Standing in Solidarity, Leading with Empathy

Categories: BELONGING AND CULTURE: Uniting Community, CEO Message, Civic Engagement, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion,

Editor's Note: Nelle S. Miller is Board Chair, Community Foundation of Sarasota County. Roxie Jerde is President and CEO, Community Foundation of Sarasota County.

As we watch our nation grapple with crises on two fronts – one stemming from COVID-19, the other from timeworn injustices – we feel and recognize a powerful, urgent calling for action in these trying moments. Many of us are heartbroken and angry about the circumstances that have propelled the very raw and emotional conversations and protests taking part here at home and across our country right now.

While we can never fully understand the daily realities and challenges faced by our communities of color, we recognize that our current crises have only exacerbated longstanding social and economic inequalities that expose our previous “normal” as anything but, a normal that shapes destinies based on differences rather than similarities. We believe our community can – and should – rise above this sentiment to reach new, bolder horizons.

Make no mistake: what it takes to make long-lasting change can create confusion and make for uncomfortable feelings, but lasting transformation is possible. It’s up to all of us to share this responsibility and transform current inequities into sustainable solutions.

In the face of crisis, though, we are far from powerless.

As a community connector and partner, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County is fully committed to bringing individuals and organizations together to improve the lives of all people. We believe the strength of our community stems from its diversity and only together can we address issues and create opportunities so every person can achieve their full potential. For several years, we have invested in communities of great need to address systemic issues based in poverty that affect health, education, and access to an equitable community. Though we have made considerable progress, our work is far from over – it is beginning anew.

For the last year our Board of Directors has led a review of our grantmaking, outreach, communications, internal operations, staffing, and board makeup to examine inherent biases we may not be aware of to ensure the Community Foundation can help support a community we all want to live in. Though an intentional process, this has not been one without its own issues and uneasy moments. To challenge ourselves to hold to disparate ideas of the world we know and the one we can imagine takes courage, and this moment of crisis undoubtedly calls for each of us to muster that same courage and bravery to move forward together.

If we truly hope to live up to these principles, we must become comfortable with the idea of facing uncomfortable realities while leading unequivocally with empathy. We must also be mindful to avoid silencing voices that do not share our own judgements and notions of morality. The shared sorrow and anger felt by millions of Americans is very real and very deep-rooted and should not be marginalized. Now more than ever, staying informed, connected, and active is paramount to ensure each one of us can thrive safely and freely.

We ask our entire community to join in solidarity and open your ears, hearts, and minds to the experiences of those around you to build a community that embraces all perspectives, all voices, all people. Let us not miss this opportunity to rally and affirm our spirit of cohesion to break down the barriers of systemic and institutionalized racism. While change of this magnitude inevitably will require time to fully permeate our communities, the time is now to shed off all that divides us and embrace all that unites us. Now is the time for equality and compassion to shine.

We don’t have the map designed for how Sarasota County and our region will move along this path, but we are here to chart the course, together.

Now is the time.