We Need to Understand
Our Community in New Ways
By Brennan Gould, President and CEO
At its root, the terror of 2017 was an attempt to divide us. And the Heal Charlottesville Fund was our response. More than just a rejection of racism and anti-Semitism, it has been an assertion of love, generosity, and connectedness.
This last point is critical for us at the Community Foundation. By virtue of sharing a place, we are all deeply interconnected, and it can be easy, in times such as these, to lose sight of that. Just as it can be easy to forget the important ways in which we are different, the ways in which this community, to which we all belong and contribute, nevertheless does not work the same for everyone.
Holding these two ideas at once—our connectedness and our difference—has shaped our Community Foundation in recent years. The word “philanthropy” literally means the love of humanity. And yet in practice, it is possible to love humanity but not actually love people. In order to love people, we must start by seeing them in their full contexts.
The Heal Fund has tried to do just that.
Survivors needed help covering medical bills, rent, and groceries, and we were committed to being as nimble as possible to meet unique survivor needs. Members of the Jewish community needed improved security to feel safe and our support was shaped by their requests.
We also know that if you are black or brown, your experience within a community is different. Part of one’s context is historical. Our community lives with the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, lynching, Massive Resistance, and so-called urban renewal—all designed, like the terror of 2017, to divide us, to devalue and disenfranchise black people, and to keep white people in power. Systems of oppression dictate where we live and how well. Over time, they also concentrate opportunity and advantage. They affect not just what kind of wealth, health care, and education we have but what our grandchildren will have as well. The Heal Fund invested in ways to disrupt these systems through solutions designed by black and brown residents.
Preserving our community stories is important, as is creating new narratives that help us make sense of our full, complicated, and often troubling history. Rather than divide us, this history ought to connect us. We all share in it by virtue of where we live and the challenges we face.
In August 2017 neo-Nazis marched through our streets, and it’s easy to make #Charlottesville about people who chose to hate. Our story is bigger and more complicated than that. It’s not simply about self-avowed white supremacists, and our response can’t only be to help the underadvantaged. We must, at the same time, challenge ourselves to see differently.
In the wake of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and so many other black lives, and confronted with the inequalities laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been much talk of systemic racism. It’s important to understand that systemic racism is as much about the whiteness we cannot see as it is about the color we can see. There is nothing biological about any of it, and yet our communities across this nation have been organized in hierarchy, with whiteness at the center and on top. We all suffer under this manufactured imbalance that has been held in place for centuries. Our best hope of disrupting a system that over-advantages some by hurting others is to recognize it, interrogate it, and reimagine an alternative.
Our work together is not charity. Nor is it to shame and blame. Systemic racism is so utterly offensive to our most natural and basic human desire to connect, love, and be loved. The critical task before us is one of solidarity: to reclaim our interconnectedness so that we all can be liberated from the devastating weight of structural oppression.
With urgency and intention, we must each take responsibility to become the community we aspire to be. This will require imagination, compassion, and the courage to change.