Dr. William C. Bell: Philanthropy is more than our money: Partnering to change the future
Casey Family Programs President and CEO Dr. William C. Bell delivered the keynote address at the Hispanics in Philanthropy Annual Leadership Conference in Coral Gables, Florida, on June 8, 2022. Under the theme, “Our People, Our Story, Nuestro Futuro,” the conference challenged the philanthropic sector to better serve Latino communities, build intersectional and inclusive support for Latino communities, and provide space for leaders to develop collective strategies for engaging and serving Latino communities.
Dr. Bell urged philanthropy to be more than its money, work together to leverage change and work with all five sectors of the community to address the needs of the nation’s families and communities.
Watch Dr. Bell’s remarks here.
I’m grateful to have this opportunity to share this afternoon with you as you celebrate the strength, the accomplishments and the power of the Latinx community. But I also join you as we continue to witness the resilience in the face of sacrifices that the Black and brown communities continue to have to endure in this country.
You know, I believe that there is a time for everything, and the opportunity for me to be able to be here with you today is not lost on me. Because in joining you here today, I will endeavor to talk openly and honestly about some of the challenges that we are facing in this time that we are living in. And, the sadness of this time is that it is not strange to us because we’ve been here before.
As we stand in the midst of what seems like a never-ending season of great loss and a season filled with the repeated episodes of precious lives being stolen from families across this nation, we must once again confront the pain caused by the senseless violence – so painful that some of the violence that we’ve been witnessing is being inflicted from one family member to another family member.
On February 28, 2022, in Sacramento, California, a man shot and killed his three daughters and their chaperone at a church during a court-approved visit. The children’s mother had taken out a restraining order against him. He also took his own life.
On March 19, in Norfolk, Virginia, an argument outside of a bar escalated into a shooting that killed three young bystanders. One of the victims was a 25-year-old newspaper reporter, whose editor called her to cover the shooting, unaware of the fact that she had already been killed in this violent episode.
On April 3, 2022, in Sacramento, California, at least five shooters fired more than 100 rounds a block from the state Capitol in California, killing six people – three men and three women – and wounding 12 others.
On May 14, 2022, in Buffalo, New York, an 18-year-old avowed white supremacist killed 10 people and wounded three more with an assault-style weapon in a live-streamed attack at a supermarket in the heart of a Black community.
On May 24, in Uvalde, Texas, an 18-year-old gunman using an assault-style weapon killed 19 students – 19 babies – almost all of whom were members of the Latinx community, and two teachers at Robb Elementary School. One of Casey Family Programs’ staff members and her partner lost her partner’s two young cousins in this senseless episode of violence.
And, on June 1st, 2022, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a gunman killed his back surgeon, a man who I knew, who I talked to about my own back issues. He killed him, another doctor, a receptionist and a visitor to a medical building, and he then killed himself. And, supposedly, this happened because he was still in pain after repeated efforts by this renowned surgeon to help him. He was still in pain, and so, therefore, he took these lives.
We should all be in pain because this madness is continuing. This list does not include all of the killings in 2022.
This list does not include the more than 60 other shootings that left three people dead because killing fewer than four people does not technically rise to the level of being called a mass shooting, but there’s still three people dead.
This list does not include the fact that on October 10 in 2019, a gunman murdered 22 people and injured 25 others at a Wal-mart in El Paso, Texas, another attack on the Latinx community.
This list does not include the 17 people – 14 students and three staff members – who were murdered at the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in February of 2018 in Parkland, Florida.
But this list does echo and scream loudly from the community’s pain, reminding us that together we must find a way to stop this senseless destruction of life.
And yet, in that sacred place that we call hope, I still believe that for everything there is a season, and that there is a time to every purpose under the heavens. And also as I join you today, I still ask the question, when will we as a nation decide that the time has come for this madness to end? When will we decide as a philanthropic sector that this is our time to give voice to those families and those communities that have been suffering for far too long?
This is our time to plant the seeds of change for our children’s future. This is our time to build Communities of Hope that will allow all of our children to know and to live the full promise of America.
There’s a reason why people want to come here because they’ve heard the promises of what you can be, and what you can have, and how you can live in America, but America is not living up to its promise to all of our children.
Civil rights activist and labor leader and women’s advocate Delores Huerta said, “Every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person is a potential activist, and every minute is a chance for us to change the world.”
I believe that that is the reason that we’re gathered here today – to talk about our future. I believe that that is the reason that we’re gathered here today, because we want to change the world for the future of our children.
We have to believe that together we can change the world, and that we must take the actions that will cause that belief in change to become the reality for our children.
As members of the Latinx community and as members of the philanthropic sector, we are positioned to seize this moment and to catalyze the change that our children desperately need for their future. Philanthropy has taken up the mantle and made the commitment to make our communities and our cities and our nation and our world a better place.
The question confronting us after all of these years of living that commitment – of taking that mantle – the question still confronting us today is how do we create the systemic change that will deeply impact and that will be sustainable over time? How do we harness and leverage the power of philanthropy to work with others to overcome some of the most persistent challenges that are afflicting too many of our nation’s Black and brown communities today?
When we talk about addressing the needs of communities that have been intentionally and systemically marginalized, neglected and ignored, philanthropy’s approach to addressing those needs must be intentional. Intentionality cannot be optional. It must be the essence of what we do. And our approach must be focused on identifying and removing those systemic policies and practices and barriers that facilitate and perpetuate the marginalization and the neglect in specific communities in this nation.
You see, we must be intentional and measured because the devastation that is impacting children and families and communities across this nation is not distributed equally. That devastation is concentrated in specific places and specific neighborhoods and specific ZIP codes and specific communities across this country.
There are approximately 33,000 residential ZIP codes in the United States of America, and approximately 20 percent of those ZIP codes – 6,600 ZIP codes – contain approximately 80 percent of all of the children in America who are growing up in income-insufficient households.
Now, our historians and our politicians and others in this world like to refer to them as the poor people in America, but I don’t refer to them as poor in one of the richest nations in the world. They are income-insufficient, and if we do something to address the sufficiency of income, then they won’t have to live in the ways that they’re living right now.
Approximately 20 percent of those ZIP codes contain approximately 76 percent of all of the adults 25 years and older in America whose highest level of education is less than a GED. And, those two groups of 6,600 ZIP codes are significantly overlapping, meaning that they are filled with children who are living in income-insufficient households, and they’re living with people whose educational attainment is less than a GED. And we all know that education determines vocation, which determines the sufficiency of your income.
We have to be intentional and measured in the way that we think about solutions. We have to be intentional and measured in the way that we plan for solutions, and we have to be intentional and measured in the way that we act to make those solutions become real, if we’re going to change the conditions that our children and families are living in these ZIP codes.
For far too long, philanthropy has relied too much on the money that we can give as our major instrument of change. Too many of those who seek us out for collaboration see foundations and philanthropy as primarily as a funding source. Many foundations believe that their greatest strength is their endowment. But that perception fails to acknowledge philanthropy’s full capacity to make a difference as an organizer, to make a difference as a partner in the struggle with communities. That perception fails to acknowledge philanthropy’s full capacity as a powerful innovator that can engage with those who are living the fight every single day, and working together with them, we can co-create – not us create for them – but we can create solutions with them, by their sides, because they know more about what they need than we do.
Funding is not and should not be philanthropy’s sole most recognizable contribution to change. Philanthropy is more than our money, and we must be more than a funding source.
Foundations are vital members of the community. We are practice demonstrators. We are strategic partners. We are change advocates, and we are the influencers for a better America. We are advocates for laws and policies that, when fully embraced and fully enforced, will result in this nation truly becoming that one nation under God with liberty and justice for all that we are so happy to call ourselves, but in reality, that’s not the experience of our people.
We can no longer stand by and let these just be words written on a piece of paper that carry no real meaning for too many of our children, their families and the communities where they live. We have to give them a reason to believe that tomorrow is possible. We have to give them a reason to hope.
I’m not sure if you’re aware, but on average, every 24 hours in this country, we are losing more than 15 young people under the age of 25 to suicide. And, that number has gone up over the last several years, and it’s not just because of the pandemic. More than 15 young people on average every 24 hours, making a decision that one more day of life as I know it here in America is not an option for me.
Funding is necessary but, foundations, we need to recognize that the money that we give, at its best, can only complement, leverage or enhance the effectiveness of spending of government.
We give away a lot of money, but when you compare what we give to what is needed, if all we do is focus on what we can give, we’re not doing all that we can do to change what’s going on in this nation.
Giving USA 2021 came out with a report that extolled the fact that in 2020, philanthropy in America reached a record level of giving. Combined, we gave $89 billion across all of the causes to which we give. Eighty-nine billion dollars is more than the gross national product of over 125 countries in this world. And we gave that to make change in America.
But in that same year, in 2020, government spent $762 billion just on public education. And even with that $762 billion spent, we still have our kids dropping out of school at higher rates than their peers. Even with that $762 billion, we still don’t have early pre-K and early education for children in communities all across this country.
Eighty-nine billion dollars for philanthropy giving to everything that we gave to in 2020; $762 billion from the government – federal, state and local – just on public education. To have the impact that we desire to have, we’ve got to find a way to do more than just give our resources. We must do the work to make sure that when the founding documents said these words that I’m about to read to you, that they weren’t just talking about one particular group of people. And even if they were talking about just one particular group of people when they wrote these words, these words are intended to impact all people in this nation.
They wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are all endowed by their creators with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
We’ve got to find a way to make sure that the “all” in these documents actually really does mean all, and that it means all of us – all men, all women, all children, all members of the LGBTQ2SIA+ community. All has to mean all.
We cannot continue to sit back and allow words to be espoused, but they have no real meaning when it comes to the daily lives of children and families in Black and brown communities across this country. We must become more intentional and more effective at collaborating and partnering with others to leverage each other’s expertise in developing deep meaningful and sustainable solutions.
You see, the nature of many of our nation’s challenges demand a full community response. And by a full community response, I’m talking about the entire make-up.
We believe that there are five sectors to any full community. Those sectors include the government sector, whether it’s state, federal, or local or tribal. The sectors include the philanthropic sector. They include the non-profit sector – that’s civic, grassroots, faith-based, social services and other community organizations. The business sector. But the five sectors also include a sector that has been too often left out of the conversation, a sector that’s been too often left away from the table where the decisions are being made. Our chief investment officer says frequently, “If you’re not at the table, then more than likely you’re on the menu.”
We have to make sure that the sector of community residents – the children, the families and especially those people who are most adversely impacted by the devastation that is going on in this country – that they have the opportunity to be equally and equitably involved in the distribution of hope, in the distribution of opportunity and in the distribution of prosperity in this nation. Their voices must have the same standing and the same power as the other four sectors.
If you just pause for a minute and think about some of the rooms that you’ve been in where some very significant decisions were being made. I think about the times that I’ve spoken before Congress. I think about the times that I’ve spoken in state levels, and who was in the room, and who was around the table, and who was having the opportunity to make their voices known and make their needs known in those conversations.
Philanthropy, we have to be the vehicle that is going to make sure that, as they say in foster care, “Nothing about us without us.” And we can get in some doors. Some of us are proud of the doors that we can go in, but if we’re just going in those doors by ourselves, then we’re not doing all that we’re capable of doing.
Each sector and our individual organizations have to find a way to overcome whatever boundaries and walls that we’ve created to insulate ourselves from each other. We must remove the thinking that suggests that any of us has an exclusive piece of the pie or an exclusive piece of turf or an exclusive silo. We must work together to co-create the world that we want our children to inherit.
The five-sector model recognizes the connectivity between each one of us. We can no longer continue to engage and segregate ourselves through artificial means, using unnatural categories such as race, income, gender expression, family background and history, ethnic heritage, national origin, ZIP codes, what part of town you live in or what side of the tracks you come from.
Dr. King said, in his letter from the Birmingham Jail, “All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a garment of destiny.” “Whatever happens to one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you can be what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I can be what I ought to be.”
Casey Family Programs’ work in foster care, which I refer to as family separation, has brought us face-to-face with the atrocities that have been taking place at the U.S. border. We all know the impact and implications of separating children from their families, and how it impacts their self and their being as well as that of their family.
What we’re dealing with is deeply rooted in the history of this land, this United States of America. The challenges and the practices that we are trying to deal with are rooted in the instances of unfair policies and practices that this country has put in place, that from its outset has deemed one group of people worthy and another group of people who have the same level of need to be undesirable or unworthy.
That history leaves us with a very challenging task, and it’s two-fold. We’ve got to be able to identify, remove and replace those unfair policies, but we’ve also got to be able to change the mindset that allows those policies to be put in place in the first place; change the mindset that believes that some should have and some should not; change the mindset that will put more policies in place in the future if we don’t stop it from occurring.
I’ll speak briefly just on immigration, and I’ll wrap up because they’re telling me in big, bold letters, you need to get off the stage.
Let’s look at immigration. In 1886, the Statue of Liberty was dedicated as the symbol of freedom and the spirit of welcoming of America. Eighteen-eighty-six was 21 years after the end of the Civil War. Eighteen-eighty-six was nine years after the federal government of this country stopped the reconstruction effort in the South and basically left Black families in the South at the mercy of Jim Crow laws, and returned them to basically the impact of the period of enslavement.
Yet, in 1903, a plaque was added to the Statue of Liberty, and this plaque said, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, the tempest tossed to me, and I lift my lamp by the golden door.”
Nineteen-hundred-three, those words were written. Four years later, from 1907 and continuing to today, the same people who said this is who we are – a welcoming country – began finding ways to limit immigration and to limit the countries from which those immigrants can come. And that is still happening to this day. And it started four years after we made this declaration that we wanted the world to send us those who wanted to live free. We even used the word, homeless. And if you visit any major city in this country, you see what we really think about the homeless people in this world.
The question that I have for us today is what will we do to raise the political will and the public will to bring about the change that we need? When will we in our lifetime see the evidence that enough is enough?
Because when enough is enough, we will find a way to stop Latinx students and Black students from enduring and continuing to drop out of high school at levels that are significantly higher than their peers.
When enough is enough, we will find a way to make sure that Latinx and African American young people don’t continue to get four-year college degrees at rates that are disproportionately lower than their peers.
When we decide and we can see that enough is enough, we will make sure that the ZIP codes where a child is born does not become the most determinate factor in the level of success that they will have in their life, and does not become the most determinate factor in actually how long they will live.
When we decide that enough is enough, we will find a way to make sure that parents – mothers and fathers – across this country can actually breathe after their kids leave home for school, and not spend the whole day worried that their child won’t make it back home alive because they went to school. When enough is enough.
And the reality is that the road in front of us is long. The road in front of us is difficult. The road in front of us will have people on it telling us to stop moving forward. But that’s what happens when you demand that all of our children be determined as worthy.
That’s what happens when you demand that there’s a recognition in this nation that every child is just as worthy as any other child. That’s what happens when we stand up and say, “These are our people. These are our children, and we must make this world respond to their needs.”
I came across this quote, and I hope that—the only attribution I could find for this quote said that it was a Hispanic saying – so I hope that somebody can tell me before I leave here whether or not this is true. But the quote said, “One of the hardest parts of life is deciding whether to walk away or to try harder.”
Shortly before he was killed in 1968, Dr. King said he was tired of marching. He said that he was tired of marching for something that should’ve been his the day that he was born.
My life today is what it is in part because Dr. King didn’t stop marching, even though he was tired.
How many lives will be changed because of what you decide to do when you get tired, when it gets hard?
We all get tired sometimes, but this nation has yet to live up to the ideals written in its documents, and this country has told itself many untruths about who it actually is. We must try harder. We must try harder again, and when we get tired, we must try harder again until we truly see in our lifetime, in our children’s lifetime, that this is, in fact, one nation under God with liberty and justice for all.
Thank you for sharing this moment with me, and may God bless you and the work that you’re doing. And may God bless and keep our children.