A Note from Laurie Wolf, President and CEO, The Foraker Group
The weight of this time in history is beyond measure. And this past week it got impossibly heavier. The murder of George Floyd, piled on other visible racist action against Christian Cooper in Central Park, reminds all of us that injustice is a daily, if not hourly experience for too many people of color. Living through this pandemic, while also a shared experience, is not the same experience. Someone thoughtfully noted, “we are in the same ocean but not the same boat.”
If you entered this phase in our lives and you are elderly and live communally, or you are in an abusive relationship, or you are hungry, or you feared for your child’s safety, or you lost your job and already lived paycheck to paycheck, or you experience historical trauma from disease that decimated your people in its wake, or you are experiencing racism because this virus is labeled as “Asian,” or you are black and you also just watched the vivid displays of racism and murder across our collective screens, then this experience is vastly and incomparably different from anything the rest of us can understand. This virus is doing more than just making people sick and killing them. This virus is exacerbating the vast inequities in our country.
As a Jewish woman I have privilege and I have a different understanding of hatred and violence that has increased in the last many years in Alaska and around the country. I have shared experiences as a woman about safety. But nothing in my experience helps me know the fear, anger, and sadness of black America. I simply do not know. I don’t pretend to know.
Even in this space of not knowing, I have an obligation to use my voice. To stand up and say out loud “Black Lives Matter.” I honor the lives of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Dreasjon “Sean” Reed, George Floyd, Tony McDade, and the countless other black people who have been killed by police officers. I am devastated by this ongoing violence, and the failure of our government to protect black communities is criminal.
In my work I also have the privilege and obligation to live Foraker’s core values which recognize that the indigenous land we live on and the 10,000 years of knowledge that Alaska’s first people live and share every day make all of our lives richer and better. I also get to work across sectors and within the nonprofit sector, which is built on action and hope. I am reminded that every national movement from our past and into our future – civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQA rights, and children’s rights – came from our sector. We are the birthplace of change. We are the translators from anger and despair to action. What I also know is that the next wave in our work will shift from starting with the institution to starting with the people. We are seeing that today. The momentum around us will create the change we want to see and that we MUST see in this world.
The rapper Killer Mike said this weekend that it’s the time to “plot, plan, strategize, and organize.” At Foraker we are committed to groups of people and organizations who are doing this work, or want to do more of this work, or are starting this work.
June is Pride month, it’s immigrant heritage month, and it’s a reminder that our struggles and liberation are connected. As we work to build, protect, and support our communities, there’s no better tool than our collective power.
To that end, my fear about this time is that we will collectively miss these crisis moments to secure lasting change. We will miss the fissures that are breaking through and further revealing the great inequities that have always been with us. My fear is that we will only fix the surface. Cover up the fissure. Cover over the learning and the seeing, and go back.
We can’t go back. Our organizations or collective actions or missions have immense privilege and potential to take leaps forward. This is the sector of hope and action and from that place I have witnessed in these last many days nonprofit and community leaders across Alaska and America speak with conviction and clarity about the inequity of our systems. I am seeing groups collaborate who didn’t before. I am seeing a reckoning that it is not buildings and offices and places that make mission work but people with shared vision and immense determination. I am seeing Alaska communities come together in peaceful protests. I am seeing the Anchorage Police chief and local government leaders across Alaska stand in solidarity against racism.
I see anger and sadness, but also insight and action.
What I know is at Foraker we will continue to use our voice. We will continue to move forward and find new ways to take action with you. I invite every group to not miss this moment, to ask your team about what going forward means. Ask what do you need to take with you and what can you leave behind that perpetuates inequity in our communities. Foraker has and will continue to ask these questions and to stand beside Alaska’s nonprofits and community leaders to move forward.