Shaping Conversations: Philanthropy as a compass in a Divided World


Several nights ago I attended a wonderful event in my community.  It was called Returning to One Another : Building the Beloved Community in an Era of Division, Suspicion, and Isolation. What is the Beloved Community?  As explained by the King Center, the memorial institution founded by Coretta Scott King to further the goals of Martin Luther King Jr., the Beloved Community was envisioned by Dr. King as a society based on justice, equal opportunity, and love of one’s fellow human beings.

In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood. In the Beloved Community, international disputes will be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation of adversaries, instead of military power. Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred.  Peace with justice will prevail over war and military conflict.” (King, 1966)

This event was co-hosted by the First Congregational United Church of Christ and the Muslim Educational Trust – an organization that for 22 years has worked to enhance the quality of life for the diverse Muslim community in the Portland metro area and to build connections and interfaith dialogues between Muslims and other religious and ethnic communities. The event featured four panelists from the Jewish, Christian, African-American/Muslim communities as well as a Japanese American elder who had been imprisoned in a Japanese internment camp as a child after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Organized as a group conversation, the panelists and attendees were asked to consider the following questions within the context of the Beloved Community. These were the questions:

  1. What do you need to become more deeply involved in the Beloved Community?
  2. What do you think would sustain you in your efforts?
  3. How should we go about developing and nurturing the Beloved Community?
  4. Would you be willing to raise these same questions with one or more friends?

Since the election results this month outbursts of vitriol, both verbal and physical, have been widely reported in the news and on social media; civil rights groups have reported a surge in reports of attacks; there have been calls for both the exclusion and registration of Muslims in America; Islamophobia has become an increasingly common aspect of national conversation. It is clear that our world is becoming more, not less, divided and this is not just a result of this election but of a gathering momentum of divisive acts and rhetoric over the last decades.

Amidst all of this anxiety, there are positive developments. I’d like to highlight one partnership in my community that speaks to forward momentum and a promising outcome for the protection and promotion of diversity in Oregon. Last spring, Oregon’s third largest charitable foundation, the Meyer Memorial Trust, took a hiatus to revise and refocus their giving strategy. They came out of their break with a redoubled commitment to making measurable progress in Oregon in the areas of education, the environment, affordable housing and building community – all through the lens of equity.

I worked this summer with the Muslim Educational Trust to submit a proposal to the Meyer Memorial Trust and I am very proud to say that it was successful! MET was awarded a $200,000 grant under the Building Community portfolio for their Civic Engagement and Positive Integration Project which seeks to develop multi-generational leaders within the diverse Oregonian/Muslim community who will lead our state as a whole toward a national example of positive integration, civic engagement and acceptance. Here are some of the concepts from this project that I believe could be successfully applied in other communities.

Advance the educational attainment and leadership skills of all Oregon Muslim youth

Increase civic engagement and leadership development opportunities for all Muslims with a special focus on new immigrant and refugee arrivals

Support and promote collaboration of Muslim organizations to increase civic and social engagement to develop informed and productive residents and encourage a Muslim community who understand their rights and duties as American citizens:

Going back to Dr. King’s Beloved Community, at the event I attended, the organizers expected 200 attendees and were pleasantly surprised when nearly double that showed up. Our communities are in pain and thoughtful citizens are seeking solutions. The concept of Dr. King’s Beloved Community resonates deeply with me and leads me to wonder how this interpretation of community could be applied through philanthropy? Is it possible that philanthropy can begin to heal some of the divisions currently plaguing our country, our world? I believe the answer is yes!

As professionals in this space, we can share and discuss the above questions among ourselves and with the organizations and funders with whom we interact and serve. The philanthropic community can play a stabilizing role by helping to guide and facilitate conversations. It can also help to sustain organizations that promote peace, understanding and equity. It can help by being an unwavering champion and protector of diverse and vulnerable populations, causes, ideas, and especially of those fundamental values that provide strength to society during periods of political unrest and social upheaval.


For further information:

Grants for Hatred, Grants Against Hatred: Who’s Funding What in an Era of Xenophobia? 



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