenary speech at the Council on Foundations conference.

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Posted by Kris Putnam-Walkerly © Kris Putnam-Walkerly and Philanthropy411, 2010.