Reflections from the 2019 Forum

What We Do With Power and Privilege
Part 1

Written by Tamela Luce, senior program officer, HealthSpark Foundation and planning committee member of the 17th Annual SAFSF Forum, held in Pittsburgh PA, June 18-20, 2019.

As food system funders and partners converge in Pittsburgh this week for the 2019 SAFSF Annual Forum – Points of Convergence – I am again struck by the courage of SAFSF and its members to name subjects that are often somewhat taboo in other areas of philanthropy. During the kick-off plenary, SAFSF Board Chair Jen Zuckerman welcomed attendees and acknowledged the power dynamic that is in the room. We are all aware of the power imbalance between those funders and nonprofits, and it’s important to recognize that. Jen challenged us all to do three things related to power:

Name it
Look to be supportive
Listen with humility

It was an appropriate introduction the first panel of Pittsburgh coalition leaders, all of whom talked about power in their own way. The economic gap between black and white people in Pittsburgh is striking; with average incomes of $26k vs. $51k, respectively. As Pittsburgh “recovers” from the economic stressors of the 1980s and the collapse of its industries, not everyone has benefited. Structural racism has maintained inequality in many neighborhoods.

Yet as depressing as the stats and stories are, there is hope and resilience in Pittsburgh. Jamaal Craig of the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network talked about bringing residents and community leaders together to own the problems and create solutions. And Veronica Coptis of the Center for Coalfield Justice challenged the rural vs. urban narrative by saying that everyone has the same economic and health concerns, no matter where they live; we just need to get them into the same room to talk about it. Funders, as Amber Farr of the Buhl Foundation, said, have the power to convene. And we also have to have the power to step out of the way and let others use their power to bring about change.

I like to think I maintain an awareness of my power and privilege, but I know I have my blind spots. We all do. I pledge to maintain a keen awareness of power while at the Forum and back home. I will listen with humility and recommit to using my power to provide others the space to use theirs.

Click here to read ‘What We Do With Power and Privilege, Part 2’