A social responsibility to build more equitable systems and create opportunities

Like many organizations, our foundation and its team members have been on a diversity, equity and inclusion learning journey. We have been on this journey for many years.

As a philanthropic funder, we are in a unique position to be a leader in influencing the dynamics that combat structural racism. Given this position of influence, I believe we have a heightened responsibility to weave deeper understanding of racial equity and social justice into the breadth of our work.

As president of the foundation, I know I have special responsibility for building my individual capacity to counter racism. In 2015, I participated in my first Racial Equity Institute Groundwater training with colleagues, visiting Durham, North Carolina. It was a pivotal moment, and the discomfort I experienced during the session summoned deep emotion. I considered myself to be enlightened, well-educated and fair, but I learned that day that these issues are complex and entrenched and I had so much more personal work to do.

Since that day, I have continued my journey, mistakenly thinking I was heading to a destination, that all would eventually become clear and I could say I was fully aware and fulfilling my social responsibilities to build more equitable systems and opportunities. After all, I had co-led a Forward Cities inclusive entrepreneurship initiative in Cleveland, helped to diversify the board of the Fund for Our Economic Future and supported the introduction of Racial Equity Institute training in Northeast Ohio.

I now recognize that this journey will never be complete. As Robin DiAngelo says in her book “White Fragility,” “[i]nterrupting the forces of racism is ongoing, lifelong work because the forces conditioning us into racist frameworks are always at play; our learning will never be finished.” Once I fully embraced this notion that ongoing learning and reinforcement would be required, I felt more at peace and better equipped for the journey ahead.

My experiences thus far have made it easier for me to have important conversations. I feel less self-conscious about embarking on a conversation about race and try hard to listen carefully and to understand. I fret less about the specific words I choose, believing that it is more important to have the conversation in the first place. To all my friends and colleagues of color who have been patient and kind, I say thank you.

Not surprisingly, my personal journey is intertwined with that of the foundation. This spring, our board expressed a desire to expand beyond inclusive entrepreneurship grantmaking and enhance our organizational competencies through grants focused on racial equity. Recently, our team tackled a group read and discussion of an essay that grapples with race and inclusion facilitated by [email protected]

We read the essay “Dragon Slayers” by Jerald Walker, focusing mainly on the strength of the Black community and less on the oppression that brought our society to this place. This experience provided one more powerful step in our intentional journey to better understand how our organization can influence decisions and practices that will end structural racism. Our journey continues.

Deborah D. Hoover is president and CEO of The Burton D. Morgan Foundation