December 10 2019

Robert K. Ross, MD, president & CEO, The California Endowment

As I pen this end-of-year, holiday piece, news reports have surfaced that the current Administration is moving to cut food stamp benefits (also known as the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP).  The move would save nearly $5 billion in federal taxes but will also leave over 700,000 food insecure.

This policy maneuver comes on the heels of an unprecedented series of tax cuts by the White House to the wealthiest 1% of Americans and follows a 2018 tax year where corporate mega-giant Amazon – despite soaring profits — paid NO federal income tax.

At our church, we subscribe to a ritual known as “Prayers of the People”, where the pastor recites a particular prayer, and then the congregation answers in unison: “Hear Our Prayer.”  The one prayer that struck me as especially timely this past Sunday:

                “For all in positions of power, that they may have hearts of compassion and become advocates for the vulnerable and oppressed.”

It’s abundantly clear that we need to get our prayers heard – but also our work must be done.  How is it even remotely possible that our most desperate and destitute fellow Americans must sacrifice nutrition support at the very same time that the most profitable company in contemporary America pays zero federal taxes?  So, the under-employed coal miner in West Virginia, the struggling laborer in Detroit, and the housekeeper in Los Angeles are asked by our federal government to bear the burden of sacrifice – while the wealthiest companies and individuals are given tax relief?

The Book of James in the Bible states: “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

To the grantees, partners, and friends of The California Endowment: you have taught us over the years about what “the works” must be about.  It is about civic participation and engagement.  It is about the voice and vigor of a vibrant democracy.  It is about activism and advocacy for racial justice and health equity.  It is about our young people asserting a new, inclusive vision for America’s future.  It is about the dignity and leadership of our nation and state’s most marginalized, most vulnerable, and most oppressed.

I enter this holiday season at the very same time that we are finalizing, with our Board of Directors, the plans for the coming decade of our investments as a foundation. We will go public with how we envision this next decade of work in the spring of 2020. 

We will press forward in the context of my very favorite quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the matter of “power”:

“What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.  Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

This, my friends, summarizes the work.

As we approach this holiday season and contemplate, reflect, and discern regarding our efforts of the new year – I ask that the Creator both hear our prayers, and inspire our work. 

Peace, joy, and blessings to you, your families, and the community you serve from our family at The California Endowment.

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