Beyond Minneapolis: 'There comes a time when silence is betrayal'

Saturday, May 30, 2020

I don’t have adequate words to describe the state of our country right now. But I know I need to say something anyway. As soon as possible.

In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

I am grieving for Minneapolis, a city that has welcomed me recently for at least two convenings on the state of our field of philanthropy. I’ve visited its many diverse neighborhoods in search of its vibrant and eclectic music, art and cultural life, as well as the global cuisine of people of multiple backgrounds -- from the Hmong to the Somalis.

After growing up miles from anything but a lot of pine trees in rural Colorado, our 19-year-old son chose the Twin Cities for college last summer. We dropped him off in August at a campus that attracts students from 90 different countries and has a mission that puts diversity and multi-culturalism front and center. He is now at home and glued to his phone, watching in horror at what’s unfolding, asking me whether I’ve signed this petition or that one in hopes that justice will somehow prevail.

Suddenly, all the conversations with my philanthropy colleagues about addressing racial inequities seem wholly inadequate -- but even more relevant.

Systemic, entrenched disparities in housing policies, education, and the criminal justice system have contributed directly to black Americans facing poverty and the inability to accumulate wealth. These so-called social determinants of health contribute to an increased likelihood of chronic illness and shorter lifespans. The underlying conditions have played out in this pandemic; blacks are already dying from COVID-19 at more than twice the rate of whites.

We’ve also seen massive layoffs amid the prolonged shutdown of the very parts of our economy that disproportionately employ people of color and other vulnerable populations that are also suffering.

And now: another senseless, sickening, and inhumane taking of a life – this time George Floyd.

I was struck by this Martin Luther King Jr. quote in the Washington Post: “In the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear?”

It’s not just the voices of those most oppressed. It’s the voices of white people like me. It’s past time for me to speak up – for our colleagues, our neighbors, our communities, our society.

As King said, “In the end we remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”

--Joanne Kelley, CEO, Philanthropy Colorado

Find More By