Letter from the President & CEO

“Every element to build a racial justice movement was elevated in 2020. The stakes have been clarified. The narrative has come into sharper focus. The pathways to progress have taken clearer shape.”

Rip Rapson
President & CEO, The Kresge Foundation

Each Generation Must Discover its Mission

It is difficult to identify a silver lining in a year as tumultuous, disruptive, and painful as 2020, with all the profundity of personal loss . . . the pervasive hardship of economic dislocation . . . the unrelenting destabilization of democratic norms and institutions. And yet, in laying bare the deep and intertangled root system of racial inequity and injustice feeding our systems of health, education, law enforcement, economic opportunity, democratic participation, and so much else, it was a year that opened a portal for potential progress.

Each generation must chart its course along the long arc of justice toward which, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. advised us, the universe bends. The path of progress is slow – far too slow. It is hard – far too hard. It is incomplete – far too incomplete. But each succeeding generation has a role in making it less slow, less hard, more fruitful.

The necessity of this long arc toward civil rights is brilliantly captured in the poem Each Generation Must Discover its Mission by acclaimed poet, educator, and 2019 Kresge Eminent Artist Gloria House:

Can’t you see the distance is long
and the search prolonged anguish?
It may be you will not see the Dawn
and the first sunlight of Day.
What do you say to this possibility?
Can you say, “Yes, that is possible!”
And struggle on in the dark?
Can you accept the questions unanswered,
your mouth frozen as you shape the words?
Perhaps you, in this time, have no words to utter,
only the deep groan of longing
pouring out of the heart,
flowing like a blood river.

Kgositsile, Aneb (House, Gloria). “Each Generation Must Discover its Mission.” blood river, Broadside Press, 1983.
Force Detroit's Executive Director Alia Harvey-Quinn marching for justice.
While distributing food baskets and PPE, Latino Memphis quickly realized that doing so was about something bigger: "It was about seeing the faces of the community that we serve. We saw hope and resilience on their eyes, and we were reminded and inspired about why we do what we do."

In 2020, the commitments expressed by protests in the streets, redoubled energies in our neighborhoods, new pledges of support in corporate board rooms, and sharpened and incisive commentary in the public airwaves signaled a heightened awareness that the racial justice “moment” needed to become a racial justice “movement” that touches and is shaped by every part of American society.

That will require a new reckoning, starting with an uncompromising and far-ranging identification of the structural injustices that need to be confronted. It will require concerted action that takes aim at systems of inequity that have become more and more calcified with each passing year. It will require a tectonic shift in the ways we think about investing in the bedrock preconditions of opportunity.

Kresge has, as have so many of our philanthropic colleagues, declared its full-throated support for these steps.

Our foundation’s commitment to upend the systems that allow and encourage racism is longstanding and still evolving. For more than a decade, we have aligned the strategies of each of our programs with the aspiration of expanding opportunity for people with low wealth in America’s cities. Distilled to its essence, that has meant directing our investments and other resources to advance racial justice and long-term equity.

For example, our Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity (CRUO) initiative, a five-year effort launched in 2014 to prioritize work led by advocates and organizers in cities facing disproportionate environmental burdens. With financial support from Kresge, the cohort of 15 nonprofit organizations informed local and regional climate planning and policy development to better reflect the needs and priorities of low-income communities.

Similarly, Kresge’s Culture of Justice initiative, launched in 2019, seeks to call arts and culture into service in helping community-based organizations to reimagine and advance new approaches to community justice. The support has deepened resident leadership roles, particularly by boys and men of color, and given visibility to authentic narratives of BIPOC individuals and communities.

The commitment represented by these two initiatives was crystalized in a new and more powerful form in 2020. It was a time of heightened awareness and a time to reinforce our basic mission and approach. It solidified Our Common Purpose.

In a sweeping pledge, we committed $30 million in long-term support to nearly 60 racial justice organizations working in cities across the United States. We invested in two types of organizations: place-based bodies led by people of color and national nonprofits committed to helping those local organizations more effectively organize, advocate, communicate, and take on legal challenges.

Putting resources against the challenges is, without question, a start in defining how philanthropy can be most effective in such a crucial time. But it is not an end point.

There needs to be a large dose of recommitment to the basic principles that guide how we work – with a particular emphasis on learning more about issues of race, inequality, and intersectional barriers to opportunity. There needs to be a probing interrogation of internal operations to make sure we are advancing principles of equity and inclusion in every crevice of our operations – whether in our role as an employer, as a purchaser of goods and services, as an investor, as a community citizen. And there needs to be a continual recalibration of our program strategies to ensure they are balancing the urgency of the moment with the imperative of long-term change.

At long last, under the direction of a new administration, our federal government is also taking a serious look under the hood. Taking an all-of-government approach to racial equity at the highest levels of government signals clearly to our country, and to the world, that systemic racism and entrenched barriers to opportunity no longer have a place in American life.

I am optimistic that this country has seen its turning point. Every element to build a racial justice movement was elevated in 2020. The stakes have been clarified. The narrative has come into sharper focus. The pathways to progress have taken clearer shape.

On behalf of The Kresge Foundation, we are committed to fully support and embrace Our Common Purpose and help usher in an era of true freedom for all Americans. I invite you to join us.

Five individuals stand in front of the Capitol Building holding a sign that reads "Housing is essential."