PennFuture Blog

Our Perspectives on the Latest Issues

At the Bottom of a Steep Learning Curve

Since the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police in late May, we have witnessed an ignition of individual, communal and global action against racism, injustice and inequality.  

People are mobilized in anger and in peace, hearts and minds are active and anguished, and consciences are toiling. Aligned institutions, organizations and businesses are grappling with responsibility, and endeavoring to respond and support.

And so it is at PennFuture. My thinking about what the diversity work implanted throughout our 2019 strategic plan would look like has been thoroughly upended.

It’s overly simplistic to say that I anticipated a great deal of our effort would play out the way it has been described in trainings we’ve been exposed to—fairly prescriptive pathways and a lot of checking of boxes. I had anticipated that organizational culture would need to be explored, and assessed, and eventually transformed.

But I did not grasp, until now, and because of now, the extent to which the work must begin with conversations about racism, bigotry and hatred. These conversations have always been part of the diversity curriculum but now stand at the front of a long line of issues we must work our way through in an aspiration to be an inclusive, diverse, fair and just organization. 

I knew a path to diversity would be painful and difficult, but I thought it might be a collective pain and discomfort, and now am figuring out the discomfort will be felt personally and deeply. But it will never be commensurate to the pain and hurt America has laid on communities of color since the birth of this country and right up to today.

Over the last weeks, the PennFuture staff that I work with has responded so admirably, and with so much bravery and leadership. The environmental community wants to be a leader in helping solve racism and prejudice, but do we really have a clue to how that can happen? 

I believe we do, and I believe that knowledge at PennFuture resides with our younger and newer staff members who bring diversity and fresh ideas to the table, but also deeply personal experiences that have shaped their worldviews and perspectives.  

These individuals have stood up with a generosity of spirit, with clear words and thoughts and with an insistence that they be heard within the organization. They are pushing our organization forward. They have expectations and desires for the future and realize we are in a moment when the time to assert them is ripe.  

This team wants our organization to be an ally to the marginalized people of our state, to find new partners, to understand from them how we can use our privilege and access and resources and yes, expertise, in service to these impacted communities and the issues they prioritize. Will it always be possible for us to help? Probably not, but we must figure out some mechanisms and programs to contribute.

On Monday, June 1, after the first weekend of justice actions took place throughout the state, PennFuture offered a brief statement of solidarity for the justice activists and their calls for change. Since the next day, June 2, was Election Day, we included our hopes that everyone who is eligible to vote is registered to vote, and voting regularly as one pathway to that change. In fact, that is one goal of PennFuture’s new Democracy for All program, which reaches out to communities of color and provides civic engagement opportunities.

We grasp that the same dynamics of power that have perpetuated racism also have systematically manipulated the people’s ability to engage with, and have faith in, our elections and civic opportunities. But I hope we do not give up on our democracy or the American flag as a symbol of our dreams and vision for the future.

I’ve shared some early thoughts here but to say more would immediately put me back in a place where I think I know something I really don’t, which is what the road to diversity will look like for PennFuture. 

I will have contributions to make to that future, along with many others here. It is within my ability and control to say with certainty the matter will not be relegated to the back burner.  

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