106th Annual NAACP Convention Address

Pursuing Liberty in the Face of Injustice
Monday, July 13, 2015
Philadelphia, PA

Delivered Monday, July 13 during the 2015 NAACP National Convention along with Senator Casey, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Chairman G.K. Butterfield and more.

The full video remarks can be viewed here with Vikki Spruill starting at 1:11. 

Good morning! My name is Vikki Spruill. On behalf of the Council on Foundations and our global network of grantmaking foundations and corporations, I offer you warm greetings from the country’s philanthropic community.

I want to thank Senator Casey, Chairman Butterfield, and Governor Wolf for their welcome words. I also want to thank Cornell Brooks for his moral leadership and continued efforts to strengthen ties with the philanthropic community.

It is a high honor for me to join all of you today, especially at a time of such significance for our nation. I am acutely aware of the weight of this stage, and the legacies of those who have stood here because throughout its history, the NAACP has addressed some of the biggest issues of national concern.

The NAACP has been the place where leaders of character and conviction pause to reflect and take action on the true meaning and promise of our most cherished ideals.

Though the challenges facing our country may shift over the years, the original purpose of the NAACP, to secure equality of rights and to eliminate racial hatred and discrimination, continues to call each of us to be our very best selves.

The challenges we face today are too great for us to do anything less.

On behalf of the philanthropic community, I want to extend my condolences to all those impacted by the horrific tragedy last month at the Emanuel A.M.E Church in Charleston.

This unconscionable act may be inconsistent with our values as Americans, but to our great national regret, violence, hatred, and discrimination are not yet inconsistent with the American experience, especially for African-American and black communities.

No parent should ever fear the loss of a child, and yet millions of mothers and fathers face that fear as an everyday fact of life.

I recently read a piece by poet Claudia Rankine that helped me think more critically of my own privilege. She writes,

“[There] really is no mode of empathy that can replicate the daily strain of knowing that as a black person you can be killed for simply being black: no hands in your pockets, no playing music, no sudden movements, no driving your car, no walking at night, no walking in the day, no turning onto this street, no entering this building, no standing your ground, no standing here, no standing there, no talking back, no playing with toy guns, no living while black.”

My faith, my experiences, and my conscience tell me that “all lives matter,” yet this year has made crystal clear to me that the “incommensurable experience of systemic racism creates an unequal playing field.” So, when I say “Black Lives Matter”, I say it not because one type of life is more precious than another. I say it because we cannot move forward as a society until we first acknowledge each other’s core experience.

The challenges facing communities of color leave us all with unfinished work – persisting inequality, opportunity gaps, education disparities, and deep skepticism about bedrock institutions like our justice and political systems.

The scale of these challenges may feel daunting, and our capacity to make meaningful impact may feel limited. But by leading together, we can and will create the hope and opportunity needed to reach new moral heights.

We may not have all the answers to the challenges at hand, but philanthropy has an important role to play in addressing them.

I’m here to wish you well, but I’m also here to let you know that your partners in the philanthropic community are prepared to take action and to do so with an increasingly collaborative approach.

Like you, we are not dissuaded by the perseverance of these challenges.

Philanthropy is uniquely positioned to address the kind of persistent, vexing challenges facing us today. I want to mention a few bright spots:

  • A number of our foundation members undertook a multi-year project to address issues facing boys and men of color, and I was pleased to see that President Obama embraced that work, translating it into the My Brother’s Keeper initiative. I’m also encourage by the NoVo foundation, supported by the New York Women’s Foundation and the Ms. Foundation for Women to address structural barriers hindering women and girls of color.
  • As you know the Black Lives Matter movement has grown quickly as a major cultural touchstone. The Open Society Foundation is funding an effort to translate the attention of this movement into action by bringing together 100 grassroots leader activists/organizers from the #BlackLivesMatter movement together with accomplished movement building elders and experts to develop a 2 year comprehensive organizing framework.
  • The California Endowment, Kresge Foundation, Meyer Foundation, and Public Welfare Foundation, among several others, have been working to provide access to justice for the more than 61 million low-income people who need civil legal aid.
  • At the local level, community foundations across the country are on the front lines of building stronger neighborhoods and investing in the sustained, long-term local funding that’s needed for meaningful impact.
  • Philanthropy has made substantial progress on a range of critical issues. Yet whenever I think of how much is being done, I think back to Dr. King, who said, “Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.”

One of my predecessors at the Council on Foundations, Ambassador James Joseph, famously said, “Charity is good, but justice is better.” In that spirit, philanthropy is focusing on the ultimate result of our efforts, and we are working to make the most impact because we know that the responsibility for a healthy society is a collective one.

While philanthropy may play a critical role in mobilizing resources, it cannot eliminate systemic problems alone. This is why the NAACP, along with everyone is this room, is so important because you are on the front lines of social change.

I support Cornell Brooks and his public call to increase funding to combat organized hate.

I know that many of you are already deeply engaged with your philanthropic communities at home. And if you aren’t yet engaged, I encourage you to do so.

I’m glad that here in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, I’ve had a chance to extend a hand of fellowship and speak briefly about philanthropy, which at its core stands for the Love of Humanity.

I want to thank all of you for everything you are doing to advance justice in our time.

I appreciate your attention and your continued partnership.

Thank you and I wish you great success at your 106th National Convention.