Finally, we are having the difficult, candid conversations about racism in America, but why is murder the forcing function? The unjust killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have brought a moment of insurgence and outrage that is being demonstrated in the streets of every major city in America.

We must ask the question: Are we paying attention now because of select media coverage and the protests? Or are we actually paying attention because we finally understand that countless Black people are being hunted and murdered?

Regardless of the answer, we are now in the midst of a civil unrest that is forcing our country to finally take a hard look at the realities of systems that were designed to oppress communities of color. Income and housing discrimination. Unaffordable and unequal education opportunities. Out-of-reach healthy foods and healthcare. At the pinnacle of these inequities is an inherently biased criminal justice system which systematically targets Black people.

In Black communities we often talk about prisons as the modern form of slavery. Why? Because Black people are incarcerated at a rate that is 5.1 times that of whites. These inequities, and myriad more, have been the daily realities of people of color, and are just some of the reasons Black and brown people have lived a punishing existence for far too long.

As a leader within the Milken Institute Center for Strategic Philanthropy, the current state of events has forced us to examine our operating principle that philanthropy is private capital for public good. While still generally true, it leaves us asking: What slice of the public is really benefiting from philanthropy, and how? We often talk about systems change in philanthropy, but what systems have we really changed for people who lack privilege?

Philanthropy has been accused of entrenching the very problems that it is trying to solve by creating a dependency on charity in order for people to live a better life, rather than relentlessly pressuring the system to change so that people can orchestrate a better life for themselves. If there were any time for philanthropy to re-center itself and really start to swing for the fences in terms of challenging systems to change the time is NOW.

To be truly strategic and transformative, philanthropy must be brave. It must ask the hard questions, and listen to the answers, no matter how disturbing or inconvenient they may be. It must be rooted in diversity in the causes that it advocates for, and it must be diverse, all the way up to the board room. Most of all, philanthropy must act based on these uncomfortable answers, and take the big risks that recreate better systems to replace the ones that have failed us.

As a team of colleagues and philanthropic advisors, we know there is more we can do, and should have been doing all along, to ensure people of color are being treated with the dignity every human being deserves. As a field, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard. We can no longer stand in silence.

Watching, waiting for the storm to pass is not an option. This is a turning point moment when we must use our privilege to take urgent action that gets us to the solutions, rather than perpetuates the indignity of the status quo. Our lives as we know it depend on it.


By LaTese Briggs, Ph.D, Senior Director, Milken Institute Center for Strategic Philanthropy.