A Hinge Moment in History

  • Protesters march against police violence and demand justice for George Floyd in Minneapolis.
    Photo by Fibonacci Blue.

Amadou Diallo. Aiyana Jones. Trayvon Martin. Jonathan Ferrell. Michael Brown. Tamir Rice. Walter Scott. Freddie Gray.

Sandra Bland. Eric Garner. Philando Castile. Alton Sterling.

Jordan Edwards. Stephon Clark. Botham Jean. Atatiana Jefferson. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor.

Black lives matter.

The killing of George Floyd is the latest painful chapter in a brutal history America too often tries to dismiss and for too long has failed to overcome. His horrific death perpetuates the injustice that began 400 years ago when white settlers brought the first enslaved Africans to America. It extends the injustice of the slave system that only a bloody Civil War brought to an end. It renews the injustice of Jim Crow, and it reflects the impunity of decades of white lynching of Black men and women that persisted into the 1950s.

It is time for white people, like me, to take responsibility. Our first obligation is to listen. The history, the stories, the data of Black experience are already there—they have been there for decades—if we take the time to find, hear, and learn them. We must feel rage, yes, but rage is not enough. We must stand with our Black and Brown colleagues, friends, community members, and leaders who every day experience rage, but also trauma, fear, despair, and exhaustion even as they continue the formidable fight for justice. We must reach out to those who are suffering the disproportionate pain of the coronavirus pandemic on Black Americans that compounds the enduring racism that targets them, their families, and their communities. We must act together to protect our common humanity.

It is time, too, for philanthropy to drop the pretext of race neutrality. The inequities that continue to plague our country and the world implicate every other area of social change that our foundations work toward, including healthcare, education, democracy, climate change, and the arts.

At the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, we are leaning deeper into the work of examining ourselves and have spent the last two years engaged in an organizational culture process to understand and address the effects of systemic racism in our own workplace, norms, and behaviors. It is increasingly clear that we must expand and expedite that work.

Our trustees and staff are also moved to deepen our support for work to rectify these inequities and secure justice, especially efforts led by Black and Brown communities who have felt the sharpest impacts of the broken promises of our nation. Our grantmaking has long been guided by the Rockefeller family tradition of support for abolition, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Black businesses and institutions, and the Civil Rights movement. Today, our Democratic Practice program for the United States, in particular, makes grants to help engage voters of color, remove systemic barriers to the political system for underrepresented groups, and build the power of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous-led communities, organizations, and social movements.

But as a foundation whose mission is to advance social change for a more just, sustainable, and peaceful world, we have a special obligation to do more. In the days to come, we will announce plans for new initiatives and resources focused on achieving racial justice in the United States beyond the boundaries of our existing democratic practice work, including criminal justice and police reform, community development, and economic justice.

The events of the last two weeks have reawakened many in our country to the injustice that has persisted over centuries for others. Against the backdrop of a deadly pandemic, increasing international isolationism, and rising authoritarianism globally, George Floyd’s death marks a hinge moment in history: Our actions now will determine whether we swing back into a dark past or press forward toward a brighter future, with peace and justice for all.

Stephen Heintz, President and CEO
June 3, 2020