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The Divide

Our country is facing a defining moment, and as the community’s foundation, we must face our own defining moment as well.


August 01, 2016

By Tony Mestres, President & CEO

Like many of us, I have been reflecting for the past several weeks on the ever-increasing divide in our country. Unacceptable as it is, waking up to yet another shooting is now the status quo for all of us. Our experiences along with credible research show that we have become a country where geography, race, socio-economic status, and gender often define how successful you will be, if you will graduate from high school, if you end up in prison, or if your life will be tragically cut short. Yet I believe we can change this scenario. Our country is facing a defining moment, and as the community’s foundation, we must face our own defining moment as well.

From the seat in which I sit, I am humbly exploring an answer to the question, “What does this mean for our region and how can the community’s foundation play a positive role?” Unfortunately, the greater Seattle area is not immune to racially charged violence, inequities, and bias.  For example, unemployment among African Americans is twice what it is for white people. Many children of color do not have access to the same educational opportunities and support as their white peers. At Seattle Foundation, we use the healthy community framework to determine how we invest in our region. What plagues me, is the reality that we will never arrive at a healthy community if we don’t bring every member of society along with us. Therefore, we need to focus on approaches pointed at the root causes of inequities, and particularly racial inequity. The causes of the opportunity divide are enmeshed in systemic and institutional injustices, and that is precisely where we can make the longest lasting change. But that isn’t simple. These are significant challenges and we know many are asking themselves the same questions. We want to build partnerships with those who also feel the charge to act compassionately and effectively, and have a desire to close the divisions in our society.

What we have seen as a country recently is a convergence of institutional racism, failings of the criminal justice system, proliferation of gun violence, and many other historical factors. The recent and past history of violence towards communities of color, including incidents that stimulated the Black Lives Matter movement, followed by the deaths of police officers in Dallas, Baton Rouge, and other US cities – all of this causes me to believe that as the community’s foundation with a strong commitment to equity for all, we have a role to play in our region. We cannot stand by as observers and hope greater Seattle communities aren’t the next Orlando, St. Anthony, Baton Rouge and Dallas. I have been in discussion with my team and leaders in the community to explore together how, as the community foundation, we can thoughtfully play a role in addressing racially charged violence and the widening divide. When we at Seattle Foundation look at our mission, it strengthens our conviction that although we are still defining our role with other partners, we cannot stand idly by.

As a first step, I have joined nearly 40 presidents from foundations across the country in signing an ad that appeared yesterday in a dozen newspapers nationwide including the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, spearheaded this effort and generously underwrote the cost. I believe this ad is a demonstration and appreciation of the significance of the moment we are in across the country, coupled with an exclamation of what ideals we should move towards. This is an opportunity to build bridges, increase dialogue and fight division – here in the greater Seattle area. This opportunity is at the very heart and science of what Seattle Foundation believes in and strives to do every day, which is why I wholeheartedly added my name to the list of philanthropic leaders. This powerful message from leading philanthropic presidents is also an opportunity to start a conversation. As the title of the message says, “From our History, Hope,” our country has seen these challenges before and found our ideals of dignity, equality and justice. As foundations, we are full of hope despite these challenges and injustices. Please join many others across the country in sharing what actions you have seen in your community and your #ReasonsForHope.

This is just an initial step. I will continue to share our evolving thoughts around Seattle Foundation’s commitment to equity for all and how we, as your community foundation, will humbly and effectively step up to this challenge of our time. As a part of that evolution, we invite you to share with us your thoughts on how we can draw hope from our history. The divide is widening and we need to work together to close it, now more than ever. Our community deserves as much.

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social equalityArts and CultureBasic Needsearly interventioneducationhealthy community frameworkChildren and youthphilanthropists

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