Gail Fortes’ essay, “The journey to equity is hard. Start by looking within” and her introduction of the Community Foundation’s Leadership Equity Fund is timely, bold and essential.

It is an invitation to participate in an expression of the American democratic ideal. It is in the diversity of our people, the plurality of our perspectives, the literacy of our lived experiences and the scope of our creative imaginations that we preserve democracy and generate novel and unforeseen opportunities.

If we are to reverse the dismal trends we see today in so many of our governing systems and social institutions we have to end the devastating apartheid of silence that so many of us, including me, have unwittingly allowed to exist for generations.

This silence of not being heard is a violence that must be overcome. Its consequences affect both the disinherited and those who would ignore them. It will not be an easy task. However, if we persist, we will discover from across the boundaries of our differences an endless array of possibilities of which we are not yet conscious. 

The “Leadership Equity Fund” is a social and financial capital forming investment worthy of consideration. 

In the last decade several McKinsey studies of major corporations revealed a significant correlation between gender, cultural and ethnic diversity and corporate performance. A 2020 Citigroup report estimates that racial inequality has cost the United States $16 trillion over the prior 20 years. It also forecast a $1 trillion loss for each of the next five years. For insight into the possibilities for the larger social realms in which we live see Heather McGee’s explorations into the “solidarity dividend” in her recently published “The Sum of Us.” 

Not only is the Community Foundation systemically engaged in this challenge, but there is a back story suggesting that its origins began by looking inward.

It is worth considering that what created the possibility for reconciliation was one man who had looked within and said to himself, “If I were they …”

In 1966 Martin Luther King told Mike Wallace of CBS News, “I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.” 

Four years later a “race riot” broke out in New Bedford.

Complaints about jobs, housing, education and recreational space created friction with authorities that flashed into violence. Tensions escalated. Barricades went up. Black Panthers organized. The State Police and the FBI arrived.

Time passed, and multiple attempts at reconciliation had failed. As I was told the story, a meeting was scheduled with the hope that the United Way Executive Board might help. Considering it too dangerous they declined.

However, one board member, Eric Lindell, decided, “If I were they, I would want to be heard.” He told no one. “I left my car at home and walked down Kempton Street to the meeting.”

“After what seemed like a few hours, I asked do you want to keep yelling at me or do you want to try to do something?” Within a few days after the meeting, he had raised $150,000 to do the work necessary to secure federal funds. Housing and a school now occupy the site of the riot. 

The expectations had not been unreasonable. And in the end, the solution had not been insurmountable. However, for months the creative energies of a community were captive to the costs of alienation and rage, disrupted lives, law enforcement, court costs, hospital cost and the loss life. 

He simply could not be silent and pretend that he did not see. 

It is worth considering that what created the possibility for reconciliation was one man who had looked within and said to himself, “If I were they …”

While Eric Lindell knew nothing about what it meant to be Black in America, he did know what it was like to be poor, to live in a broken home, to endure the silence of long unspoken trauma and to know something of what it meant to live in a world of other people’s ideas of who he was.

I suspect his empathic imagination enabled him to realize that the feelings of being trapped in him were similar to the feelings of those trapped behind barricades with no way out.

He simply could not be silent and pretend that he did not see. 

Truth were known, Eric Lindell worked silently to integrate many of the institutions in which he was involved. His time and his efforts as a co-founder of the Community Foundation were inspired by the notion that the purpose of a Community Foundation was to expand the foundations of community. 

The Community Foundation’s “Leadership Equity Fund” is an extraordinary investment opportunity to invoke the empathic imagination of our humanity and to release the civic capital forming potential that is stranded in our silence. 

Craig Lindell of South Dartmouth is son of the late Eric Lindell, local businessman, philanthropist, citizen and co-founder of the Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts.

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