Time to Think Big

Timothy P. Silard, President

Now is the time to double down on justice.
We are in the middle of a pitched battle for the heart and soul of this country. On campuses, campaign trails, and in communities from coast to coast, Americans are confronting the toxic reality of racism and inequality.
In a digital age when every crack of a police officer’s gun can be a shot heard around the world, young people are calling out patterns of police violence that stretch back generations. In an election season when xenophobia has become a rallying cry, we are forced to confront the poisonous anti-immigrant bigotry that has been festering in America. And toward the end of our first Black president’s second term, we are finally beginning to reckon with a biased, broken and rigged criminal justice system that is the logical product and progeny of centuries of slavery, lynching and Jim Crow.

That is why this is a moment for moonshot ideas: ending police violence, dramatically downsizing our criminal justice system, building power in communities of color and low-income communities that have been silenced for too long.

I have been inspired and encouraged in recent months by the incredible leaders and activists – young and old, online and on the streets, from all different races and backgrounds – who have spoken truth to power in a way I haven’t seen in years. California, long a breeding ground for cutting edge ideas, is home to progressive emerging leaders who are doubling down in the fight for justice, including some amazing fighters who are being supported through the Rosenberg Foundation’s new Leading Edge Fund. The new $2 million fund was created to seed, incubate and accelerate ideas from this next generation of progressive movement leaders in California.

These leaders are working on some of the most pressing justice issues of our time. Meredith Desautels is a San Francisco attorney committed to ending the incarceration of tens of thousands of children and youth across the state, while Morning Star Gali, a member of the Ajumawi band of the Pit River Tribe in Northeastern California, is taking on the disproportionate rates of incarceration of Native Americans.  Patrisse Cullors is building a rapid response network in California communities of color to eliminate police violence.  Raj Jayadev is fighting mass incarceration by transforming and democratizing the process inside courtrooms.

Other leaders are bridging technology and civic engagement to amplify the voice of voiceless communities and to build power. Michael Gomez Daly, a coalition leader in the Inland Empire, is creating data tools and an online hub to substantially increase voter engagement among immigrants and people of color. Samuel Sinyangwe, co-founder of WeTheProtesters, is using data technology, research and organizing strategies to recruit activists and elected officials to end police violence.

Finally, we are supporting leaders working to dispel misconceptions and fears that have led us to act on our worst instincts. Nicole Pittman, director of the Center on Youth Registration Reform, is dedicated to eliminating the practice of placing children on sex offender registries and exposing the irreparable harm caused by this practice.  Raha Jorjani is working to ensure legal representation for all California immigrants caught up in two broken systems -- criminal justice and deportation.

We all need to empower and invest in leaders who think big and act boldly. From Levi Strauss Foundation, James Irvine Foundation and Haas, Jr. Fund to the Ford Foundation and Open Society Foundations, we are inspired by those who have taken up the call to support leaders in meaningful ways. Innovative, disruptive leadership demands strong support from philanthropy, including traditional foundations and newly minted philanthropic efforts emerging in Silicon Valley and across the country.  We also need this kind of cutting edge work to be embraced and supported by major advocacy organizations.

In this moment, we cannot settle for small steps—tepid criminal justice reform, half-measures to reign in police violence, or policies that create opportunity for some but not all. More than anything, we cannot allow ourselves to fall into old patterns of thinking about what is possible. We need to commit to supporting visionary leaders in California and beyond as they demand and make deep, transformational reforms.

In his excellent new book “Brown is the New White”, Steve Phillips quotes a 1969 essay by Lerone Bennett Jr.: “We have a mandate from history, a mandate from the living, the dead, and the unborn, to make this moment count by using the time and resources history has given.”

This is our mandate. Let’s not let this moment pass.