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Inspired by Uplifting Change Summit

Pictured: Nii-Quartelai Quartey, Co-chair, Uplifting Change Leadership Circle

Byline: Roxi Reeves.

On Friday, I was one of more than 100 participants at Liberty Hill Foundation’s Uplifting Change Summit gathered to discuss strategies for African American philanthropy in Los Angeles. A lot of high powered people showed up, and by the end of the afternoon, White House staff had joined us as well. From L.A. to D.C., lots of people recognize how critically important it is for this city and this country to Uplift Change.

We were asked to remember we when had our first defining realization that giving is essential. For me there wasn't a singular or aha moment. I grew up with parents who were always giving or helping, whether it was giving away canned goods or clothing to those in need, writing a check or volunteering for a charity. That’s just how things always were. You give what you can or help when you can.

I believe that most of us understand that giving is important. In fact, most of us are more philanthropic than we realize.  At one time or another we have given money to our church or sorority, to the Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina, or to the Salvation Army’s red bucket during the holidays.

As one of the Summit participants said, “Philanthropy isn’t just about giving money. It’s about being compelled to do something simply because it feels right. It is the common thread of people seeing need around them.”

While I listened to the speakers and participants share their stories or stories of friends and family, I was taken by the many different yet successful paths that led each one of us to the same location on the same day. Some talked about their experience at private schools, others about being the troubled kid that all but one person had abandoned. Still others described being the obese kids from lower income neighborhoods where there are more fast-food restaurants than healthy food options and no parks or play grounds to play at (or where if there were playgrounds there were also gangs so mothers kept their children in the house where it’s safer).

In the days since the Summit, as I try to digest everything that I heard, I am profoundly struck by the realization that nothing less than a holistic, systematic approach-- a reinvestment-- must be made in order to create sustainable and healthy communities. It is clear to me that there is a nexus between a community's need and the burden that has been created by the existing and past conditions. Therefore the benefits must be proportional to the impacts.

So where do we start?

Well, there should be a connection among interdisciplinary issues. The connections are particularly needed among education, land-use planning, and mental and physical health and well-being.Sociological and psychological issues need to be addressed, especially regarding education. Students should not shame one another for being smart. The expectations of students and faculty should be elevated because with low expectations you more often get low results. At the same time, in some communities, kids are more afraid of the police then they are of gangs.  Financially punitive measures in schools only seem to exacerbate an already delicate and desperate situation. If parents can't afford to buy daily servings of fresh fruit and vegetables, how are they supposed to pay a $250 ticket their child received for being late for school? Those with the greatest need are typically those with the fewest resources.

So we should increase investments in lower-income communities and communities of color to create long-term opportunities and success. There should be better use of existing commercially zoned vacant and underdeveloped parcels. Elected officials and civic leaders and advocates should collaborate to eliminate "food deserts" and ensure that there are healthy food options available to all communities. Green spaces should be equally available throughout communities regardless of demographics.

Creating "uplifting change' requires the strength and commitment of a collective community beyond our diligent grassroots advocates. Philanthropists need to partner with organizations whose programmatic interests are in alignment, so that we can leverage our resources.  We need to understand public policy and how the work of government agencies, the private and non-profit sectors, and academia can be coordinated. Understanding how inequalities affect minority and low-income communities is intrinsic to uplifting change – to decreasing obesity, eliminating food deserts, improving safety and rectifying schools that have more students than chairs or desks.

Without the collaboration of leaders and organizations to lead the “call to action” there cannot be success at a level that will have a significant long-term impact. We need to invest in capacity building and ensure that the changes we propose will meet our communities' existing needs without any compromise to future generations.

When all is said and done, let’s hope that more is done than said. To quote one of the panelists, “I want my country to count me in the game.”

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