January 11, 2021

Monday, January 11, 2021

Our Moral Responsibility to Create a New Path Forward

A Message from Kyle Caldwell, president and CEO of CMF

The lawless attack on our Capitol, a dangerous and seditious act of terrorism, was a strike at the heart of our democracy, exemplifying the dark truths that continue to permeate our republic. These events must serve to remind us that we all share the responsibility to protect and uphold the values we hold most dear. We all have a role in ensuring current and future generations are united in the fight for peace and racial justice. In an essay shared just before his passing, the late Rep. John Lewis said, “The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agenda you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.” Our commitment to equity calls us to ensure every voice is heard and to take on this responsibility as leaders, as members of the philanthropic community (one of the lasted trusted institutions in our society) and as Americans.   

What we witnessed in our nation’s capital in many ways echoed events here in Michigan last April when armed citizens stormed the state capitol building in Lansing, intimidating lawmakers and putting those who serve in harm’s way. The similarities are eerie. Even more chilling is the contrast between security at those events and the overwhelming force shown during peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Washington, D.C. and cities across America. We cannot ignore the treatment of these events as clear examples of deep inequity and institutionalized racism, nor allow them to go without a full accounting.  

I hosted a prescient meeting of three CMF members with Governor Gretchen Whitmer in October to extend an invitation for partnership on education, public health and economic prosperity challenges that surfaced in the wake of COVID-19. This meeting was not unusual; Michigan philanthropy has worked with governors dating back to George Romney. What happened following that meeting showed how our reality has dramatically shifted. In a striking turn of events, 30 minutes after we concluded our virtual meeting with Governor Whitmer we received news the FBI had uncovered a kidnapping plot against her, involving some of the same individuals who took part in descending on our state capitol.

In my own hometowns of Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo we have witnessed peaceful protests where citizens marched to call out their demands for racial justice. In some cases, following the peaceful protests there were instances of violence and destructive behavior. As more and more rhetoric mounted, law enforcement increased their presence and, in some cases, worked with demonstrators to ensure voices could be heard and all might be safe at the same time.  

I have lived in Michigan all my 56 years. I have worked directly with federal, state and local elected officials. I was hired and appointed to various state roles by governors Democrat and Republican alike. In those roles I have witnessed Michigan leadership and communities work together to achieve incredible accomplishments. In many ways we are a model for other states and communities across the country. Whether the building of the Mighty Mac that brought our two peninsulas together, the preservation of our Great Lakes and public lands, our creation of the domestic auto industry that built a robust middle class or our collective work to grow one of the nation’s most vibrant and organized networks of philanthropy—Michigan has led the way. Moving forward, we must continue to lead in positive ways.

On January 19 CMF will join individuals and organizations around the country in the National Day of Racial Healing. This annual observance – held on the Tuesday following Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day – is hosted by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and was created with and builds on the work and learnings of the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) community partners. It is perhaps especially fitting that this year’s observance will be held the day prior to the presidential inauguration — an important time as we look for new leadership. Through opportunities like the National Day of Racial Healing and others, our community of philanthropy must lead and come together to create a new way forward, to continue building a future where all may thrive and where democracy remains the bedrock of our society — our republic.

Congressman John Lewis said democracy is not a state, it is an act. Indeed it is our actions that can lead toward a more perfect union, and it is our moral responsibility as philanthropy leaders, driven to promote acts to advance our love for humankind, to help our communities find common ground, heal, promote equity and preserve the core values of our country. Thank you for leading at this important time and throughout this ongoing journey.


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