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Philanthropy Must Respond Forcefully to Charlottesville

From the President

There is no moral ambiguity about the intentionally provocative, hatefully motivated, racist, and violent behavior ignited by white supremacists last week in Charlottesville. These acts of domestic terrorism not only denigrate, but threaten to undermine, the values that men and women have been fighting for since the signing of the Declaration of Independence and that define us as a people. They are acts that – if tolerated in any form – rip apart the sinews of our collective identity and higher aspirations. They are acts that no American can sidestep, minimize, or deflect – let alone a President. In this moment, institutions and individuals of conscience must articulate their values with force and clarity.

Philanthropy shares in that responsibility. In all of its permutations, philanthropy carries an obligation by virtue of its privileged position to attack the pervasive and stubbornly persistent racial, economic, social, and political barriers that impede the full realization of our democratic norms and values – and, in particular, to root out the abhorrent tendrils of racism, bigotry, and white supremacy that refuse to release their grip on our nation.

Kresge signaled last fall our intention to actively embrace our part of that responsibility, creating a $3 million Opportunity Fund and expanding our Presidential Discretionary Fund to respond to the current political and social moment. The Opportunity Fund, led by our Vice President of Programs Ari Simon, is investing in activities designed to safeguard civility and decency, advance civil rights, counteract hate, support immigrant and refugee communities, and provide legal support to underserved communities.

Our investments thus far have included support for the Vera Institute of Justice’s efforts to improve our justice system, the Justice for All Project led by the National Center for State Courts, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s anti-hate work, and the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services’ community capacity-building programs. We will soon announce several millions of dollars of new grants to a range of organizations and initiatives engaged in similar work.

ACCESS at Women's March
ACCESS is one of the organizations supported by Kresge’s Opportunity Fund.

The employees of these organizations, together with countless others in the nonprofit sector, stand at the front lines of resistance to the kind of threats, attacks, and potential for long-term corrosion we have witnessed in Charlottesville. We are proud of their organizational courage and integrity. It is their work that breathes life into Kresge’s mission of promoting upward mobility and economic opportunity for those who live in America’s cities.

The events in Charlottesville remind us once again – as we have been reminded with altogether too great a frequency over the last many months – that every sector of society must recalibrate what it means to be vigilant in protection of our nation’s sacred values: equality and justice, respect and tolerance, opportunity and mutual assistance, commitment to the common good.

It is accordingly reassuring that scores of leaders from the private, public, and civic sectors have done so, calling these acts for what they are and for the menace they present to our democracy. They have chosen to lead, not to evade. They have opted to disavow, not to resort to indefensibly spurious articulations of moral equivalency between neo-Nazis and those who challenge their bigotry and hatred. They have decided to put the full weight of their personal and institutional legitimacy behind extinguishing invidious nascent energies of racial violence, not to take refuge in equivocation.

We know that ours is but one voice, and that our reach is limited. And yet Kresge, together with other enduring institutions of philanthropy, will be here for the long-haul, speaking out, reaffirming our values and letting the American people know where a critical sector of our society stands in the face of acts and symbols of hatred and assaults on core democratic principles.