Expanding opportunities in America’s cities
Speeches

It is a deeply peculiar form of crazy that would lead one to speak to the same themes that Darren (Walker, President, Ford Foundation, a previous speaker), Angela's panel (Glover Blackwell, CEO of PolicyLink) and Bob (Dr. Robert K. Ross, President and CEO, The California Endowment) have addressed today with such insight, elegance and passion. So I’m not going to do that.

I’m going to talk about equality, equity and inclusion, to be sure. But I’d like to bring those constructs to ground – to talk about some of the complexities, tensions and institutional hazards that can accompany the application of these values to the realities of daily community life.

And I’ll approach this through the lens of Kresge’s experiences in Detroit.

I’m accordingly going to ask that you suspend a very natural inclination to tune out – to conclude that neither a large national foundation like Kresge nor a posterchild of municipal devastation like Detroit has any relevance to your work.

I’ll ask that of you because the challenges that Detroit faces – whether corrosive economic segregation and urban disinvestment, proliferating blight, increasingly brittle racial polarization, yawning health and educational disparities along racial and class lines, or others – are present to varying degrees in cities all across the country. 

And I’ll ask it of you because the philanthropic roles Kresge took on are not so different from the roles philanthropy in Southern California may need to play, even taking into account the differences we may have in mission, chosen strategies, governance structures or geographic focus.

So I’ll divide my remarks into three parts:

  • First, some context – the situation that shaped Kresge’s determination to pursue a different course in Detroit over the last decade.
  • Second, some observations about philanthropic role.
  • And third, a description of obstacles we’ve encountered.

Robert Kennedy once told an audience: “My job is to give this speech. Your job is to listen to it. If you finish your job before I finish mine, please let me know.” Same rule this afternoon.

 

I. The Context for a New Philanthropic Role in Detroit

Seven years ago, Detroit was drawn into the vortex of a storm of unimaginable proportions and severity. The Great Recession knocked an already fragile economy to its knees; the housing foreclosure crisis crushed the economic and emotional lives of countless families; the automobile industry stared into the abyss of corporate bankruptcies; an all-consuming corruption scandal landed a charismatic, popular mayor and scores of his co-conspirators in jail.

The collision of these near-death experiences exposed and widened the underlying fault lines that had already made Detroit synonymous with urban devastation, dysfunction and despair. The city narrative read like a municipal obituary.

Indeed, much of the nation appeared to embrace the insidious proposition that equity and justice simply were not possible in Detroit.

That wasn’t the way that the residents of Detroit saw it. Please forgive the cliché, but Detroit was able to draw on an unusually deep mother lode of resilience. Maybe it grew from the great fire of 1805, when Detroiters came together to rebuild their homes and businesses, birthing their motto: “We hope for better things; it shall rise from the ashes.” It was an act of civic defiance against the destructive power of nature and humanity – a marker of collective resolve.

The question was whether the city was capable of summoning the same resolve some 200 years later – whether it had the imagination, courage and discipline to extract from a challenge of this magnitude the hidden possibilities for equally momentous change and potential transformation.

With the private sector in its bunkers, the public sector in jail and the nonprofit sector hanging on by a thread, it fell to philanthropy and Detroit residents to offer an answer.

Let me be really clear, however. Philanthropy stepping forward would be an unnatural act. Foundations working in Detroit had long believed that they led best by preserving their mantle of neutrality and avoiding stirring up a fuss. In the immortal words of Adlai Stevenson: “It’s hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse.” And Detroit philanthropy did indeed think that it looked funny on a horse.

We had to get over it. We could no longer sit at the margins, hoping that our good intentions and charitable impulses would help the community slide through tough times.

One way to start was by getting clear about what kind of civic future we sought and what role we were prepared to play in order to help get there – the “vision” thing.

It’s easy for a concept like community vision to become trivialized, coated in a perfume of aspirational rhetoric. But the absence of that kind of vision had been utterly debilitating in Detroit. Without it, residents had no rational basis to hope that life for their children would be better. Without it, investors couldn’t justify taking deep risks. Without it, a new federal administration that genuinely wanted to help was befuddled about how it could.

And without it, my board at Kresge struggled to see what we could or should invest in that would make any difference in the life conditions for community residents.

It struck me that we had far more to work with than might have been apparent. So I sat down one Saturday and created a visual depiction of the efforts underway in the city that were being led by philanthropy, that were backed by real capital and that held the promise of taking root over the longer-term:

  • From creating a streetcar line along the city’s main avenue to creating supports for entrepreneurs and small businesses;
  • From drawing our anchor education and health institutions into closer relationship with their surrounding community to fostering a more robust arts and cultural ecology;
  • From creating a land-use framework to address blight to creating a monthly forum for aligning neighborhood investments among banks, foundations, public agencies and nonprofit intermediaries.

Called “Reimagining Detroit 2020,” the framework suggested a discernable, coherent and investible scaffolding that just might be sufficiently sturdy and durable to bridge to a time in which the public and private sectors could resume their rightful roles. 

 

II. Four Roles Philanthropy Played in Detroit

But it was one thing for one foundation to develop a framework for thinking about the future and quite another to foster mutual ownership of it by others – and quite another altogether to create shared energy behind its operationalization. But we were able to do that for three reasons:

  • First, the framework was derivative of the energies of multiple civic actors, not an assertion of Kresge’s will.
  • Second, every element of the framework sought – directly or indirectly – to advance equity and inclusion by strengthening the opportunity structures for Detroit residents.  
  • Third, the framework carried with it implicit assumptions about the roles that philanthropy could play in helping the city get back on its feet. Let me turn to a description of four of those roles.

1. Helping Set the Table

The first role we chose to play was to help set the table for discussions about some of the city’s most difficult, politically charged forms of inequality.

The circumstances demanded penetrating and courageous discussion about the historically intractable, and stubbornly perpetual, structural impediments to equality in Detroit. And those discussions had to be linked to tangible actions.

Nowhere was this truer than in the city’s inability to agree on how to reverse the spread of blighted and abandoned land. Of the city’s 380,000 individual land parcels, more than 75,000 are vacant or blighted – a landmass the size of San Francisco.

Not only did the Dresden-like images so favored by national photojournalistic essays make the task of reclamation seem impossible, but the blight created a poisonous concoction of danger, health risks and economic instability that was a scourge on neighborhood life.

And it was compounded by population decline. Detroit’s population – once some 2 million residents – had fallen to 700,000 people, distributed over 140 square miles – a mass that could hold San Francisco, Boston and Manhattan, with room left over for St. Paul. There is simply not enough tax base to spread high-quality municipal services equally across that expanse.

The combination of blight and depopulation led Mayor-elect Dave Bing to announce in 2009 his intention to, in effect, shrink the city’s footprint by developing a master plan that would concentrate city services in still-healthy neighborhoods. The reaction was scorching – many residents were livid at the thought that they could find themselves in neighborhoods deprived of basic services, or that they might be forced to move.

Realizing that he had stepped on a political third rail, the mayor asked Kresge if we would help. We agreed, provided that robust community engagement become the essential predicate of the planning process.

We then asked one of the nation’s foremost urban planners, Toni Griffin, to lead the technical part of the process, assembling a half-dozen teams to assess the city’s natural conditions, promising employment hubs, transit patterns, housing conditions, potential areas for blue-green infrastructure or urban farming, and the like.

The key was to interweave the two strands, with the technical analyses feeding into the community engagement process, and community perspectives helping determine the questions being asked by the technical teams.

It was a labor-intensive, but highly virtuous, loop. We called on every conceivable method to draw on community experience, values, and wisdom: from social media and internet-based tools to targeted canvassing and door-knocking; from mass phone mobilization to intimate gatherings in people’s homes and places of worship. The process eventually actively involved more than 100,000 residents, businesses and other stakeholders.

But the more we moved down the track, the more apprehensive the mayor’s office became about losing control. They began undermining the consultant teams by refusing meetings and withholding information. They cast aspersions on the public-engagement process. And on and on. We ended up suspending the process for 11 months, starting up again only after we transferred its stewardship from the city to a community-based steering group.

Despite the snags and skirmishes, we were able to produce Detroit Future City, a 400-page decision-making framework for every dimension of community life.

At the plan’s unveiling, one of the community co-chairs termed it “the People’s Plan” – remarking that residents had, for the first time in memory, been drawn meaningfully into a public decision-making process, infusing the result with legitimacy and staying power. When Mayor Mike Duggan took office a year later, his administration placed the plan at the core of its efforts to stabilize and rebuild the health of Detroit neighborhoods.

2. Engaging Private Markets

Let me turn to the second role we played: using the full complement of our toolbox to encourage private markets to return to Detroit.

Much of philanthropy’s work is focused on places and circumstances where the market has failed low-income people: starving neighborhoods of jobs that pay a living wage; creating food deserts; declining to provide the capital necessary for neighborhood businesses to survive and grow or otherwise leaving individuals unattended at the economic margins.

And yet, philanthropy struggles with how to influence the market. Economic development is not in most foundations’ wheelhouse. It implicates profoundly complex investment and financial expertise. It’s a very long-term game. So at the end of the day, we resort to either doing unsustainable work-arounds or trying to apply Band-Aids to the most egregious expressions of market malfunction or neglect.

But we concluded in Detroit that we had to wade into the pool and test leverage points that might draw markets back into the city – but in a way that advanced inclusive growth and equitable opportunity.

We began by focusing on small business development.

For the better part of a century, Detroit has been an economic monoculture – with a command-and-control automobile industry telegraphing precisely stipulated production requirements into every nook and cranny of its vast supply chain. Innovation and creativity were everywhere, but entrepreneurship was in scant supply – or, at least since 1903.

Susan Beresford of the Ford Foundation boldly suggested in 2007 that philanthropy create a $100 million fund to help develop an entrepreneurial infrastructure in Southeast Michigan. Ten foundations signed up, with Kresge, Ford and Kellogg each making lead gifts of $25 million. Called the New Economy Initiative, the effort sough to create the supports that small businesses in the city needed in order to get started and grow: technical assistance, mentoring and networking opportunities, early stage capital, affordable space, and many others.

The effort started in motion a flywheel of small-business growth that is increasingly radiating to all corners of the city: an arts, culture and restaurant corridor giving renewed life to Detroit’s historic Avenue of Fashion; a proliferation of maker spaces providing residents of all ages and backgrounds with the tools, materials and spaces required  to make stuff - our of metal, or wood, or three-dimensional printers... The animiation of neighborhood life with quality-of-life businesses like barber shops, dress stores, bakeries and urban farms.

The explosion of small businesses in Detroit has not only dramatically diversified the city’s economy, but has also enabled countless families to build assets, attracted thousands of new jobs into neighborhoods, and stabilized commercial corridors vital to neighborhood identity and safety.

The second way we took aim at markets was to use social investment tools in key redevelopment transactions.

Until just recently, the most elementary financial equation didn’t pencil out in Detroit. Returns for residential and commercial projects were insufficient to offset the costs. 

We turned to philanthropic social investment capital, grants, below-market loans, loan guarentees, deposits into community development finance institutions - to peel away the top-layer of risk for market-rate lenders. We needed to make it safe for them to invest in proof points. And we needed enough of those proof points to begin bending the financial viability curve.  

It has worked. More and more mixed-use, mixed-income projects are coming on-line, demonstrating to investors that they can obstain a return on their investment independent of philanthropic capital. 

The trick is, of course, how to ensure that this engagement with private markets – whether small businesses or mixed-use residential – inures to the benefits of Detroit residents. Trickle-down is not an equity strategy. We're working hard to put bumper rails in place to guarantee that the each of these moves is genuinely inclusive. 

3. Investing in Physical Infrastructure

Let me turn then to the third role we chose to play in addressing equity and opportunity: concentrating resources on rebuilding the city’s physical infrastructure.

Detroiters, like residents of any city, attach to a place with an emotional energy and a sense of long-term commitment that defines how individual identity is formed, how collective norms are constructed, how informal networks of social support are forged, how the imperatives of inclusion are honored.

Kresge believed that investing in key public infrastructure projects could trigger the transformative power of places to create the map for vibrant, equitable civic life.[1] 

  • We committed the first $50 million to the $300 million reclamation of the Detroit Riverfront, which has become a deeply beloved front-porch for city residents.
  • We converted a soulless traffic intersection into Campus Martius Park, whose human-scale and flexible programming introduced a vibrant heartbeat to downtown life.
  • We spurred the revitalization of the century-old Eastern Market, repositioning it as the regional food hub for the city’s more than 1,000 community gardens and neighborhood markets.
  • We invested in scores of neighborhood projects to repurpose blighted and abandoned properties, renovate parks or reclaim other community assets.

But among all our investments in the built and natural environments, the most ambitious by far was our effort to create a light rail line to run along the city’s major artery, Woodward Avenue.

In a city in which more than 30 percent of residents don’t own a car, it is hard to imagine a policy that has more profoundly slammed the door on economic opportunity than the absence of a coherent, comprehensive public regional transit system capable of connecting city residents to suburban job and service centers. Eight years ago, Kresge and a handful of private sector leaders decided to try to dismantle these obstacles by planning, financing, constructing and then turning over to a public transit authority a streetcar that would be the first leg of an inter-braided regional transit system.

It would cost $150 million.  Kresge committed the first $50 million – conditioned on the private sector and federal government providing the balance. One would have thought that from the public sector’s perspective, this would be a welcome solution to a shameful, irresolvable problem. 

Not.

Conjure any conceivable obstacle the public sector could throw up - and then multiply that by seven - and you get the picutre. The City of Detroit insisted on controlling the design, even though it was the wrong design and even though the City didn't have any money to pay for it. The Federal Transit Administration couldn't figure out how to adapt its rules to a private-philanthropic consortium that didn't fit into its normal regulatory protocols. The State legislation authroizing the requisite regional transit authority was riddled with trip-wires. 

But the philanthropic/private sector consortium called on every piece of political, financial and personal capital it possessed to navigate the project to final approval. And it worked. The line will open next month.

4. Placing Big Bets

The fourth role we played was to take risks commensurate with the magnitude of the challenges the city faced.

Each of the examples we’ve discussed – Detroit Future City, the New Economy Initiative, the light-rail line – called on philanthropy to take big bets in pursuit of equity and opportunity. It became part of our operating code. But it was the role the foundation community played in the resolution of Detroit’s bankruptcy that tore most sharply at the outer limits of philanthropy’s risk-envelope.

The Detroit bankruptcy filing in 2013 was the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history, with some $18 billion of debt in play. There appeared to be two roads to solvency.

The first was to reduce the benefits of the city’s thousands of retirees by as much as 60 percent. The average general pension was $20,000, so they would have to live on $8,000 a year. As despicable as this was, the creditors were deadly serious about it - they were prepared to go to any length to see that their bonds or loans were repaid. 

The second option was to conduct a fire sale of the only real city asset of significance – the city-owned collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts. Better than reducing retirement benefits? That was certainly an argument the pensioners made. But it would have dismantled the crown jewel of Detroit’s cultural patrimony – and would have, by violating every deaccessioning convention of the art world, made the museum a pariah.

To take either road would have catapulted Detroit into a death spiral of unspeakably brutal, no-win lawsuits – litigating for a decade either the State of Michigan’s constitutional guarantee of the inviolability of pensions or the sanctity of an art collection that was arguably held in public trust. The city would not have survived in any recognizable form.

Who knew Woody Allen had this dilemma in mind when he observed: “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to...utter hopelessness; the other, to total [devastation]...Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

Well, we did.  The choice we made was called the Grand Bargain, in which the foundation community led by Kresge and Ford created a $370 million fund, supplemented by $350 million from the State and $100 million from the art institute. The fund essentially purchased the DIA collection from the city, converted the museum into independent nonprofit status and used the proceeds to safeguard the pensioners against substantial cuts in their retirement benefits.

Philanthropy’s risk capital made it possible to conclude the bankruptcy consensually and at light speed – within a year. In a word, we calibrated our risk tolerance not against fine-tuned program priorities, but against the daunting aspiration of returning one of America’s emblematic cities to its rightful position of greatness. It was a risk commensurate with the magnitude of the challenge.

III. Three Challenges We Faced

Yogi Berra once observed, “Even Napoleon had his Watergate.” Now I have no idea what that means, but I’m inclined to think that it probably constitutes a warning of sorts to the hazards of philanthropy’s role in Detroit. I’ve touched on some of the turbulence we encountered along the way, but let me be more explicit by highlighting three concrete challenges we encountered.

Turbulence 1: Where’s Your Election Certificate?

The first set of challenges might be termed “Where’s your election certificate?”

Throughout the last eight years, Kresge has been called to task for its lack of accountability and for swimming outside its lane. And from pretty much every direction.

Certainly from some Detroit residents. At one public forum, for example, I was booed when describing our role in the bankruptcy – how could we justify, one audience member asked, being complicit with a bankruptcy process that effectively disenfranchised Detroit citizens?

Similarly, any number of national commentators accused Kresge of acting like a private legislature or shadow government, free from accountability.

Perhaps the most painful example was a lengthy, front-page piece in the Wall Street Journal under a tabloid-worthy headline: “Revival Bid Pits Detroit vs. Donor.” It opened by saying:

“There’s a new driver grabbing the wheel in the Motor City. He’s not an elected official, or a local business titan. He’s not even a Detroiter. He’s Rip Rapson, president of the $3.1 billion Kresge Foundation.”

You can probably guess where the next thousands of words of copy went from there: white versus black; suburban versus urban; rich versus poor; politically immune versus publically accountable. It was exceptionally painful.

Indeed, the article suggested just how difficult it was to build an arm’s-length relationship with a public sector that jealously guarded against any encroachment on its turf – loathe to create the impression that it had failed to do its job, defaulting to a foundation to bail it out.  

So what’s the answer? A couple of thoughts.

First, private philanthropy cannot feign a false neutrality on issues we care about – even if that moves us into the traditional lanes of public decision-making. We don’t check our values at the door. As the inimitable Larry Kramer at Hewlett said: “What’s the point of being unaccountable if we don’t use it?”

Second, we have to create our own facsmilie of accountablilty by being utterly transparent. After the Wall Street Journal article appeared, the head of a national community development organization wrote me:

“While you were probably a bit uncomfortable with the Journal making it [personal], the presentation offered a much clearer picture than one usually gets of the complexity of history, politics and personalities that make Detroit the city that it is today. Thanks for being the tool here.”

And third, civic roles have to be fluid in teh face of changes in a city's social, eonomic, and political calculus. Kresge's role in Detroit contributed to, and was symptomatic of, a broader recalibration of civic leadership roles. The result was a powerful form of distributive leadership: different players exercising different forms of leadership in differing weights against different problem sets – all tied to the demands of continually evolving circumstances.

Turbulence 2: The Insider-Outsider Polarity

The second area of turbulence we encountered was the fear that philanthropy was elevating new arrivals to Detroit over long-time residents.

The tension over “outsiders” has taken a couple of interrelated forms:

  • First, as economic vitality began to return to the downtown business district and Midtown, Kresge increasingly heard the criticism that philanthropy was investing in these geographies at the expense of the neighborhoods.
  • Second, and in a related vein, as young people began moving in greater numbers to Detroit to start businesses, participate in an exploding arts and culture scene or otherwise contribute to the emergent energies of the city’s renewal, we heard with increasing frequency from long-time residents that philanthropy was elevating the needs of young, white, hipster newcomers over the needs of long-time African-American neighborhood residents. [2]  
  • Third, as philanthropy ramped up its support of civic capacity in a variety of forms – for example, using national talent searches to build out a neighborhood fellowship program, importing community lending capacity, or using national consultants for key projects – we heard objections that we were devaluing the pre-existing talent base – not giving a fair shake to residents who had been laboring for generations on behalf of the city.

The reality on each front is nuanced and complicated. Philanthropy invested heavily in neighborhoods even as it was supporting the renewal of the city core. A great number of the young people coming to Detroit were people of color, and a significant number were former Detroiters returning to make a contribution to their hometown. There was enormous value in attracting fresh outside perspective that  supplemented and elevated the dignity and power of received culture, identity, talent and commitment.

But it was, and is, an extremely sensitive and legitimate issue. The truth is that Detroit needed, and needs, both the insiders and the outsiders.

From a technical, problem-solving perspective, the scope and complexity of challenges staring Detroit in the face in 2009 quite simply outstripped its capacity – the capacity of any city probably – to smash through the wall of ossified attitudes, behaviors and policies that impeded innovation. That wasn’t an indictment of people who were in place working to make things better, but instead an acknowledgement of the unprecedented aggregate level of human ingenuity, skill and persistence that would be necessary to move to different ground.

From a cultural perspective, the trick was – is – to differentiate between a legitimate critique and a resistant energy predisposed to distrust outsiders in a blind determination to go it alone. I’d like to believe that we are striking a balance – creating a propelling, vitalizing energy that calls on all those with a passion for the future of the city to come to the table and create new civic synapses of imagination, hope, inclusion, efficacy and justice.

Turbulence 3: Race and Privilege

The third source of turbulence we’ve encountered is the dynamic of race, privilege and power. These issues are, of course, inextricably interwoven with the first two challenges, but have a separate weight on the philanthropic scale.

At a meeting I had with Detroit’s Baptist pastors, one pointedly remarked: “I respect that you believe you’re doing the right thing, the good thing, but my congregants weren’t consulted, and they’re the ones whose lives are affected by your decisions. How can a white man based in the suburbs using a dead man’s money substitute his judgment for the judgment of a single mother in Brightmoor?”

Such a forceful articulation of the perils of philanthropic power and privilege was – and should always be – a wake-up call.[3] We’ve tried at Kresge to respond in a variety of ways:

  • First, we’ve sought to build a diverse board and a diverse staff. Full stop. There is no substitute.
  • Second, we have encouraged our staff to have direct connection to the communities they serve – as residents, through social or faith-based networks or otherwise. Empathy is not the same as lived experience.
  • Third, we have made a commitment to continuing, explicit conversations within the foundation about race, privilege and power to help us excavate how our conscious and unconscious biases affect our personal and institutional judgments.
  • Fourth, we’ve sought to listen, and then listen some more. One has to start from a place of bearing witness[4] – whether through unsolicited feedback or formal community-engagement process. Listen before trying to make yourself understood, and then use the foundation’s standing to amplify and valorize the voices you hear.
  • Fifth, we’ve attempted to design meaningful ways of sharing power. It’s one thing to ask the community for ideas and quite another to invite residents into the sacred sanctum of decision-making. The latter is messy and often uncomfortable, particularly for those accustomed to maintaining a firm grip on how resources are allocated. But if conceived less as a relinquishment of power than as a new form of shared responsibility, it is not quite so unsettling.[5]

Conclusion

As I think about what passes for our nation’s public policy environment, I can’t shake the image of anesthetic wearing off following a serious operation – that we’re awakening to the realization that something is profoundly different, and risks being irretrievably lost. The notion that we are one nation, that we are bound by a commitment to the common good.

That’s why this convening is so terribly important. We need to set our sights against the horizon line of equality and chart our course by the currents of opportunity.

We start with the imperative of clarifying, amplifying and standing by the values that guide our work. For Kresge, it would be easy to stop at the proposition that we stand for urban opportunity. But it’s more complicated than that. Beyond our strategies, beyond our toolbox, what values animate how we behave inside our building and outside our walls?

I tried to take a stab at that question the morning after the election when I shared with the Kresge staff the following statement:

  • We stand for the elevation of our shared destiny, not for an invidiously corrosive social, economic and political ethic that enshrines individualism and self-advancement as the ultimate public virtue.
  • We stand for deep, abiding, authentic respect for one another’s worth and decency, not for a denigration and marginalization – indeed demonization – of those whose skin pigment, physical conditions, sexual orientation, gender or faith differs from our own.
  • We stand for the benefits of working in true partnership with individuals and organizations allied in common purpose for the advancement of the public good and the promotion of structures of mutual assistance, not for a hunkering down into silos of fear that attempt to deny the forces of equity and social change and wall off compassion for the less fortunate.
  • We stand for the imperative of a creative problem-solving that calls on community wisdom, intergenerational exchange and principled disagreement, not for the false comfort of facile judgments about complex, interconnected problems or the bombastic certitude of rhetorical hyperbole.
  • And we stand for opportunity structures that dismantle, and substitute for, the persistent and pervasive racial, economic and political barriers that so shamefully impede pathways to equality and justice for low-income people and people of color, not or the enshrinement of those barriers in public policy and the perpetuation of racial and ethnic division.

These may not be your values, but whatever those values are, be clear about them, stand by them, let them drive your behaviors.

If we all do that, individually and collectively, I believe that the people in this audience can be instrumental in shape-shifting the volatile, uncertain, chaotic and ambiguous landscape we confront into a landscape of equity and inclusion, of justice and opportunity.

That will require a healthy dose of optimism – even idealism – words that may sound quaint in the coarseness of the current political environment. But, under the circumstances, to be anything other than an optimist, anything other than an idealist, strikes me as a profoundly unproductive use of our time.

As Darren Walker said this morning, in Los Angeles, we see the embrace of the future. 

And as Manuel Pastore reminded us, we have the responsibility to get this right. 

So keep at it. Continue to lead, to inspire, to challenge, to uplift. We’re counting on you. 

Thank you for listening so very patiently, and good luck.

 

[1]Essayist and author Rebecca Solnit has observed: “Places matter. Their rules, their scale, their design include or exclude civil society, pedestrianism, equality, diversity (economic and otherwise). They map our lives” Solnit, Rebecca, Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics, p. 9 (University of California Press, Berkley: 2007).

[2]One resident leader observed: “From watching other parts of the city undergo redevelopment, there seems to be an unspoken association between making things ‘better’ and making things White.” Hood, Lauren, “Detroit needs to preserve the cultural integrity of its black neighborhoods.” Model D, February 11, 2017: http://www.modeldmedia.com/features/black-space-detroit-020717.aspx. Ms. Hood observes: “[Displacement] is not always about the physical. It’s entirely possible to be present and still feel, in a place that you could once claim as your own, completely disregarded and unwelcomed. . .. Detroit needs not just places, but whole neighborhoods, where black people feel welcome – it’s essential to our emotional and mental well-being.”

[3]With his customary eloquence, Darren has observed that we can’t remain ignorant of the power of our privilege or the privilege of our power: “The paradox of privilege is that it shields us from fully experiencing or acknowledging inequality, even while giving us more power to do something about it. So, privilege allied with ignorance has become an equally pernicious, and perhaps more pervasive, enemy to justice.” Walker, Darren, “Ignorance is the Enemy Within: On the Power of our Privilege and the Privilege of our Power.” Ford Foundation Equals Change, September 12, 2017. https://www.fordfound.org/ideas/equals-change-blog/posts/ignorance-is-the-eneemy-within-on-the power-of-our-privilege-and-the-privilege-of-our-power/.

[4]Grant Oliphant, the president of the Heinz Endowments, made this observation in the Drawing on Detroit forum at USC last year.

[5]David Dodson, the president of MDC in Raleigh, relayed to me a definition of philanthropy he was offered by Ruth Shack, the long-serving president of the Miami Foundation: “Philanthropy is the act of knowing my community intimately and responding with affection.”