The weeklong Forum on Justice & Opportunity convened by Episcopal Community Services concluded with back-to-back panel discussions for participants to share their next steps for collective action.
NBC10‘s Vai Sikahema moderated the “Where Do We Go from Here?” session featuring ECS’s David E. Griffith; Joe Pyle, president of The Scattergood Foundation, and Sidney R. Hargro, president of Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia.
Each speaker delved into the tenets of their faith and shared poignant perspectives in the immediate aftermath of the death of Walter Wallace Jr., a 27-year-old man fatally shot by police last week in West Philadelphia. Wallace’s killing sparked protests, much like the unrest that followed the similar deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor earlier this year.
Griffith opened the session addressing the barriers for people affected by systemic racism and how to remove misconceptions about the culture of poverty.
“We must actively and collectively invest in on the ground transformational programs that meet our neighbors where they are, to help them escape poverty permanently,” Griffith offered. “We must face the uncomfortable truth that systematic racism is at the root cause of the generations of toxic stress and trauma, leading to the reactive and violent eruptions in our center cities.”
“This week,” he added, “we have experienced the manifestation of that agony of our racist history and the failures of our behavioral health system. Now, more than ever is a time to act.”
Pyle reflected on the next steps leaders should take for collective action that can provide racial equity during the economic recovery and beyond.
“If we cannot, in this moment, radically think about how we use our behavioral health system, police force, and healthcare system to better serve individuals like Walter Wallace, I think ten years from now, it will be bleak here in this city,” Pyle said.
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“I think it will require this growing sense of ‘How do I view my privilege? As a leader in an organization, how do I create and support systemic change and structural racism in this country?’ I want to be really optimistic that Philadelphia can be a better place…so maybe the pandemic, George Floyd, and the racial issues that this country faces, it’s the call to action to wake us up,” he said.
“I think we have a moment in front of us that requires government businesses, foundation leaders, nonprofit providers to behave truly differently. And it’s going to be uncomfortable.”
Each speaker offered their planned personal action along with the next steps for concerted action.
Griffith explained: “Almost every tradition has a version of the baptismal covenant, and it says very clearly: respect the dignity of every human being and treat your neighbor as yourselves. There’s multiple versions of that. And what I’ve always taken that from is it is a profound and deeply spiritual call to service.”
Hargro said, “As leaders of nonprofits, and of for-profits, what we need to think about first and foremost is collaboration. We are clearly stronger working together.”
He added that long-term societal transformation starts with the individual. “Systems change when policies change. Policies change when ideas change. Ideas change when people are willing to look within themselves and also change.”
“And so my call to action is simply to find the closest mirror that you have in the house, stand in it for a long, long time each day, and ask yourself like, how must I be radically different to create a new future?” Hargro said. “Because it does require us individually, institutionally, and collectively to do something very different than we’ve done for the last however many decades.”
As the forum wound down and questions ebbed to a trickle, participant Victoria Sicks wrote: “Not a question rather an expression of gratitude for this grace-filled final conversation.”
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