JEDI, Strategic Approach | November 11, 2021

What the Foundation’s New Values Mean: Courage

Courage gives us the confidence to do what we feel is right so we can think and act for change.

Among the Foundation’s values, courage is unique, because it takes courage to live into our other organizational values. Otherwise, they are merely aspirational.

Courage is about taking action when a process, decision, or outcome is difficult. You might say it’s taking action ESPECIALLY when those things are difficult. It’s pushing through fear, being bold, and asking hard questions.It shows in what we fund and what we say through external communications.

Courage is being vulnerable.

A critical element of courage is trust. Because trust isn’t guaranteed, sometimes we, as staff and board members, need to allow for some vulnerability in order to lower walls and soften relationships.

In blogs, several staff have opened up about personal experiences in their lives. Our CEO, Kevin Walker, reflected on how he approaches DEI in his position as a white male leader in philanthropy. Our DEI manager, Margie Andreason, spoke about her passion for social justice and her experience as a Korean adoptee. Our board member, Duane Carter, shared about his experience growing up Black in Duluth and his journey through the white-dominant industry of finance.

These stories paint a picture of people—human beings—not just grantmakers. That’s important, because the more we can share, the more we can connect to others, eventually having the opportunity to share grantees’ stories and more.

Courage is using our voice and standing with grantees.

The impact the Foundation’s voice can have is something we try not to take for granted.

Organizations like ours can use our platform to support change in a crucial way. Commenting on national tragedies like racist protests in Charlottesville and the murder of George Floyd is important. Though we aren’t immune to criticism or internet trolling, at least others will know where we stand.

In an era when communities of color continue to be traumatized by senseless violence and hate, the public also faces the threat to be desensitized to such events. That’s why leaders in philanthropy, media, and government have a duty to speak up when this happens.

To serve our grantees and priority communities, we stand up with them and add our voices to theirs. This is one way we can affect change beyond our grantmaking.

Another way we can use our voice is through stories. So much of the work we do is guided by our grantees and the communities they serve. Sharing their stories and lifting up their work is essential.

For example, our quarterly grant releases regularly spotlight grantees, lifting up organizations that advance equity and build prosperity. Similarly, through blogs, videos, and other communications, our stakeholders and the rest of the field can see and experience the good work of the resilient groups we support.

Courage is leaning into discomfort and going deeper on racial justice.

Difficult conversations are a part of our personal and professional lives. There’s no way around it.

Sometimes we can get too comfortable in how we do things. Often, we don’t want to stir the pot or question the status quo. It takes courage to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones, allowing ourselves to be different, even make mistakes. Sometimes we have to think outside the box, make a change.

For change to occur, an important step is to first create space for change to develop.

To advance racial, social, and economic justice takes courage with every step we take forward.

For the past several years, the Foundation has created a space for staff and board members to connect on and discuss topics related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Many topics are difficult or uncomfortable to address, like racism, whiteness, systems of oppression, and so on.

We’ve been working with consultants and each other to understand our place in—and how to confront—inequitable systems. Naturally, these engagements aren’t always easy. A diverse staff brings diverse worldviews. But the need for racial equity calls for these conversations, and having them can take courage.

We also want to follow through with action and understand the ways in which whiteness is privileged, internally and externally.

Last year, several staff formed a reading group around the book Me and White Supremacy, which helps identify the impact of a culture based on the dominance of whiteness (white supremacy) on people’s lives. Staff were able to share about what they’d been taught growing up, what they were learning now, and what needed to be unlearned.

Opportunities like the book circle help us to broaden our worldviews—to be open to learning (and unlearning) and working differently. To advance racial, social, and economic justice takes courage with every step we take forward.

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