We Need Change Now, Not Just Years Down the Road
June 03, 2020
Dear ECMC Foundation community,
Some have said the last three months have been emotionally exhausting.
We have learned the stories of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, both senselessly killed by police, and Ahmaud Arbery, murdered by two White men while out on a run. Over this same time period, COVID-19’s spread in America has claimed 100,000 lives, with African Americans more than twice as likely as White people to die from the coronavirus.
But the truth is that the exhaustion is the result of decades—not months—of many similar, painfully tragic stories that haven’t been heard, but many in the African American community have experienced far too often. We are well aware that these stories are connected by a long legacy of systemic racism and white supremacy in the United States that crosses centuries, a legacy that is still as potent today as ever.
Those of us who work in philanthropy are deeply privileged to be among a small group of people who have the ability to direct millions of dollars to address this painful legacy. Since our inception five years ago, the ECMC Foundation has invested more than $164 million in programs and institutions that can improve outcomes for underserved students in college and career technical education programs.
But I now wonder if our organization is taking the right approach. Recognizing the systemic barriers to equity, our philanthropy has always prioritized investments that can lead to change at a systemic level.
But there is one thing about systemic change: it can be glacially slow, taking years to impact student success.
As the stories from the last few months underscore, however, there are real people whose lives depend on how fast we can achieve progress, those who need and want change now, not years down the road. My own father, a veteran of World War II, was denied jobs and educational opportunities because he was African American, despite being a Cum Laude graduate in math from UCLA. A half century later, the systemic change his generation needed is still too far away.
On a personal level, I’ve been wrestling with this balance—or rather, imbalance—in our grantmaking strategy between immediate impact and solutions that achieve lasting change. How can our funding make a positive difference in the lives of learners today, as well as prepare the sector of higher education to be more student-centric and focused on equity in the post-COVID, post-recession environment?
In the near term, ECMC Foundation is taking the following steps:
- We will be announcing new grantmaking in the coming weeks that invests in immediate-term solutions and support that increases the workforce and higher education opportunities for communities of color, especially African American communities.
- In the past five years we have funded over 40 research reports in higher education. Going forward, we will balance this with more direct service grants that result in near-term improvements for low-income students and adult learners.
- We are committing $250,000 to relief and repair efforts in Minneapolis, the headquarters of our parent company, ECMC Group.
- We will establish new guidelines for reviewing grant investments to ensure that they prioritize racial equity and support leaders of color.
This is just a start. As always, our team is open to hearing your feedback, thoughts, and ideas about how we can achieve sustainable change together. I am grateful to you, our partners, for the work you continue to do on the path toward racial equity.
We’re committed to making that path as short and smooth as we can.
Peter J. Taylor
President, ECMC Foundation