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Rapson: Courage, resilience and creativity defined 2020

COVID-19, From the President

The annual holiday luncheon at Kresge has become an opportunity for our staff to explore with one another their reflections, good and bad, on the year past. It has become customary to mash up the serious and the irreverent, the hopeful and the sobering. This year, more than in any past, that admixture was important as both catharsis and renewal – despite having to do it from the de-sensitizing and somewhat antiseptic platform of a RingCentral meeting. People needed to put a pin in the seemingly endless pain-points we, our families, and our communities have endured. But they also needed, in the safe space carved out by deeply supportive colleagues, to reaffirm a sense of aspiration . . . a hope that our country has reached an inflection point that points to progress against the pandemic, the economic meltdown, the ruptures of racial violence.

As I listened to my colleagues share all manner of stories about a year like no other, I couldn’t shake my mental images of Lemony Snicket’s dark, gothic children’s book series, A Series of Unfortunate Events. Children at the razor’s edge of peril in every conceivable way imaginable, reminded me – however fancifully – of a society at risk from every direction.

But I also realized as I listened to our staff that that kind of darkness was not the primary lens through which our staff viewed the path we’ve traveled. There was instead a pervasive tint of courage . . . and resilience . . . and creativity. Among our frontline workers to be sure, but also in every walk of community life. And also among our staff.  I have heard story after story of our colleagues transcending personal hardship to make life better for others . . . reaffirming their commitment to the networks of mutual support within their communities . . . supporting one another as colleagues, as friends, as professional family.

So, I wanted to add to the profound thoughtfulness and kindness of our staff’s recollections a handful of my own about where Kresge, its staff, and its Trustees have traveled this year.

Like so many others, we figured out how to work at home.

Teams evolved to stay in touch and remain focused on impact. We found creative ways to keep connected, to underscore the importance of mutual support, to honor with flexibility and compassion the differences in individual circumstances, and to remain focused on the needs of our grantees and communities, all the while accommodating and adapting to home and life pressures.

Kresge RingCentral virtual holiday celebration

We helped local communities mitigate the pandemic’s challenges.

Each of our program and operations teams has provided resources to the amelioration of the health crisis – by contributing some $15 million to pooled funds in Detroit, Memphis, and New Orleans, by amending grants to enable grantees to meet COVID-related additional expenses, by individually donating time and money, and in many other ways.

We participated in the epochal civil rights moment set in motion by the killing of unarmed Black people.

Kresge staff brought our values to the table, used our institutional voice, and amplified the perspectives of people working on the ground to advance racial equity and justice. We fashioned a racial justice package of remarkable heft and sweep. And we continued to look inward to excavate our own attitudes, behaviors, and policies about race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, inclusion, and intersectionality.

We remained focused on our programmatic strategies, while recognizing their inherent capacity to adapt.

Each of our disciplinary teams took a tuning fork to their work to make sure we remained true to the chords of complexity swirling around us. We fortified our grantee partners by removing unnecessary reporting requirements, permitting grants to be converted to general operating support, and offering additional bridging funds. Likewise, our administrative teams offered creative and swift solutions to support that work.

We endured and rose above a federal policy environment of unprecedented dysfunction, maliciousness, and hostility.

Supporting people with low incomes in American cities is hard in the best of times. These times weren’t that. Our work had to manage through an atmosphere of civil discourse warped by the hardened fissures of political polarization. We had to land our dollars and energies into an environment in which cities were disparaged as havens of corruption and socialism. We had to craft workarounds for the failures of federal recovery monies inadequately designed to reach those in greatest need.

So, the rearview mirror perspective suggests to me that even within the meta-dynamics of the pandemic, racial justice, and political agitation, each and every member of the Kresge team refused to shy from reflection, to alter their ambition, or to fall back on the inertias of methods that, while serving us well in the past, needed to be reinvented for the future.

Instead, we recognized that our essential aim of fortifying the building blocks of opportunity-rich, just, and equitable cities has never been more timely or more urgent. And now more than ever, that work will require relationships and alliances with people like you.

This holiday season, we will rest and remember the 300,000 Americans lost to COVID-19 this year. But first, on behalf of Kresge’s remarkable staff, allow me to thank you for your continued commitment to our work and wish you good tidings for a safe and healthy new year.

Happy holidays