We're sharing the latest updates, best practices and learning opportunities emerging from Michigan philanthropy.
A Call for Civil Discourse
Photo Source: Jeff Kowalsky / AFP - Getty Images
A message from Kyle Caldwell, president and CEO of CMF
“When the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free.”
- Edward Gibbon, historian and author of “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”
In just a few short days, the image above has become an iconic reflection of the polarizing impact of the COVID-19 virus response, not only in Michigan, but throughout the nation and the world. The photo above, taken inside the Michigan State Capitol on April 30, depicts state troopers standing in front of angry protesters, with troopers facing the consequences of direct exposure to people who neglected to wear masks. As an asthmatic I’m acutely aware of how contagious this virus is and the critical responsibility all of us have to do everything within our power to stop its spread.
Those pictured were exercising their civil liberties. Right of speech and assembly are paramount, and the social sector has long advocated for this fundamental right. And yet, there are life and death consequences to gathering in close proximity. There is also danger in escalating rhetoric and implied intimidation that we witnessed as some exercised their second amendment right to carry firearms while demonstrating. These actions highlight the paradox of civil disobedience and civic participation that our nation has long observed.
The central question to be explored: How do we hold civil discourse while exercising our responsibilities during this crisis? And what role does philanthropy play?
Governance in a republic based on core democratic values is by definition messy. The powers and limitations of our government are being tested. The need to secure an economic livelihood is being balanced with health and safety. That process, and policymaker decisions, require input and engagement yet the very remedy for this crisis (in the short term) is isolation. As I reflect on what we have been witnessing in Lansing – individuals and groups gathered to petition their government – there are costs that must be weighed.
There is a cost to those gathered at distances known to be unsafe. There is a cost to our frontline safety workers. There is also a cost to civil discourse.
I’ve written to you about the innovation and new collaborations emerging from this crisis that speaks to the tremendous resiliency of our sector. This is another side to the crisis that requires the full attention of our philanthropic community.
The challenge to the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order was a form of civil action, but threats to public officials and disregard for the public health concerns of others demonstrated what Edward Gibbon called, “freedom from responsibility.” Former President George W. Bush recently shared a message, “The Call to Unite” urging us to look for the commonalities among us and to engage in service to others. In this video message, Bush reminds us that it is incumbent on all of us to find ways to help others, seek common ground and advance the common good.
During my listening tour of the state in early 2019, what seems like a lifetime ago, I heard time and again that philanthropy needs to find a way to foster a return to civil discourse, with differences explored without demonization and bitter hyper-partisanship. Honestly, outside of our normal promotion of good governance and encouragement of full civic participation (voting, volunteering, participating in the census), I have struggled with what more we can do to be significant in promoting civil discourse. Now it has become a life or death issue. There seems no other choice and no better time to address this head on.
I recognize this issue has been decades in the breaking and will be decades in the remaking, but here are some initial suggestions of concrete actions we can take today.
Thoughtfully engage with lawmakers. The COVID-19 crisis has put every lawmaker at every level of government in a vital role as both listener and resource. Our community of philanthropy and nonprofit partners can bring their constituents together with lawmakers to discuss concerns and possible innovations. Webinars, conference calls and social media platforms are increasingly being used as effective methods to conduct town halls.
Explore organizations working to support civic discourse and democracy. As one example, national philanthropy leader Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE) includes several Michigan-based organizations and provides a membership program that helps foundations understand issues and practices in promoting civil society.
Support civic participation efforts. In addition to helping with voter registration and education, our community of philanthropy has two prime opportunities to support civic participation. First, there is the 2020 Census. With the end date pushed out, there is time to encourage Michiganders to go online to fill out their nine questions. Second, Michigan is launching a redistricting commission and seeking members. Early results have shown an applicant pool with a remarkable lack of diversity. Philanthropy can work with nonprofit partners to promote broader participation.
The need for volunteers is increasing. Our community of philanthropy can promote partnerships with local providers to expand broadband access, expanding e-volunteer opportunities, among other benefits. At the national level there is a call for a dramatic increase in national service, including the collection and distribution of Personal Protection Equipment for frontline workers. There is a significant need for blood donations, as well. Promoting local drives and nonprofits that support blood supplies to medical facilities can be effective ways to support donations.
These suggested actions are no panacea to what ails our civic discourse. Much like trying to boil the ocean with the lighting of a match, the task can seem far beyond our reach, but we can be the champions to call for freedom with responsibility and find common ground. While a match may seem small, it is a place to begin.
All the best,
Mental Health Support: Critical in Time of Trauma, Isolation and Stress
At least 56% of American adults have reported that worry or stress related to the pandemic has caused them to experience at least one negative effect on their mental health and well-being, according to data from Kaiser Family Foundation.
The pandemic has resulted in a more intense spotlight on issues surrounding mental health and well-being as people across all age groups experience the trauma of losing loved ones, heightened anxiety, health concerns, job loss and school closures, social isolation, caregiving stress and more.
We are seeing efforts emerging on the state and federal levels to support mental health resources along with long-standing, continued support by CMF members.
In a joint bipartisan letter, nine Michigan Congressional leaders are requesting that funding for Michigan school-based health centers be included in the next COVID-19 legislative relief package to ensure there are no gaps in mental health services while schools are closed.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) has launched a new crisis text line to provide additional mental health support as part of its “Stay Home, Stay Well” initiative during the COVID-19 pandemic.
MDHHS says Michigan residents can now text the keyword “RESTORE” to 741741 to have a confidential text conversation with a crisis counselor. Trained counselors are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to respond to texts from Michigan residents who are facing a mental health crisis, such as anxiety, financial stress, suicide and domestic violence. While the text line has launched during the pandemic, MDHHS intends to continue offering the service in the future.
The Children’s Foundation partnered with iHeartRadio for the #iCareMI campaign underway now through May 17. Funds raised during the campaign will be used to assist community organizations to provide urgent needs and services to the children and families they serve, including technology to transition mental health in-person visits to telehealth.
As CMF reported, several CMF members including the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, Ethel and James Flinn Foundation and the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation recently fast-tracked nearly $3 million in grants to advance telehealth services in Michigan, particularly in the area of behavioral health to ensure those who need services can be connected.
“We share a long-term commitment to advancing telehealth as a best practice in Michigan,” Andrea Cole, executive director, Ethel and James Flinn Foundation said. “Now more than ever, remote treatments offer a lifeline for families and children in need of behavioral health services.”
The Ethel and James Flinn Foundation continues to highlight the importance of self-care and support during this crisis by sharing mental health resources on its social media channels.
The Crim Fitness Foundation, which is supported by CMF members, is providing virtual learning and mindfulness-based stress reduction for youth and families.
Resources to Share with Your Staff, Community Members and Partners
MDHHS has provided a roundup of resources for Michigan residents experiencing stress, anxiety and trauma:
The Headspace website provides free, evidence-based guided meditations. It includes at-home workouts that guide people through mindful exercise (a type of meditation in which participants focus on being intensely aware of what they are sensing and feeling in the moment), sleep assistance and children’s content to help address rising stress and anxiety. The resource is free and available to the public.
The National Suicide Prevention hotline. People considering suicide are urged by MDHHS to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 800-273-8255.
The Disaster Distress Helpline for anyone in distress pertaining to the COVID-19 crisis. It is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 800-985-5990.
The statewide “Warmline” for Michiganders living with persistent mental health conditions connects people with certified peer support specialists who have lived experiences of behavioral health issues, trauma or personal crises, and are trained to support and empower the callers. The warmline operates seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. at 888-PEER-753 (888-733-7753).
This Friday, May 15 CMF’s Health Funders Affinity Group invites all members to join a conversation about the health issues related to the pandemic with Dr. Robert Gordon, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Event registration is now live.
OFFICE OF FOUNDATION LIAISON POLICY SPOTLIGHT
Crisis Further Exacerbates Long-Standing Inequities
U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters recently joined more than a dozen colleagues in introducing the federal COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force Act to create an interagency task force to identify and address racial and ethnic disparities leading to the devastatingly unequal impact of COVID-19 on communities of color. The legislation also calls for a report to Congress on structural inequalities preceding the COVID-19 pandemic and a permanent Task Force on Infectious Disease Racial and Ethnic Disparities focused on the healthcare system and improving the response to future crises.
Michigan began a similar journey weeks earlier when Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced an executive order, creating the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities. Total COVID-19 cases in Michigan have grown to nearly 47,000 and over 4,500 cases have resulted in death. As CMF has reported, although African Americans represent 13.6% of the state’s total population, 41% (1,740) of COVID-19 related deaths in Michigan are African Americans. Michigan’s task force will advise the state’s leadership on the causes of this shocking disparity, provide recommendations for actions to reduce it and increase the state’s capacity to implement policies that reduce disparities.
Task forces are not the only solution, but they do offer opportunities for leaders to discuss equitable policy change with a sense of urgency.
Following the creation of the task force, Whitmer signed an executive order “Affirming anti-discrimination policies and requiring certain health care providers to develop equitable access to care protocols.” This is a tremendous first step to increase transparency on disparate access to healthcare and inequitable health outcomes.
National and state data on disparities is still emerging. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) reports that African Americans represent a higher share of both confirmed cases (20 of 31 states) and deaths (19 of 24 states). In Iowa, Latinx individuals represent 6% of the population and 17% of confirmed cases, and in Arizona, American Indians and Alaskan Natives are 4% of the population and represent 21% of deaths to COVID-19.
The unequal impact of COVID-19 on the poor and on communities of color is not surprising to funders and nonprofits working in the health equity and social justice space, who have been tracking the disparate impact of social policy on populations of color for decades. Many of the recent temporary changes being enacted in state and federal programs (increasing eligibility thresholds, loosening of program restrictions, etc.) reflect the longtime goals of foundation and nonprofit advocates. We see disparities in educational and employment opportunities, housing, criminal justice and access to quality, affordable healthcare.
The Office of Foundation Liaison's (OFL) work to address disparities in COVID-19 has included an ongoing partnership with the Michigan Department of Education (MDE). As MDE works to support the implementation of distance learning due to school closures, internet access is more critical than ever. Data provided to OFL following a recent MDE survey on digital access suggests that 28.6% of the state’s roughly 1.5 million students do not have internet access. While the digital divide is not a new problem, the urgency of reaching students and families to redefine education in the state has forced the prioritization of this issue among the litany of concerns in Michigan’s beleaguered education system. Disparities vary widely across the state with poorer urban and rural districts facing the greatest challenges in internet access.
Making improvements in access for educational purposes has the potential to also improve access opportunities for whole families, for health care and other services, if we expand our thinking to consider the internet as critical public infrastructure and an inequity to be addressed.
People of color and individuals who live in low-income households face social and economic barriers during ‘normal’ times; that impact is exacerbated in a crisis. COVID-19 has shed a sobering light on the biases and shortcomings of our systems of support.
It is heartening to see robust, national discourse on the issue of health equity. We are seeing individuals, communities, businesses, nonprofits and government galvanized into meeting needs and finding solutions. Efforts at the state and national levels, too, give us reason to be hopeful.
While it is critically important to take immediate action to reduce disparate impacts during this pandemic, the social and structural inequities that caused these impacts have been generations in the making. The systemic, persistent inequalities that led us here will need to be addressed in a systemic, persistent way, by all of us. We will need to summon the collective courage to have many difficult conversations in the months and years to come.
Our current reality is not our new “normal.” It is a massive disruption to a system that has been producing and reproducing inequities in our society for far too long. We have the opportunity to shape the new “normal” that lies on the other side of this crisis, to influence policy and decision making in education, employment, healthcare, and other social supports through the lens of equity and justice. Philanthropy can play a pivotal role in solidifying equity as a principle of “normal.”
Special thanks to Monica Trevino, director of social enterprise, Michigan Public Health Institute, for collaborating with OFL on this article.
Contact OFL to access MDE district-level data on the digital divide.
Supporting Local, Nonprofit Journalism in the Crisis and Beyond
Philanthropy is stepping up its support for local and nonprofit journalism during the COVID-19 pandemic, an industry that has been struggling over the last decade or more.
According to a presentation from the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan collective of thought leaders, creatives, scholars and citizens that works to address complex issues, 1,300 American newspapers have closed in the last 10 years and 200 American counties no longer have a local paper. The number of local reporters fell from 455,000 in 1990 to just 183,200 in 2016.
During the pandemic, the need for trustworthy local news is critical. A long-time supporter of journalism, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation recently partnered with Aspen Digital—the Aspen Institute’s branch focused on digital media—to host a webinar featuring local news publishers and advocates discussing the decline of local news sources and the need for them, especially during this crisis.
“Tens of thousands of journalists, since the pandemic began, have been laid off, furloughed or had their salaries cut,” Vivian Schiller, executive director, Aspen Digital said during the webinar. “But it’s much more than that. Every one of those jobs represents a voice, often in a news desert; a voice that is providing critical—sometimes life-saving—information to citizens around the country.”
While publications across the country downsize, local and nonprofit journalists continue to provide vital information to residents.
Jiquanda Johnson, founder and publisher, Flint Beat, a website founded in 2017 to better serve Flint’s underrepresented communities, served on the panel and discussed why local voices are critical in community journalism.
“I grew up in Flint. I’m a Flint girl. I’m a product of this community that I cover,” Johnson said. “One of the things I noticed was that it’s sometimes hard to break into communities like Flint and they didn’t trust the media that was already in place because of the coverage. I make sure I’m known in the community and engage them on any and every platform.”
CMF members continue to support local journalism as the need for timely and accurate information continues to rise.
The Knight Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan (CFSEM) launched the Detroit Journalism Engagement Fund in 2017 to expand local reporting in Detroit and southeastern Michigan. To date, the fund has provided $1.2 million in grants to local and nonprofit news outlets, including newspapers, local magazines, podcasts and television stations.
A key initiative of the fund is New Michigan Media, a consortium of ethnic and community news sources that serve different populations. The consortium includes the Michigan Chronicle, Latino Press, the Detroit Jewish News, The Arab American News and The Michigan Korean Weekly. CMF reported last week that the Michigan Nonprofit Association has formed a partnership with New Michigan Media to amplify communication to nonprofits about the Paycheck Protection Program.
With philanthropic support, Bridge launched Michigan Health Watch to report on healthcare issues across the state.
John Bebow, Bridge president and CEO, recently told Flintside, “Bridge wouldn't be able to do it without philanthropic supporters including the Michigan Health Endowment Fund and the Ethel and James Flinn Foundation.”
Watch Aspen Digital’s “The Crisis in Local News” webinar.
Learn more about the Detroit Journalism Engagement Fund.
Caring for Our Frontline Workers
Healthcare workers have been on the frontlines around the clock for weeks to care for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. The philanthropic community has shown an outpouring of support for frontline workers’ safety and well-being during this crisis.
The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation provided funding to the University of Michigan-Flint to house Genesee County healthcare workers in its residence halls. This has allowed healthcare professionals to keep their families safe from exposure while having a clean and safe place to rest and recover.
The foundation also provided support to Freedom Center Church, which purchased meals from Flint restaurants to deliver to hospitals.
The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation (RCWJRF) committed $1.5 million to support caregivers on the front lines of COVID-19 at acute care hospitals in Southeast Michigan and Western New York.
“Caregivers on the front lines of COVID-19 put themselves in harm’s way for the benefit of others and work tirelessly, day in and day out. It’s critical that they too are cared for,” David Egner, president and CEO, RCWJRF and CMF Trustee said. “Our trustees and staff have been touched by stories shared by our grantees about frontline hospital workers accessing basic needs like childcare, transportation, and healthy meals. We hope these grant funds play a role in providing some comfort to these crucial workers.”
CMF members around the state have helped to connect workers with not only critical Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and basic needs such as food and housing, they’ve also engaged in special initiatives to show appreciation.
The 5 Healthy Towns Foundation, in collaboration with volunteers from Health Ministry in Action and Community Wellness Coalitions, launched a letter-writing campaign to thank frontline healthcare workers for their efforts. The initiative, originally created by a group of Chelsea High School students, allows community members to drop off or mail letters of thanks to workers at St. Joseph Mercy in Chelsea and Henry Ford Allegiance Hospital in Jackson. Residents can also submit words of thanks online that will be shared with hospital staff.
“It’s not just the clinical staff who deserve our thanks,” Amy Heydlauff, CEO, 5 Healthy Towns Foundation told Chelsea Update. “It’s everyone going to work in our health centers—environmental services staff, dietary workers, radiology and lab personnel, pharmacy techs social workers and many more. We want them to know that we appreciate their commitment.”
Foundations are advancing a variety of collaborations to thank and support healthcare workers.
The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan (CFSEM) partnered with the Detroit Pistons to fund aid to hospital workers. In addition to the Pistons’ $250,000 donation to CFSEM’s COVID-19 Health Fund, owner Tom Gores purchased and delivered 100,000 surgical-grade masks for Detroit first responders and hospital employees.
To boost healthcare professional and resident morale and to promote social distancing, the Pistons partnered with the Detroit Youth Choir (DYC) to create a video that features DYC members singing “Stand By Me” while former Pistons players—including former Detroit Mayor Dave Bing—show signs thanking healthcare workers and encouraging residents to stay home.
Watch the thank you video from the Detroit Pistons and the Detroit Youth Choir.