This letter to you is triggered by the combination of the announcement of your retirement from the Presidency of the Marguerite Casey Foundation, as well as a recent piece in the Chronicle of Philanthropy about a “culture of fear” at the foundation under your leadership.
I have three points that I wish to convey to you at this moment. Allow me to dispense with the discomforting aspect first.
My career as an executive-leader has spanned nearly three decades in the public and philanthropic sectors. As you know, these leadership positions are a privilege to hold – and they are hard. Fortunately, the number of negative media pieces about me have been limited – but they have happened over the years, and they are difficult to digest. They are sometimes written by the reporter within the context of “an angle” – it’s not so much that the facts produce the story line, but the pre-determined story line is infused with a mixture of some facts, some innuendo, and even inaccuracies.
We have known and worked with one another for nearly two decades, and I suspect you are dealing with two reactions because of the Chronicle piece. The first is one of the unfairness and imbalance about it, which I will return to shortly. The second reaction is the one that we – as responsible and accountable leaders – question ourselves about in the quiet, reflective, “let me look myself in the mirror” moment: Is there something I could have or should have done differently or better? We are human, and we are imperfect, none of us are ever completely blameless, and I know you and I both subscribe to the aphorism that African-Americans in church settings have adhered to for decades: “God ain’t finished with me yet.” I know you well enough to know that if, in fact, there is any basis for the complaints and allegations against you – or some of them — you will be harder on yourself than any article by a reporter can be.
Secondly, is the matter of context and the “balance sheet” of your impact and contributions in philanthropy. Twenty years from now, when some consultant writer has been retained to write the history of the Marguerite Casey Foundation, the magnitude of your contributions and leadership will reduce the point of this most recent Chronicle of Philanthropy article to a footnote. Over the past two decades of observing your leadership from the front row, it can be argued that no single leader in the field of philanthropy has done more to lift, advance, and support the voices of community-based, grassroots activism and advocacy for social justice than Luz Vega-Marquis. You have been there front and center on diversity and inclusion in philanthropy. You have been there front and center on the matter of Boys & Young Men of Color in our field. You have been front and center on raising the profile of Hispanics and Latinos in philanthropy. You have been there on the matter of consistently strong operating support for grassroots organizations serving the marginalized, and communities of color. You have been there on the matter of “intersectionality” in social justice well before there was even a term to describe the phenomenon. You were out in front on these issues at a time when you couldn’t get the number of leaders in philanthropy to discuss these issues to fit into a phone booth. Now, matters of diversity, inclusion, equity, and justice often occupy center stage in conferences in our field. You and the Marguerite Casey Foundation brought philanthropy right into the neighborhood – kicking and screaming along the way, it seems.
Lastly, a message to your Board at Marguerite Casey, and to trustees in philanthropy generally. I was pleased to see your Board in support of your leadership. At a moment in time when the leading media outlet in philanthropy decided to focus “investigative” attention to complaints from some former employees, we see: political indifference to climate change, migrant children held in cages by our government and literally dying at the border, the rights of women under full assault, resurgent white nationalism and racism, suppression of voting rights, suppression of LGBTQ and Trans civil rights, and a flagrant exacerbation of the already-outrageous wealth gap across our nation. While I fully honor and respect the ability of the press to act freely and hold us accountable as leaders, we can still raise questions about how they decide to utilize their ink. Don’t we have far more pressing issues to deal with?
During this moment in time, too much of philanthropy has chosen to be neutral, or quiet, or careful, or “cautious” about what is happening across our nation. Simply put, we need more Luz Vega-Marquises in leadership positions in philanthropy – and the future of civic life and a vibrant democracy in our nation depends on it. Bold. Audacious. Passionate. Unapologetic about Justice and Opportunity.
From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for your contributions and your leadership, my friend. You have been a colleague, partner, and mentor for us who hold positive social change and social justice near and dear within our hearts. I cherish the opportunity to work with you in the year that lies ahead – and beyond.
After all, the Good Lord is not finished with us yet.
Yours in the struggle,