Focusing Philanthropy on Injustice and Inequality

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April 11, 2021—I am a long-time admirer of Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation. He is a staunch advocate for tackling injustice and inequality, and he is utilizing his authority, position, and the foundation’s $14-billion endowment to help shift the philanthropic community’s focus to address these critical issues.667

Mr. Walker’s efforts and work, along with some aspects of his personal history, were showcased last Sunday on the CBS News program, 60 Minutes. I urge the readers of Arts & Culture Connections to view the interview, which you will find at this link.

The author of From Generosity to Justice, A New Gospel of Wealth, Mr. Walker made several, invaluable points, which included:

Inequality is the greatest harm to our democracy because inequality asphyxiates hope.

Generosity is about the donor. Justice asks, “What are the systemic reasons that put people on the streets?”

It is unthinkable that it has been normalized in American culture that you can work fulltime and still be poor…. It is antithetical to our ideal of this country. (This is not just an issue for People of Color). This is the first time in America that there is a generation of downwardly mobile white people (making less than their parents). There are huge implications for our politics.

Speaking of the wealthy in the country, he said: “We are going to have to give up some of our privilege if we want America to survive.”

To take on the problems of injustice and inequality requires that we weather discomfort, rather than seek to feel good about our efforts, Mr. Walker said during the interview. He called for the creation of a “new kind of capitalism” that is based on both generosity and accountability.

Mr. Walker has led by example. The investments the Ford Foundation has made allow nonprofit organizations to decide how the money is used, which can include staffing, technology, as well as programming. Also, as previously reported in Arts & Culture Connections, the Ford Foundation partnered with several foundations and major donors to make available millions of dollars in unrestricted national and regional grants to arts organizations in the communities of People of Color (PoC). Mr. Walker said during the interview that it is both arrogant and ignorant to believe that philanthropic organizations should give money and decide how the grantees should use it.

Mr. Walker repeated several of the points he made in a TED interview in June of 2020 and an Op-Ed in the New York Times the following month. In both interviews and the article, he called for citizens and corporations “to question the inequality that makes their wealth possible; to think about their own complicity in creating economic injustice…”

The program also showcased Mr. Walker’s loving family roots—his single mother, who worked hard to support him and his two sisters. He told the interviewer he only met his father once—when he was four years old—and how he turned his father’s absence in his life into a deep level of strength.

I think Mr. Walker’s interview affords all of us the opportunity to review our own attitudes about philanthropy and to consider positively responding to his humanistic call to create a culture that uplifts everyone.

As always, I want to know what you think. After watching the interview, please share your thoughts below.

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