Bob’s Blog: The Matter of Belonging

The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday provides us with an opportunity to pause, reflect, and take stock of our nation’s arc on social and racial justice.  Questions that permeate my own brain space include “where are we now?”, “where must we go?”, and “what must be done?”  And then, finally, “what can I do?”

Currently, the word “Belonging” emerges as front and center for us at TCE, and there are three reasons for this.

First, the theme of Belonging is foundational to the MLK message.  His aspirational description of America as “The Beloved Community” – inspired by esteemed theologian-philosophers Howard Thurman and Josiah Royce.  Dr. King’s quote from a 1960 speech: “There is another element that must be present in our struggle that then makes our resistance and nonviolence truly meaningful…Our ultimate end must be the creation of the beloved community.”  In an earlier speech, Dr. King noted: “But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community.  It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends.”

Secondly, and within our lessons and learnings as a private foundation, the matter of Belonging is core to our theory of change as a health equity-minded institution.  After a decade of investing in grantee-partners and their work across California, movement-builders have taught us that to achieve meaningful impact, “A + B =C.”  Where “A” stands for Agency – the ability and capacity of grassroots leaders to exert power and voice to advance health equity and health justice; and “B” stands for Belonging – the spirit and ethos of full inclusion, collaboration, and coalition-building towards a shared vision; and “C” stands for Change, the tangible outcomes and changes that must be realized in practice, in policies, and systems.  The grants we make in pursuit of our health and wellness mission follow this script, taught to us by grassroots leaders.

Thirdly, the timing for elevating the aspirational narrative of Belonging is right and the timing is now.  Our nation is in a very dynamic and confused state right now from a civic perspective.  Against the backdrop of the once-in-a-century Covid pandemic that has unmasked all manner of structural inequality, we have experienced: a racial justice reawakening spurred by the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor killings, a politically divisive and white supremacy-tinged backlash, a political frontal assault on voting rights, and January 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol insurrection which – based on a lie — sought to overturn the results of a free and fair presidential election.

In other words, our nation finds itself under a heap of a political and civic mess right now, with the matter of race and racism foundational to most of it.

It has been enlightening to see much of our nation naming and calling out some key “anti- “issues: anti-Black racism, anti-White supremacy, anti-colonialism.  These are critical, urgent conversations on the path to what we ultimately seek:  a positive, fully inclusive, aspirational vision for America – and California – that must be realized.  A nation where every soul is valued, counts, and matters, and is provided with the opportunity to contribute to the civic and economic vibrancy of their community.

In my role as President & CEO of The California Endowment, and speaking on behalf of our Board of Directors, we are ready to channel the positive aspirations of our community partners and do some celebratory “Freedom-Dreaming” in service of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Beloved Community: full, complete Inclusion and Belonging – and devoid of racial injustice.  This is the path to a truly healthy California and nation.  Expect our partnership support on this theme in the months and years ahead.

Peace and blessings to you all on this day, and every day thereafter.

Bob Ross



Learn how we are using the immense power in belonging to help build a healthier, more just California for All.

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