This past week our Board of Directors met for our quarterly meeting and we spent time discussing the tragedy of the Parkland shootings. We are a public health and community health-focused foundation, so we view policy issues from a public health and prevention perspective. Gun violence is a complex issue and defies simple, bumper-sticker solutions. So the Board’s discussion was rich, and we concluded that addressing gun violence requires multi-pronged approaches.
We deliberated on the issue, and enacted two decisions specific to the aftermath of this event, which is already having national political and policy repercussions.
The first is that our Board decided to, as policy, prohibit investments in companies that manufacture firearms. This is now the third such investment prohibition (or “screen”, in the language of investments policy) for us as a foundation; the first was with tobacco products, and the second was in the area of for-profit prisons.
Secondly, our Board indicated support for the recent and impressive youth- and student-led activism on the matter of guns and access to firearms in America.
But for a foundation committed to the health and well-being of young people – particularly in underserved and economically-distressed communities – these two actions by our board represent only a piece of a more wide-ranging and textured conversation about gun violence and school shootings in America. During the discussion, our Board members made several consensus-supported points:
- We wholeheartedly reject any policy or practice approach that further militarizes the school setting, either by arming schoolteachers or placing armed personnel on school campuses.
- While mass shooting events are both tragic and horrific, Black and Brown young people in urban America are most disproportionately impacted by gun violence in America, and the data bear this out. Chronic and unrelenting gun violence faced by urban youth of color across the nation is no less tragic and no less horrific than what has occurred at Sandy Hook and at Parkland.
- The powerful and compelling student- and youth-led activism of the past week is a reminder about the importance of investing in youth engagement and civic activism in the drive towards a healthier California and a healthier America. Their voice and their power must be heard and felt, and imposed upon this nation’s civic and political consciousness.
- School violence is often the result of poor school climate, community and individual trauma, and/or the lack of mental health supports. Research shows that schools that are safe and have vibrant school climates surround young people with social-emotional supports, trusting relationships with adults, and provide hope. There is no scientific evidence that armed, law enforcement presence on school campuses makes students feel any safer.
Lastly, our board would not want our stance on firearm investments to be interpreted as a rebuke of careful, responsible gun owners, or of public safety and law enforcement professionals.
The need for public policy changes on gun ownership and automatic weapons in America is clear, and we support any effort to curtail the sheer availability and number of weapons in our communities. But our work at The California Endowment is generally focused on “upstream”, prevention approaches on the matter of health. If we are zealots about anything, it is about the community and environmental conditions that support physical health and social-emotional wellness in young people: full access to mental health and primary care services, opportunities for fitness and health in neighborhoods, and school policies and practices that see “the whole child”, and are better prepared to understand trauma exposure as a health issue.
As voiced by an energized and impassioned group of young leaders, we welcome urgent action by Congress — but hope our nation can avoid poorly-considered quick-fixes that may do little or nothing to solve this problem at the root-cause level.
The California Endowment recognizes and appreciates the work of the Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Joyce Foundation, and The California Wellness Foundation in the arena of gun violence.
Zac Guevara, Board Chair Shawn Ginwright, Vice-Chair
Bob Ross, President & CEO