What Happens to Them Determines the Future of the Us

“Many people who are being left behind are from communities being left behind. If we don’t come to terms with the racial divide, we will cause a generational divide,” said Angela Glover Blackwell. Wow. What a great way to get the blood pumping at the morning plenary. Well spoken, politely heard, but where’s the action?

The lines of Gwendolyn Brook’s “Lovers of the Poor” echo in my head. I never want to be seen as a “limousine liberal.” Talk the talk, walk the walk. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

I think about our “radical” work at Simon Youth Foundation. We provide support to our partner school districts to help them reach those students at risk for dropping out of high school and help make sure they graduate. We know for just about every $1,000 we grant to our partners, we can yield a high school graduate who will go on to return nearly $350,000 to the economy.

Pretty good ROI, if you ask me. This figure doesn’t even account for the social, emotional, cultural, and community impact of that “radical” act of graduation. Somebody here asked me my two-floor elevator speech. Here goes.: At SyF we are about breaking the cycle of poverty, with education as our tool. We believe working with, not against, our public school partners is the best solution for drop-out prevention in a specific community.

“Keeping doing what we were doing isn’t going to get us ahead anymore,” said Jamie Merisotos. I hope all of us in the room heard that loud and clear. That statement will reverberate in my head for awhile.

So where is the call to COLLECTIVE action? I worry that each of us will leave here bolstered by our individual agendas to change the world, but will return to our silos of work and competitive missions to solve our singularly focused, albeit important, issues. Program proliferation, diluted resources, cause celeb, and populist thrust victimizes us all. How do we as funders break this cycle? Where do we leverage our collaboration to find solutions?

A dear and longtime friend of mine who is an ordained member of the clergy called me out on my Facebook page, as only a friend of such standing can. He has been following my blogs, living vicariously through my experiences as I often do through his sermons. He challenged me about where conversations about overlap, competition, and ego appeared at the conference. Did they, he wanted to know?

Are we ready to discuss our duplication? Are we ready to yield our esoteric, specific, and targeted turf for the overall good?

Others may follow, but who will be first?

Michael Durnil is president of Simon Youth Foundation, a member of the Council on Foundations.

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