Advancing the Conversation About Race
A Letter from Foundation Board Chair Bobby Moser
The year 2007 was not a banner year for racial equity or racial justice in the U.S. The Supreme Court limited the use of race in school integration plans. In Jena, Louisiana, six black high school students were convicted of beating a white student after white students invited black students to sit at the base of a tree from which they had hung nooses. A Gallup Poll reported African Americans’ overall views of black-white relations in the U.S. at a six-year low.
But there were bright spots. For example, 2007 was also the year the W.K. Kellogg Foundation Board of Trustees set the stage for support of a national conversation about race by declaring the foundation an effective antiracist organization that promotes racial equity.
I imagine our founder, W.K. Kellogg, would have been especially proud in that moment. As a philanthropic organization, the values and mission championed by Mr. Kellogg are critical parts of our DNA. Racial equity is central to these values. The foundation’s Articles of Association describe its purpose as, “…promotion of the health, education, and welfare of… children and youth… without regard to sex, race, creed or nationality…” And that description is based on the Children’s Charter, which Mr. Kellogg helped draft as a member of President Hoover’s White House Conference on Child Health and Protection. It specifies the rights of every child in America, “regardless of race or color or situation…”
Progress hasn’t been and won’t be easy or fast. But progress can be and is being made…
I joined the WKKF board in 2007, so my participation in discussions leading to the trustees’ declaration was limited. But as vice president for agricultural administration at Ohio State University, I had been actively engaged in the university’s conversations about racial equity and inclusion. And even to a newcomer to the foundation, WKKF’s commitment to antiracism was clear. The board itself was fairly diverse by then, as was the staff. And the foundation had been engaged in antiracist grantmaking for decades, from its support of Historically Black Colleges and Universities to its support of Native American and Hispanic educational and school-readiness initiatives.
In fact, with its 2007 declaration, the foundation was inaugurating a conversation about an issue and a position it was already acting on internally and externally.
Today, the Kellogg foundation maintains a strong focus on diversity, racial equity and inclusion in its organization and its programming. Fully half the trustees are people of color and the staff is nearly as diverse. And WKKF’s support of work to promote racial equity and racial justice has never been stronger. The foundation’s America Healing initiative is an unprecedented effort to address the devastating effect of racial inequities on communities across the country. In 2015 alone, the foundation was one of 10 making initial pledges on behalf of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative. And WKKF was among the 26 original signatory members of the Executive Alliance to expand opportunities for boys and men of color. To-date, the foundation has invested more than $135 million in racial equity efforts.
This work is not always comfortable or popular. In addressing historic and contemporary biases and structural inequities, we’re dealing with complex, challenging issues. And there were times in 2015 when – from Ferguson to Charleston to New York – the challenges seemed great indeed.
But that makes our focus even more important, and indications of progress particularly gratifying. In a democracy, change begins with conversation. As the foundation applies its principles in its grantmaking, it is raising the awareness of a great many people. We are helping heighten the importance of the conversation, of talking about race, about systemic racial inequities, about the need for racial healing.
The significance of this effort became especially clear to me at an America Healing convening in Asheville, North Carolina, in May. Healing circles were a prominent feature of the event, creating opportunities for people to talk about these issues in a safe, constructive way. Still, these were not easy sessions. People struggled with admissions and feelings that were painful to discuss. But in making the effort, they were furthering the healing process for themselves and those around them. More than once I heard people say that they had spoken and listened more and more authentically in their healing circles than they had ever done before.
As retiring board chair and trustee, reactions like those make me optimistic about the future. Of course, there is much work to be done – from helping communities create economic conditions that promote employment and economic security – to helping businesses recognize an entire population of young people who are hungry for opportunity – to encouraging organizations to model internally the changes they hope to see externally.
Progress hasn’t been and won’t be easy or fast. But progress can be and is being made – by communities eager to improve the lives of their members – by grantees and others energized to build a racially equitable and just nation – by individuals willing to confront and address uncomfortable truths about issues like structural racism and implicit bias.
It begins by having the conversation.