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Gmail - My annual letter: A call for moral courage in America 06-09-17 23:01

Amina Lemhouer <>

My annual letter: A call for moral courage in America

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Darren Walker, Ford Foundation President <>6 september 2017 om 19:27

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A call for moral courage in

America Pagina 1 van 11

Gmail - My annual letter: A call for moral courage in America 06-09-17 23:01

When I was first appointed president of the Ford

Foundation, I felt joy and excitement about the work to
come. Every year since then, I have offered a September
message in this same spiritto share my perspective, to
honestly engage with issues facing philanthropy and the
world, and to illuminate my sources of hope.

As I begin my fifth year, however, my sense of optimism has been tested

like never before. For the first time I can remember, I am troubled by a
deep sense of anxiety and anguish for my country.

As a native Texan, I have been pained by Hurricane Harveys devastating

impact on the Texas Gulf Coast. I grew up in two small towns, between
Beaumont and Houston, that were ravaged by the storm. My heart breaks
for the people and families who, but for fate, would have been my
neighbors, and for the community that nurtured and supported me. The
news from Texas has only compounded the worry I have for America and
clarified the needespecially during such troubled timesfor
compassionate, competent, and courageous leadership.

Like so many of you, I am bewildered, almost daily, by the onslaught of

dispiriting, sometimes debilitating news. Just this week, a new, politicized
(and heartless) assault on young, mostly Latino immigrantsthe
cancellation of DACAhas left me reeling. When I travel to visit the
organizations we work with in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, friends
and colleagues express shock about Americas leadership and standing in
the global community.

While weve endured challenging times before, I have always maintained

an unwavering faith in Americas promise and, more broadly, in our
democratic valuesand I still do. I have always believed that progress is
cumulativethat, as more people and communities win their place in the
circle of American equality and opportunity, this circle will continue Pagina 2 van 11

Gmail - My annual letter: A call for moral courage in America 06-09-17 23:01

expanding, in a virtuous cycle.

At the same time, I recall James Baldwins words during the heights of
the civil rights movement in 1965: History does not refer merely ... to
the past ... History is literally present in all that we do. And so I am
mindful that just like the leaders who came before us, we are caught
between the history from which we emerge and the history to which we

A rumble of hate, a moment of clarity

A few weeks ago, the most insidious elements of our historyas much a
part of our national character as the Constitution itselfannounced
themselves anew, and in the most disgusting and frightening ways. In
Charlottesville, Virginia, racist, anti-Semitic white nationalists marched
without hoods, shame, or stigma. As I watched the images emerging from
Charlottesville, aghast, I worried that hate was being normalized in

I was not alone, of course. In recent weeks, the American people

affirmed, as they have so often, that from darkness comes light. By the
thousands, and in cities across the country, they expressed that, in Fannie
Lou Hamers perfect phrasing, righteousness exalts a nation; hate just
makes people miserable.

To me, it seems clear, not just in this alarming episode, but in the deeper
history it has laid bare: America has reached another defining moment.
We face a crisisthe next battle for the soul of this country, one that will
play out on the battlefield of our collective consciousness.

How we got here

Even though only one month has passed since the terror and tragedy of
Charlottesville, our news cycle has moved on. After far too many elected Pagina 3 van 11

Gmail - My annual letter: A call for moral courage in America 06-09-17 23:01

officials offered perfunctory or unsatisfactory disavowals, after blame

was cast, this conversationlike so many difficult conversationshas
already begun to lose its urgency, and perhaps even our attention.

This should not surprise us. Americans have been trying and failing to
have a conversation about race and justice for the whole of American
history. Indeed, what happened in Charlottesville was merely the latest
tremor along fault lines that have been present in the American story
since its founding, a reopening of wounds that have barely been treated,
and never healed.

It bears repeating that at the same instant that 56 men signed the
Declaration of Independence, swearing that all men are created equal,
they founded a nation in which all people were not. And because we have
never sufficiently acknowledged this fact, Americas original sin has
never left us. Indeed, it has fueled inequalities that persist to this day
whether in the form of mass incarceration or wealth inequality, housing
discrimination or education and health disparities.

All of these very current crises stem from our complicated, difficult,
unaddressed history. The time has come for our nation to reckon with its

Reckoning with our history and reality

The United States is not alone in the need to evolveand emerge
strongerfrom history marred by injustice and hate. Countries like South
Africa and Germany have worked deliberately to address the evils in their
own national histories, but America has been neither willing nor able to
take comparable steps.

As emancipation and reconstruction in the 1860s gave way to a

restoration of the antebellum order in the 1870s and 80s, America made Pagina 4 van 11

Gmail - My annual letter: A call for moral courage in America 06-09-17 23:01

no sustained effort toward what some today might call transitional justice.
The nation paid no reparations to freed slaves; the 40 acres and a mule
promised to most freed blacks never materialized. Our country never
convened a Truth and Reconciliation commission nor engaged in an
officially sanctioned public interrogation of our shared history, North and

As a Southerner, I grew up immersed in the romanticized memory of the

Lost Cause. I knew people in college who hung Confederate flags on
their dormitory walls, fraternities that held parties where men wore
Confederate uniforms. To them, it was a source of Southern pride, and
while I found these symbols problematic, I understood their intentions on
some level. We each put the best face on our history, as a way to reinforce
our notions of our communities, our families, and ourselves. For all
Americansindeed, for all human beingshistory is identity.

Nevertheless, we have failed to reconcile the air-brushed, heroic narrative

with the searing reality. In this instance, the truth is that the Confederacy
was foundedand its soldiers foughtto destroy the United States of
America. Their cause was to defend and make permanent the brutal
practice of slavery, the underpinning of the Southern economy (and a
significant component of the Northern economy, too); their aim, to keep
millions of black Americans in bondage. The Confederate position was
not morally ambiguous; the intent to uphold and expand slavery was the
Confederacys foremost objective. There is simply no way around these

Despite this, astonishingly, it was not until 2008 that the US House of
Representatives could muster the votes to offer an official apology for
slavery and Jim Crow injustices. That it took more than 150 years to
pass this resolution reminds us that Americas failure to deal with its
history is also a failure of its leadership and of collective will. Pagina 5 van 11

Gmail - My annual letter: A call for moral courage in America 06-09-17 23:01

The systems that constrain us

That is why last months events in Charlottesville were so revealing. Too
many of our leaders remain uninterested in healing the wounds of
discrimination and prejudice, injustice, and inequality. Our ideals have
been hijacked at the highest levels, perverted by narcissism and
selfishness. At the ballot box and in our digital public square, too often,
our leaders are rewarded for practicing the divide-and-conquer, dog-
whistle politics endemic to our modern era.

In the not-too-distant past, the American people would turn to their

elected leadersespecially the presidentfor guidance and moral clarity.
Today, in a vacuum of such moral leadership, fear tempts many
Americans to hunker down, protect themselves and their interests, and
withdraw for the purposes of safety and self-preservation.

To make matters worse, even our most honorable leaders are neither
incentivized nor encouraged to make decisions based on what they know
is right. Rather, they operate inand are constrained bysystems that
reinforce historical inequalities and perpetuate the status quo. Our
entrenched structures push leaders to be averse to precisely the moral
leadership they should embrace.

The most obvious example is in government.

Its not controversial to say that our elected officials often are discouraged
from putting nation ahead of party. In gerrymandered districts, they face
retribution and primary challenges. With post-Watergate campaign
finance norms obliterated, they are forced to spend far too much time
fundraising, fearful of money pouring in to oppose them. The result is a
broken set of incentivesall of which discourage bipartisanship and
deter them from tackling the real problems facing the people they
represent. Pagina 6 van 11

Gmail - My annual letter: A call for moral courage in America 06-09-17 23:01

In the private sector, meanwhile, corporate CEOs are mired in a system

that compels them to subordinate their personal values and beliefs. Yes,
some have raised their voicesand this is progressbut too many feel
pressured to focus on quarterly earnings and share prices, at all costs,
rather than enter moral debates or consider the human costs of their
silence or support. Why risk offending consumers, analysts, or
stockholders by taking a stand, especially when the stock market is riding

The obsession with, and American addiction to, short-term gainat the
expense of long-term goodis the most obvious example of a larger
phenomenon: leaders who make the trivial into the important and the
important into the trivial.

In philanthropy and civil society, we have also been slow to recognize the
ways our systems discourage moral leadership. We foundations often hide
behind the particulars of our missions, rather than standing up for the
deeper values our missions embody. We keep our heads down to avoid
making our organizations targets for criticism, especially in the era of
social media warfare.

Neither the Ford Foundation, nor I, are immune to these trends, and I
know we must do better. I often wonder whether the foundation uses its
voice in the most effective way. I question whether I have inadvertently
contributed to these problems, or reinforced these entrenched systems.

I know many nonprofit leaders and university presidents face similar

challenges. They worry about offending their wealthy donors. Some feel
constrained in their ability to speak out. They have my empathy, because
every day these leaders walk a tightrope to address the diverse and often
conflicting perspectives of the constituencies they serve.

Even though these problems feel particularly acute in the United States, Pagina 7 van 11

Gmail - My annual letter: A call for moral courage in America 06-09-17 23:01

my Ford colleagues and I see these trends on every continent where we

work. From exclusionary populist movements to attacks on public
institutions, the media, and the very idea of knowable facts, the
challenges we face are globaland so is our crisis of leadership.

Profiles in courage: The leadership we need

While systems conspire to constrain our leaders, the only acceptable
response is couragethe moral courage to reject and rewrite the old
rules. It was from the steps of the United States Capitol, in the presence
of presidents, and with hope for the future, that Maya Angelou
proclaimed, History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if
faced with courage, need not be lived again.

Already, I have been heartened by the many people practicing such moral
courage, on the ground and in local communities, across every sector.

In spite of the disincentives facing CEOsthe pressures from consumers,

shareholders, and boardsweve seen many industry leaders stand up
and use their power, like Kenneth Frazier of Merck and Tim Cook of
Apple (who, himself, frames the obligations of corporations as a moral

In spite of criticism from other public officials, many elected leaders and
university presidents have acted swiftly and courageously to remove
Confederate monuments and address the uncomfortable truths of our
history. In 2015, when South Carolinas then governor Nikki Haley
removed the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds, she noted that
this is a moment in which we can say that that flag, while an integral
part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state;
Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans reminded us, in his speech on the
removal of similar monuments, that now is the time to come together
and heal and focus on our larger task. Others, like Mayor Catherine Pagina 8 van 11

Gmail - My annual letter: A call for moral courage in America 06-09-17 23:01

Pugh of Baltimore and President Greg Fenves at my alma mater, the

University of Texas, have done away with their communities own
monuments to our countrys racist past.

In spite of the risk-averse cultures of many foundations, leaders like Jim

Canales of the Barr Foundation and Grant Oliphant of the Heinz
Endowments, among others, have offered powerful words rebuking the
hate we saw in Charlottesville. Their admirable responses inspire me, as
important examples of how we can speak truthfully and forcefully.

And in spite of many personal risks, leaders around the world are
organizing and advocating for human rights for those who have been
rendered invisible, exploited, and silenced by history. Im talking about
the moral courage of people like Cecile Richards, president of Planned
Parenthood, and Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense
Fund. Im talking about Farhana Khera, president of Muslim Advocates,
and Reverend William Barber, leader of a powerful moral movement for
justice. Im talking about the courageous young people known as the
Dreamers, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, who contribute every
day to the only country they have ever known.

These leaders are my reason for hope in this time of peril. They
demonstrate how we might fill the moral void at the top of our
government and dismantle the systems that stifle progress on the ground.
They remind us what is possible when our political leaders, corporations,
nonprofit organizations, foundations, and fellow citizens and neighbors
take up the mantle and choose to lead.

We need more like them.

We need leaders who build bridges, not walls. We need leaders who work
across party lines and bring us together, not politicians who degrade our
discourse and drive us apart. We need leaders who transcend the politics Pagina 9 van 11

Gmail - My annual letter: A call for moral courage in America 06-09-17 23:01

of division, who reject the language of exclusion even though it has

proven to be a powerful political tactic.

It is up to each and every one of us to stand up for what is rightto our

boards and shareholders and political parties, to our friends and
colleagues, if necessaryeven when it is not in our immediate interest.
And we cannot wait; we must be the leaders our countries need and the
world deserves. After all, what is the point of leadership, if not to lead in
times like these? What could we possibly be holding onto, or out for,
when everythingeverythingis at stake?

Soon, it may be too late for courage, too late to take the necessary steps to
mend our society. We risk reaching a day when whatever ability we had
to influence change or protect our democratic values will have been

Instead, I am hopeful that we canand willrealize the urgency of now.

I am hopeful because I see every day that we, together, are ready and
eager and impatient to lead the way toward a more righteous world
defined by its commitment to justice and fairness.

Now is the time for courage. Maya Angelou famously said, when
someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. And so
this year, my message is simple: Like the poet says, let us show each
otherand the worldwho we are.

As always, I welcome your thoughtsto comment, please visit our


With thanks, Pagina 10 van 11