Last Friday, our nation lost two giants of the civil rights movement, Representative John Lewis, the “Conscience of the Congress,” and Reverend C. T. Vivian, described by Martin L. King, Jr. as "the greatest preacher to ever live.” This, after the passing in March of Reverend Joseph Lowery, known as the "Dean of the Civil Rights Movement." It is hard to imagine where our country would be without their moral conviction, physical courage, and resolute leadership over the last half-century.
We, as a nation, owe them more than just our gratitude for the progress they sacrificed so much to achieve. We can never repay them directly, but we can take two important steps. First, we can show respect by learning more about them. Prepare to be awed by their strategic vision, unwavering commitment to nonviolence, and sheer grit and will to effectuate change. You also will discover that they utilized nonprofits to advocate effectively to change public policies, such as founding and leading the Black Leadership Forum, the National Anti-Klan Network, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Voter Education Project, among many others.
Second, as nonprofits we can – and must – accept our role in the relay race of life. These three men received a relay baton that was in miserable condition. But while it was in their hands, they used everything they had and did everything they could to make it better and stronger before passing it to us. That much-improved, yet still-imperfect, baton is now in our hands – we hold it in trust for future generations, and therefore must make further improvements so we pass our nation forward in far better shape than we received it.
The words of Lewis, Lowery, and Vivian guide this month’s edition of Nonprofit Knowledge Matters. As Rep. Lewis wrote in an early draft of the speech he delivered at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, “Our minds, souls, and hearts cannot rest until freedom and justice exist for all the people.”
“Everything has changed and nothing has changed.” - Rev. Joseph Lowery
DE&I efforts have seemingly been prevalent in the nonprofit sector for several years now. But, new research from the Building Movement Project shows that not much true progress has been made. Organizations undertaking DE&I initiatives or activities were reported by about 75 percent of respondents. White respondents also began recognizing the unfair advantages they have held in career advancement. Both are important steps.
But there is a difference between realizing a problem exists and taking significant action to remedy that situation. More must be done. The pursuit of equity cannot end with public statements or with a training session or two. It is essential for equity efforts to occur in conjunction with efforts around systems change. One without the other will not create the change that is necessary.
As the Building Movement Project states, “Change in the sector can only happen when nonprofit groups identify the concrete, structural factors that reproduce racial leadership disparities, and undertake new and transformative steps to fundamentally include and expand the voices and experiences of people of color.”
“Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.” - Rep. John Lewis
In last month’s issue, we shared the words of Trabian Shorters, Co-Founder and CEO of BMe Community. Our network's leadership was lucky enough to hear from Shorters recently during a private virtual presentation, learning about the importance of asset-framing. Fundraising appeals that allow donors to play the role of savior may work, but such framing causes unrecognized damage and perpetuates inequality. Utilizing asset-framing, we see and describe people as their aspirations and what they can achieve rather than stigmatizing them by defining them by their challenges.
In a similar vein, a movement called Community-Centric Fundraising seeks to reexamine fundraising philosophy in order to advance social justice. Among the initial principles of the movement are to foster a sense of belonging, not "othering" or reinforcing the “savior complex,” and promoting the understanding that everyone benefits from the work of social justice, that it’s not just compassion or charity.
It is up to all of us to break down the systems that perpetuate negative stereotypes and keep us divided. We must be part of the solution to create a more equitable society.
“Leadership is found in the action to defeat that which would defeat you.” - Rev. C. T. Vivian
These words from Rev. Vivian seem like the motto for nonprofits. Right now, as a pandemic rages across the country, defeat can come in the form of financial challenges that make it more difficult to serve our communities. Fundraisers cancelled. The health of our staff members, our board members, our families, and our communities at risk. Seeing some long-time supporters become the people reaching out for help. And now the prospect of frozen government contracts or significant budget cuts.
As you read this newsletter, decisions are being made that can affect your nonprofit’s ability to serve the community. Most eyes are focused on Washington, DC and the negotiations between the House, the Senate, and the White House on more coronavirus relief legislation. Last week, a nationwide coalition of nonprofits issued a new call for Congress to provide more much-needed relief for nonprofits in the bill that they are negotiating. We urge everyone to continue to reach out to your Senators and Representative in the days ahead.
But don’t forget state and local governments that are staring at enormous revenue shortfalls and will be making tough decisions about cuts in the months ahead. They need to know the impact your organization is having in the community and the consequences that cut-backs would have on the people you serve every day.
Let us know how your nonprofit is doing so we can help advocate for provisions at the federal, state, and local levels that will help all nonprofits continue their vital work.
“Your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union.” - Rep. John Lewis
We don’t need to remind anyone that this an election year. But voter registration and engagement efforts carry even more obstacles this year than normal. COVID-19 adds new challenges, especially as some states continue to consolidate polling places and fight efforts to expand voting by mail. We all have to do our part to encourage safe voting through the remainder of local primaries and the general election in November. Nonprofits have always had a prominent role to play in encouraging voter registration and engagement. You and your nonprofit can join the efforts of groups, such as Justice Aid, the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, Nonprofit VOTE, and Voto Latino to ensure free and fair elections this November.
And, before getting out the vote, we still need to get out the count and ensure every person is counted in the 2020 Census. A new challenge emerged yesterday in the form of the President’s unconstitutional Executive Order to restrict who gets counted. Our communities are relying on a fair, accurate, and complete count of all persons in the country, as required by the Constitution. Promoting census participation now helps our communities receive the proper amount of funding for the next ten years – and it helps cut down on the need for door-to-door census takers to put themselves at risk.
We conclude with these words from John Lewis:
“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
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