As we reflect on the events that have captured the nation’s attention the past couple of weeks, the Forum will continue to speak up and speak out about the current affairs of this country and the injustices that have continued to take place, many times at the expense of African American lives.
Every day for the past week or so, we have seen protests from around the world. From Minnesota to New Zealand, people are crying out to be heard, after being ignored for far too long. Specifically, Black people in America are tired, exhausted, and fed up.
The history of this nation is littered with these moments, Watts in 1965, protests in response to the assassination of Dr. King in 1968, protests in response to the Rodney King beating and subsequent acquittal of police in 1992 (preceded by the murder of Latasha Harlins in 1991), and now we are seeing a response to the many murders that have taken place in just the last five to six years in this country, many at the hands of law enforcement (Eric Garner in 2014, Laquan McDonald in 2014, Tamir Rice in 2014, Sandra Bland in 2015, Walter Scott in 2015, Philando Castile in 2016, Breonna Taylor in 2020, and George Floyd in 2020...and that’s just to name a few).
A recent news article states:
“Unsurprisingly, the three largest states - California, Texas and Florida - have the highest total number of killings of Black people by police officers. Once these figures are adjusted for the population size and demographics, in nearly every state, African Americans face a significantly higher risk of being killed by police officers than white Americans.
In Utah, African Americans comprise just 1.06 percent of the population but they accounted for 10 percent of police killings over the past seven years - a disproportional rate of 9.21 times. In Minnesota, Black Americans are nearly four times as likely to be killed by law enforcement, with Black victims comprising 20 percent of those killed, despite comprising only 5 percent of the overall population.“
This is a defining moment in our nation’s history and the questions before us now are crystal clear: How can philanthropy help right these wrongs? Where do we want to be in this defining moment, on the sidelines or in the game? I argue the latter. And while there are some in our sector who have been doing the work for a long time, the time has come for all of us to suit up and get in the game so that we may institute real, systemic change.
To me, that change starts with public policy and advocacy.
Some sectors are already taking action. For example, earlier this week the CEO of AT&T called on fellow CEOs to “advocate for policy changes that work toward racial justice.” He went on to say: “We owe it to [African Americans] to make sure that we’re speaking to this, that we’re asking our policy makers to step up, that we’re asking our political leaders to step up and recognize and just say it: We’ve got a problem.” Likewise, The Business Roundtable is making a similar call for civic action. Philanthropy must do the same AND see it through.
In the same vein of the AT&T CEO, and as a Black man and public policy leader in this space, I am calling upon our members and partners in public policy across the country to join with the Forum as we seek viable ways to impact social justice change via public policy. As the Forum seeks to partner with others in that work, I ask that you do so too and commit to using our collective voices to cultivate the change we seek.
What Does Public Policy Change Look Like?
Philanthropy cannot remain silent in the face of racial injustice. We must use our privilege and platform to stand in complete solidarity with the Black Community and use our voices, resources, and influence to impact a reform agenda that puts an end to social injustice, police brutality, and systematic/structural racism.
To that end, this won’t be easy. We must plan, strategize, advocate, and mobilize. We must actively seek to work with member and colleague organizations leading on issues like these, and learn how to approach this work effectively and intentionally, internally and externally.
We will do everything we can to support the work of our members who have been less engaged in advocacy and public policy in the past because this is a moment for all of us to lean into this work.
The Forum has sought to use an equity lens to guide our work in public policy. While we will continue to do so, going forward we recognize that we need to be more explicit in our approach to racial equity, by spelling out specifics in our work and public policy agenda. We look forward to engaging with you, our members, our Public Policy Committee, Board and national partners as we devise a way forward.
This is just the beginning, let’s get to work!
Matthew L. Evans
Director of Public Policy
United Philanthropy Forum
Follow me @_MLEvans