Just less than a year ago, I stepped enthusiastically into my role as President of the Akonadi Foundation. For those of us who care deeply about our communities and the work to advance justice and racial equity, the year has been challenging.
From a surge in hatred, animus and “othering” to the embrace of racist and hurtful policies by national leaders, this is a troubling time. Our Muslim sisters and brothers are under attack. Our young men of color are repeatedly targeted by state violence. Our immigrant communities are criminalized and torn apart, while the mass incarceration machine continues to destroy too many families. We join with so many of you in denouncing these injustices and calling for deep, lasting change.
But despite these challenges, now is a time of enormous possibility. More than ever, we recognize the consequences of taking democracy and progress for granted. We know now that progress toward a racially just society is not a foregone conclusion; we must fight for every step forward. We know now that a generic embrace of “diversity” is not enough to move the needle on the deep, structural issues that exclude and oppress communities of color. We must organize, advocate, and push forward until all of us have access to racial equity and opportunity.
I love working at Akonadi Foundation because this organization and our heroic partners insist that race matters. In other words, we can’t have justice or equity in our community or the broader society unless we talk first about race—and, beyond talking, act to eliminate structural racism.
The gaping racial disparities our communities grapple with every day call for a stepped-up focus on changing the systems that perpetuate inequality and structural racism. Our goal should be to ensure that all of our young people and families can thrive. For Akonadi, this means supporting a constellation of interconnected organizations and movements that will become an ever-stronger force for change in Oakland. Through our Arc Toward Justice Fund, Akonadi is supporting groups in Oakland working on issues from environmental justice and juvenile justice reform to education. We call this approach “ecosystem grantmaking,” founded on the belief that leadership and solutions are all around us.
Challenging — and changing — existing policies is essential. But we must also shift the culture itself. At Akonadi, we believe culture can contribute powerfully to systems change. Through our Beloved Community Fund, we support free public art and cultural events that celebrate, and are rooted in, communities of color in Oakland. The foundation supports this work so that families and communities of color can see themselves in the cultural fabric of our city and build voice, power, and self-determination. With a new program officer leading the fund, we plan to expand our efforts to strengthen unity and solidarity in communities by enabling people to imagine the political and social transformation of their world.
Despite the challenges we face, now is not the time to turn back. Let’s pledge to turn this troubling moment in our country into a time for revolutionary action. Let’s continue to resist. Let’s work together to advance the cause of racial justice — for our children, our families, and our communities.
Akonadi Foundation President