“The decisions we make today will define us.”

Eric Ward, executive director of the Western States Center, posed this challenge at our Board retreat on racial equity in May. Eric charged us to reflect on our actions, given the urgency of the current political and social climate. As people committed to advancing justice, we often ask ourselves what we would have done during historic movements for rights. When we look back on today, how will we have responded?

When we began our process to explore how racial equity shows up in our work, some were surprised we had not done so before. After all, our grantmaking, the composition of our staff and board, and the issues addressed by our grantee partners reflect a strong commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity.

But we were behind many others in this area—at least in terms of speaking out more explicitly about race. We were inspired by colleagues who began stepping up in a big way and thinking expansively about what foundations can and should do to embed racial equity in their practices.

Something changed for us recently. Bold youth activism calling for the rights and dignity of people of color, the outpouring of civic action against discriminatory and destructive government policies, and events, like Charlottesville, spurred us to sharpen our understanding of the impact of structural racism and other forms of inequality.

Our work was meant to speak for itself, but now it was necessary to say why it mattered.

As we thought about Eric’s remarks, and how the Foundation would be defined in this moment, we sought to ground ourselves in a historical context and understanding of oppression and social change movements. We looked back at our past to identify the Foundation’s actions at critical moments over the last century. The timeline below is not intended to be static as we’ll be continuing to add to it moving forward, but it’s an initial step in refining our sense of how the struggle for racial equity is revealed in the Foundation’s grantmaking and the work of our grantee partners over time.

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