Over the past year, the COVID-19 crisis and violent racism against the Black and AAPI communities provided a moment of reckoning for philanthropic practitioners across the United States. We can capitalize on this moment if we work together, and if we understand that the greater good is more than a lofty ideal.
These were my key takeaways from the first day of Leading Together 2021. I was particularly moved by the opening plenary session, A Better Path Forward, which focused on how people and sectors are coming together to tackle systemic racism in one of the largest, most diverse communities in the nation. Los Angeles is a place where bridging divides is critical to positive community growth and impact. That’s why philanthropy, business, labor, and others have joined in forging a bold agenda for change.
The session spotlighted the work of the Committee for Greater LA, which was created last year to address inequities laid bare during the pandemic. After analyzing inequity in Los Angeles on issues such as health care, employment, and broadband access, the collaborative adopted an agenda, No Going Back LA, aimed at pulling people together to abolish systems that have been institutionalized by decades of racism.
April Verrett, president of Service Employees International Union Local 2015, shared that the Los Angeles collaborative was a table where leaders could find common ground, and a safe place where they were able to support one another. Verrett also spoke about how leaders being vulnerable was the “secret sauce” that allowed them to fully pull together and embark on the critical work of addressing systemic inequity.
Importantly, the work of the Committee for Greater LA was rooted in data. Committee members held weekly meetings focused on statistics revealing stark disparities in housing, homelessness, health care, and incarceration. In every area, Black residents were worse off than the rest of the community. At the same time, the committee recognized that if we solve problems with Black communities in mind, we also solve problems facing other racial, ethnic, and other minority groups.
This observation resonated for me, as I tend to think of racism as an arrow aimed at the Black community, hitting all marginalized and underrepresented groups on its way to the target.
Peter Laugharn, president and CEO of the Los Angeles County-based Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, said the story of Not Going Back LA shows how important it is at this time to “explore unlikely partnerships.” Session moderator Monica Lozano, president and CEO of College Futures Foundation, added that what’s happening in Los Angeles highlights the importance of centering equity in all we do.
“This is our work,” Lozano said. “This is the time to seek transformative change, to reimagine and reinvent a society more just with more opportunity and equity for all.”
Kathleen Kelly Janus, a senior advisor to the California Governor Gavin Newsom, closed the session by emphasizing that the best partnerships are built on trust. She also highlighted that June 15 was a big day in California: “It’s our opening day after over a year of dealing with the pandemic. Over 70 percent of eligible Californians are vaccinated. This is not a coincidence; it’s the result of all of us working together.”
The plenary provided a great kickoff for Leading Together 2021 by focusing on how foundations and our partners can go beyond issuing statements, and instead work collaboratively to create communities and a country where we see value in every person, and where we confront anti-Black racism and anti-Asian hate together. The message was that a strong network of relationships in a community can be an effective framework to advance equity and address everything from recovery and homelessness to housing, jobs, and vaccinations.
Los Angeles has something important to tell us all: It’s only by searching for common ground with our neighbors that we’ll spark community healing and unification.