This past year, we have seen political and social norms challenged and often trampled.  We have struggled to keep our bearings and hold to our moral principles. As we have been inundated by the constant barrage of events, media firestorms, and tweets, a tragic and horrible day in Charlottesville provides a chilling moment of clarity and outrage. 

Let’s be clear -- this is not an isolated incident. It is an extreme expression of the deep-seated racism that has persisted in our culture and institutions since our nation’s founding. 

A moment like Charlottesville cuts through the noise and reminds us that there is much at stake in this period of upheaval and that there are core principles of justice, fairness, and equality that form the basis, the central idea, of this country. These principles are not only worth fighting for, they are principles that we must fight for.

Despite the virulent hate on display from the fascist, neo-Nazi groups that converged in Virginia over the weekend, we believe there is widespread eagerness across our society to collectively confront the deep challenges we have -- racially, economically and socially.

So, what do we do?  We must continue the arduous process of building the America we want and desperately need -- an America that acknowledges and rejects the racism present across our institutions and our norms and lives up to the ideals we espouse, of equality, justice, and freedom.  We believe this is where leaders and leadership matter most.  We can't count on the right words or actions to come from Washington to reset the path of this country. 

But there are leaders among us.  Leaders of color have long been at the forefront of struggles for racial justice. Young leaders with deep reserves of energy and ideas are hard at work in communities across the country.  We find leadership in our schools and universities, in city, county and state governments, at nonprofit organizations and foundations, and within businesses who have used their resources for social good.   We have seen countless examples in the past year of these leaders stepping forward to both say the right thing and do the right thing, to call out the blatant and the subtle ways in which American institutions are failing to live up to our values and our ideals.

As a Foundation guided by the principles of social justice, we at Surdna support the work of these leaders to help our communities grow and prosper sustainably, inclusively, and equitably.   We are inspired by the extraordinary and courageous work of the organizations we support and have seen the power of collective action to make change.

Now is the time for policymakers – those who are speaking out and those who remain silent – to decry hate and violence, and challenge the deep roots of racism that persist in the institutions and laws that govern our country.

The events in Charlottesville demand that policymakers join the leaders among us fighting for justice and equity to envision and enact policies and practices that create the conditions that respect the rights of all people, and guarantee equity, inclusion, and self-determination for all.

This will require courage and persistence in pursuit of transformative long-term change.  And as we have witnessed, now is most certainly the time for action.

Phillip Henderson, President
Surdna Foundation

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