Before it’s too late, let us not forget…

Rabbi Heschel marching in Selma with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Guest blog post from Dr. M. Starita Boyce Ansari from MSB Philanthropy Advisors.
Fifty years ago, Americans from community after community came together and committed to a vision for justice and equality.  People fought. People died. People transcended the small interests of their own needs, as Blacks, Jews, women, gays and lesbians, took real risks to advocate for change and common cause. Many communities of American people came together to declare War on Injustice while our own federal government declared War on Poverty. But today, the victories won in common struggle are being squandered. Before it’s too late, let us not forget what common cause can achieve.
Among the strongest reminders of common cause are the many examples of the Black and Jewish communities coming together. Let us be inspired by the way these communities laid the foundation for Civil Rights:

  • In 1909, Henry Moscowitz joined W.E.B. DuBois and other civil rights leaders to found the NAACP.
  • In the first half of the previous century, more than 2,000 primary and secondary schools and 20 black colleges were established in whole or in part by contributions from Jewish philanthropist Julius Rosenwald.
  • Jews made up half of the young people who participated in the Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964.
  • Prominent leaders of the Jewish community, including Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, marched arm-in-arm with Dr. King in his 1965 March on Selma.

Now, my point is not to focus on Blacks and Jews per se, or to recapture the haze of nostalgia for our activist past. The world and times have changed. But the meaning of justice has not. We can’t go back in time, but we can go back to values. In the work I do with philanthropists and advocates today, the reflex seems to be to stay within a silo, to focus on a single issue.  Results matter, but with “big” action and “big” advocacy out of fashion, we’ve lost our interdependent way. Before it’s too late, let us not forget that all of our victories won may one day soon be battles lost if we do not come together to take on the true heart of today’s inequality: the face of economic injustice.
It is no coincidence that gender, race and poverty remain systemic problems in America—they are at the core of the deepest divide in circumstances and principles that our nation has faced since the Civil War.  We must respond to them together in order to make this nation a better place for all, to take on the “institution” of poverty as we did the institution of Jim Crow.
Is poverty an institution? It is, when an entire system is designed to foster and propagate it. The false choices between one group’s agenda and another’s, between the 1% and the 99%, all seem to lose the forest for the trees.  We lose sight of the vast potential of human capital, of the power of granting equal access to all, and we get lost in a thicket of -isms and accusations.  The Civil Rights Movement went far enough to give the U.S. a Black president in some 50 years.  But, still, a majority of Blacks, Hispanics and women in this country feel the brunt of inequality. The tough realities are:

  • Weekly earnings for full-time professional/management positions average $941 for women and $1,269 for men.
  • Record numbers of public school children qualify for free three meals program.
  • People of color represent 36% of the U.S. population, but 60% of the prison population.  The prison population grew 700% from 1976 -2005, a rate that outpaced crime.
  • Black households, more likely than any other household, live in inadequate and unhealthy housing.
  • Blacks are four times more likely to experience police brutality.
  • Hispanic seniors are more likely to be food insecure than any other Americans.

In the face of such heart-wrenching data, I am calling on you as I call on the philanthropists and advocates that I work with: “Let us not forget!”  Let us not forget our interdependence and common cause.  All children of our children are precious gifts to the world.  Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us that faith in oneself is the most powerful weapon against suppression and oppression.  So, we must have faith in our ability and will to come together, again, to ensure that all of us have access to quality education systems and economic security in order for our nation to succeed.  We must do this for our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our nephews, nieces and cousins, and our fathers and mothers.
Let us not forget!  Like the Jewish sisters and brothers who made common cause with Blacks during the Civil Rights Movement, the motto must be “Never again,” before it’s too late.  I call on each of you to embrace our interdependence, before it’s too late to build on human potential.

  • “Never again” should any American be denied access to quality health, education, economic and social systems.
  • “Never again” should women bear the brunt of economic inequality as they do in today’s ongoing labor market.
  • “Never again” should young gays and lesbians fear for their dignities and their lives on a daily basis at schools and in public.
  • “Never again” should a person be persecuted because of their religious principles.
  • “Never again” should infants die, not because it was inevitable, but because our city budgets defunded critical programs for distressed and impoverished urban communities.

And let us not forget to bring the call for common cause to our youth.  Before it’s too late, may philanthropists of every creed commit to empowering our youth to donate their time, talents and treasures for equity, opportunity and justice for all.  The definition of philanthropy cannot remain within the rarified circles of big donors and big events. The gifts of all must be celebrated.  And, it will take the will of all in order to move our nation forward.
Like our Jewish sisters and brothers, I am calling on Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, and people of every creed to practice Tzedakah, like our Jewish sisters and brothers, the righteousness of doing what is right and fair and just for all.
Let us not forget, before it’s too late!