As Americans struggle to adapt to a rapidly changing world, they must choose to reject hate and fear and stand up for what is right, Ford Foundation president Darren Walker argues in his most recent annual letter.
The racist, anti-Semitic hatred on display in Charlottesville, Virginia; the widespread devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey; the Trump administration's decision to cancel the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program enacted under President Barack Obama — all highlight the need, Walker argues, for "compassionate, competent, and courageous leadership" — and the current "[absence] of such...leadership." In part, he writes, that's because elected officials are constrained by "entrenched structures that reinforce historical inequalities and perpetuate the status quo"; corporate CEOs fear offending consumers, analysts, and shareholders; nonprofit leaders and university presidents worry about offending wealthy donors; and, foundations, looking to avoid criticism, "hide behind the particulars of our missions, rather than standing up for the deeper values our missions embody." Indeed, "from exclusionary populist movements to attacks on public institutions, the media, and the very idea of knowable facts, the challenges we face are global — and so is our crisis of leadership."
Characterizing the challenge as "the next battle for the soul of this country," Walker calls on the nation to reckon with its history and take steps to heal "the wounds of discrimination and prejudice, injustice, and inequality." Citing elected officials who have taken action to have Confederate flags and monuments removed from public spaces, foundation and corporate leaders who have spoken out against hate, and nonprofit leaders who are organizing and advocating for human rights and justice, Walker implores his "fellow citizens and neighbors [to] take up the mantle and choose to lead." If we don't, he adds, "[w]e risk reaching a day when whatever ability we had to influence change or protect our democratic values will have been squandered."
"It is up to each and every one of us to stand up for what is right — to our boards and shareholders and political parties, to our friends and colleagues, if necessary — even when it is not in our immediate interest," he concludes. "And we cannot wait; we must be the leaders our countries need and the world deserves. After all, what is the point of leadership, if not to lead in times like these? What could we possibly be holding onto, or out for, when everything — everything — is at stake?"