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We stand with the protesters because our country must change

We start the week with heavy hearts. We are both optimistic people, but the senseless killing of George Floyd in Minnesota and the protests that have followed reveal just how far we have to go to end the racism in America that extinguishes opportunity, hope, and, too often, lives.

There are far too many examples of police and others with power devaluing the lives of Black Americans and other people of color. It should be no surprise when anger about this turns to protests and even destruction.

We stand with the protesters because our country must change. George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. These are not isolated incidents of rogue individual actions or unfortunate circumstances. These Americans, and far too many others, are innocent victims of racist acts of violence.

We must mourn and honor them, but we also must see the bigger picture: These deaths are egregious symptoms of historical and ongoing racist policies and practices that keep power with some while denying the most basic opportunities to the rest of our fellow Americans. Racist policies and other biases determine where people can live, what education and health care they receive, how the criminal justice system treats and mistreats them, and, ultimately, how long they live.

So, our hearts are heavy. But we stand with the protesters and remain hopeful that this renewed focus on the persistence of systemic racism will lead to desperately needed progress. We feel the responsibility and the potential for progress, as we lead a foundation focused on creating opportunity for the people of California.

Racism is a persistent obstacle to the Irvine Foundation’s vision for our state: a California where all low-income workers have the power to advance economically. It affects who is recruited, hired, and advanced at work; who can speak up to protect their wages and rights on the jobs; and whose voice is invited and heard in local and state decision making.

We are grateful that our focus and resources allow us to support courageous, inspiring leaders and organizations working to build power among communities that face racism and other barriers to opportunity. We will continue to fund these efforts and to learn from them – and use that knowledge to continue pushing our institution to do what is in our power to remove those barriers.

We end with two examples of leaders we are proud to support, listen to, and learn from.

The first is Reverend Ben McBride, Co-Director of PICO California, who founded The Trust Through Reform project to engage California’s communities and police in dialogues, and to deliver a community-led training program for the police (called H.E.A.T. for Hiring, Equipment, Accountability, and Training). In a sermon last week, Ben said: “This current moment is calling us to reimagine, redesign, and rethink how we move forward and build a society that sees the humanity of black and brown people. We call for action! Go to to join the movement.”

The other is Anthony Thigpenn, who founded and leads California Calls, a grantee that has built power among people of color in Los Angeles and beyond for more than 30 years. This past weekend he shared his analysis with us: “What makes this moment particularly unique is the convergence of three historic crises: COVID-19, the resulting economic recession/depression, and the mass resurgence of the movement against racist police violence and power abuses. We should also note that while communities of color overall suffer most, Black communities suffer disproportionately. This requires building both multiracial efforts and related efforts specific to particular communities.

“What this moment affirms for me is:

  1. People and communities who are suffering most being at the center of determining what change is needed and actively participating in bringing about that change. This means community organizing, leadership development, and power building.
  2. No one organization, network, community, or social sector can alone build the power needed to achieve the deep structural change needed. This means alliance building and strategic collaborations are fundamental.
  3. No one form of exercising power (mass protest, voting, advocacy, direct action, moral appeals) can achieve the deep structural change needed. What we have not figured out, let alone mastered, is developing strategies that incorporate all these forms of power. This is a challenge for social justice movement leaders, particularly in this moment.”

There is much work to do, and we stand with those working for change. And we recommit to turning tragedy into action; action that will end the violence, end the racism, and give all Californians the opportunity to pursue the American dream.