I've been in Detroit, MI since Sunday evening at EPIP's Professional Development Fund gathering, which is taking place in conjunction with EPIP's Chapter Leader Gathering (begins tomorrow). This is my first time in Detroit, which is a city that has been devastated by job destruction and the economic crisis. If you've been following the news, Detroit has one of the highest rates of foreclosure of homes in the country, and what was once a city of two million people is now a city of 900,000. Maybe.
All you have to do is walk down the street to see the evidence of this. We've seen dozens of once-amazing houses that are burnt out and/or boarded up. There are empty buildings surrounded by empty and overgrown lots everywhere. On our walk home from dinner last night, we saw a fire burn down one of the abandoned buildings and we were able to get close enough to see the flames. No one seemed concerned or worried about it- one look around the neighborhood and you can see that this is not a rare occurrence. The most people I've seen in one place were converging around the fire.
It's no coincidence that we're meeting in Detroit. Local foundations have very generously welcomed us to this city. Just being here feels like we're on a site visit. The US Social Forum planning committee is also meeting here this week, as did the Allied Media Conference last week. (Incidentally, the Mariners are also here playing the Detroit Tigers for the next three nights.)
Anyway, EPIP convened this gathering of young people of color who are recipients of an EPIP Profesional Development Fund scholarship. The PDF scholarships allow young people of color to attend conferences of their choice around the country. Since so many organizations have had to cut their budgets for professional development, this year, this scholarship is quite meaningful. Many people chose to attend the EPIP pre-conference gathering at the Council on Foundations in Atlanta in May, while others found different opportunities.
After working through the obligatory introductions and getting-to-know-you exercises with the 25 people in the room on Sunday night, we moved directly into content on Monday morning. The gathering was facilitated by Kalpana Krishnamurthy, who also facilitated EPIP Seattle's first Philanthropology workshop back in March. We began by defining social justice philanthropy (SJP), identifying the core elements of SJP, and determining where our own foundations' strengths and weaknesses are in using this framework.
A highlight of the day was the Salon, in which four senior foundation executives joined us for a panel discussion and smaller roundtable discussions. I always find this part of the agenda to be the most useful- participants here included Kevin Ryan of the New York Foundation, Sophia Silao (EPIP's Associate Director), Andrea Cole - the Executive Director of the Ethel and James Flinn Foundation, and Karen Aldridge-Eason, who is the Foundation Liason for the Governors' office. I'll share more about their reflections on their own career paths in a future post.
The final part of the day focused on "Making the Case" or, how do you move your social justice agenda? We went through exercises on how to ask questions within your own foundation, how to define what you want, build a case and make your ideas into a reality. I'll post the 7 suggested steps in a different post- since this "brief recap" is getting rather long.
We had an informal dinner at a new restuarant called Angelina's on Monday evening. I was lucky enough to sit across from Trista Harris, who is the Executive Director of the Headwaters Foundation for Justice, and the author of the New Voices in Philanthropy blog, which I have been reading for about a year. I really appreciated Trista's wit and wisdom on how to be an effective blogger and what her experience was as the blog became more and more popular. This will tie in quite well with Friday's session on social media and networking, which is going to be facilitiated by Beth Kanter of Beth's Blog. I'm particularly interested in the role that foundations and nonprofits can have via Facebook, blogs, and Twitter, and I'm really looking forward to the opportunity to meet her too!
I have to say, this has been the most useful networking opportunity I have had in a long time, which I think is something really really important that EPIP has to offer emerging leaders in this field. Although my organization is without a doubt a social justice funder and employs the social justice philanthropy criteria quite well in most areas, it is always useful to evaluate oneself and learn from others about the struggles and successes that they have had in the field.
Bottom line, so far, so good! Although I think I might be getting sick. Not good.