LSI: Good Cause for Excitement!
I almost jumped in the air in front of my foundation peers the other day. If I had taken flight, it would’ve been for good reason. I was honored to attend the Leadership and Sustainability Institute’s briefing “From Planning to Action” at the Open Society Foundation’s offices this past Wednesday. There the assembled audience heard from Shawn Dove, manager of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement and the hardest working brotha (out of many) in the philanthropic sector. I think of CBMA as the critical galvanizing force for the growing black men and boys’ wellness movement across the nation, as its reach and depth of involvement in communities is unparalleled. I was also quietly excited to hear Mr. George Soros speak, and took solace in his description of his own early life challenges from witnessing the devastation of Jewish persecution and the Holocaust in central Europe and the totalitarian takeover of his birth nation, Hungary, after World War II. Both of these seemingly insurmountable events drove him both to pledge to work for a more open global society AND to know that – as my grandmother would say – “trouble don’t last always.” I thought that larger historical reference was a suitable springboard for us to discuss the next steps for moving the needle for the well-being of African American males.
Shawn (OSF) and Andrew Wolk (Root Cause) gave us a rundown on LSI’s structure and planning process to date. Angela Glover Blackwell (PolicyLink) made an elegant and impassioned case for the necessity of stability and sustainability as part of movement building. Trabian Shorters (Knight Foundation), Robert Thornton (Skillman Foundation), Maisha Simmons (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation), Joe Jones (Center for Urban Families), and Ray Colmenar (California Endowment) all spoke about the opportunities to intersect LSI’s aims and strategies with their respective movement work across the nation. And later, the indomitable Geoffrey Canada (Harlem Children’s Zone) spoke about thinking big and investing bigger.
I wanted to share my perspective on the importance of LSI having entry points for smaller players, like the Mitchell Kapor Foundation and our College Bound Brotherhood, to participate in this critical network and conduit of resources and knowledge. As I spoke about the young men involved in our Brotherhood program, I could barely contain my zeal. “We’re talking about real people’s LIVES,” I thought. “Real people and real potential! Everyone wants a chance to contribute, and we’re missing the boat with so many of our young people!” And that’s when I almost leapt off the floor as I was speaking.
In that moment I was also reminded of Dr. Julianne Malveaux, the noted economist and college president emerita. She once recounted hearing a speech by an unnamed Washington DC mayor who banged a fist on the podium and declared “I’ll do anything to keep the Redskins in town!” Banging her fist on the podium in a similar style, Dr. Malveaux asked the audience “What would you do anything for? To save the lives of young people?” It was an inspiring call to action. I was drawing upon that energy when thinking about the community people who were not in that posh, heavily-secured conference room with us. Sometimes these conversations get dry. They become divorced from the passion and intensity that fuels urgency and intention. I’m saying that we all should have a moment, when thinking of our work, where we jump off of the floor because we’re excited or upset or cajoling others to be involved. LSI could provide that reason to jump as we look to build a network of leaders and organizations that will sustain and ensure the success of black boys, men, communities, and the nation. So whether it’s a leap of faith or for life, please, come jump with us!
Cedric Brown is the CEO of the Mitchell Kapor Foundation, a San Francisco-based family foundation. He has over 20 years of experience as an educator and funder, working with the SF Foundation, SF Education Fund, Switzer Foundation, SF Cultural Equity Grants, and Level Playing Field Institute among others. He serves as the chair of Bay Area Blacks in Philanthropy and is a board/committee member of Northern California Grantmakers, Funders Committee for Civic Participation, and Council on Foundation’s Family Philanthropy Committee. Cedric received the 2010 Emerging Leader in Philanthropy Award from the Association for Black Foundation Executives and was profiled as a 2011 Changemaker in the San Francisco Chronicle.