Recently, our country has witnessed horrifying acts of brutality, overlying the already stressful backdrop of the global pandemic. In response, we’ve seen peaceful protests emerge and grow across the country. As this has unfolded, many of us have struggled with how to respond to what we are seeing. The situation is complex, oftentimes systemic, and will not be solved by simple answers. What I know for sure is this: I feel sad, outraged, and irritated…like sandpaper on new skin. I also deeply believe in our inalienable rights to live as equals, fearless, and with the freedom to manifest our own destiny. I believe in us and know that with discipline and rigor we will find ways to use the pain and the tension to meaningfully transform our worlds. I do not have easy solutions, but I want to work toward the goal of making all of our communities feel safe, valued, heard, seen, empowered, successful, and uplifted.
Many of you know that I was inspired to act a few years ago after the tragic loss of Michael Brown’s life in Ferguson, Missouri. I vowed then to use my position, and frankly my privilege, to amplify the voices of young leaders too often marginalized from opportunity by a system that advantages some over others, regardless of talent. The goal is to build a critical mass of young leaders in regions who could work together to create change, drawing on the principle-based leadership skills that I learned so well as a Henry Crown Fellow. In short, the goal was to provide the necessary opportunities to maximize your inherent talents and accelerate your potential as leaders.
Since then we have launched fellowship classes in St. Louis, Newark, and the Mississippi/Arkansas Delta. This year we will build our first cohort in Chicago. We have created an active fellowship, refined our curriculum, added experiences, projects, and internships. We have supported our alumni and have plans to keep your fellowship cohorts connected for years to come.
At this time, Ana, Christian, John, Patrick, and Ritzy are working daily and deep into the night to be supportive, create room for all of us to share our feelings about the recent killing in Minneapolis and other places, and to learn from all of it. We want each of you to be able to feel, express, and grieve, in supportive, brave spaces.
With the goal of sharing a variety of experiences as well as social solidarity in mind, I was recently presented with an opportunity to bring you and our friends in community with people from around the world by participating in the global exhibit of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ work, “Untitled” (Fortune Cookie Corner), 1990.
The exhibit launched last week, just as events in the U.S. started to heat up, but it is no less important today than it was last week, or in 1990, when it was presented as an invitation to partake in a simple, common experience at the height of the AIDS crisis. Our participation allows us to chronicle in a unique way the seriousness of our life experience through art; to express emotion, dreams and drive, with the honor of doing so within a global community. We also act while referencing other times in our nation’s history when people were divided, communities were organizing and marching to be seen and heard, and against the backdrop of another mysterious, deadly illness.
I am heartbroken and clearly angry at our lack of progress as a nation and the world. For our systems to change it will take a commitment from all of us. I am open and willing to be inspired by investments we can make in the fabric that binds us, in the leadership that inspires us, and in the actions to which we commit to create a more just society for all, and to heal our fractured nation.
AYLF Founder and HCF ‘05