Reflections from the 2019 Forum

What We Do With Power and Privilege
Part 2

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.

At the end of three long days of learning and connecting with my colleagues in this food and ag systems work, I’m always drained and wondering if I should hide in my room to recuperate rather than do one more thing.

But since I served on the planning committee for the Forum, and specifically on the small group that planned the final plenary, I felt an obligation to attend.

I’m beyond glad I did.

The three speakers – Wildstyle Paschall from Indiana, Nephi Craig from Arizona, and Rev. Dr. Fatimah Salleh from North Carolina – challenged us to rethink how we are doing our work. From Wildstyle’s emphasis on approaching communities from their abundance (rather than scarcity) to Nephi’s focus on the historical and ongoing violence done by colonialism to Rev. Sellah’s Salleh’s impassioned plea to develop authentic relationships and allowing grantees to fail, repeatedly if necessary…

I’ve been doing this work a long time. More than twenty years. And lately, I’ve been frustrated by a lack of progress, notably on poverty and hunger in Philadelphia, which continues to rise despite countless programs and initiatives, and millions of dollars in philanthropic investment. I have been guilty of thinking about communities as being “disinvested” and needing to be “fixed,” as opposed to being curious about what assets they do have. I have not gotten out and met community members and learned directly from them, instead relying on the assumption that nonprofits and community service organizations know their own communities. To be sure, some do. Yet that does not absolve me of this responsibility.

I also need to sit with Nephi’s charge to heal from the violence we have done to ourselves and what we have done to our communities. How has my work perpetuated that violence? Or at least turned a blind eye to it? His quote, “If it’s inaccessible to the poor, it’s neither radical nor revolutionary.” continues to ring in my ears.

As I move forward in this work, Fatimah’s charge to gather people around me to hold me – and my foundation – accountable perhaps rings loudest. Philanthropy, much like any other institution, has established systems that centralize and maintain power, and it is the rare instance where someone with less power holds us accountable for missteps and mistakes.

Would we still see rising poverty and hunger rates in Philadelphia if we saw its neighborhoods and those communities as having abundance? If we ensured community members were an integral and authentic part of the planning, implementing, and decision making processes? If they had the ability and were welcomed to share when those processes need to change?

There is a shift in philanthropy coming, and it is up to us – all of us – to usher in that shift so that we can create positive, real, and lasting change.

I pledged to listen with humility. Now it is time to take back what I’ve learned to Philadelphia. What will you take back to your community?

If you missed the first part, click here to read ‘What We Do With Power and Privilege, Part 1’