Our DEI Report – Grief and Change

Author: Tracy Sawicki

Reflecting on how things have gone is something we like to do about this time of year as the days grow shorter and nights grow longer. As 2022 winds down, and we reflect on our equity journey at the Foundation, it is hard not to notice all of the grief that we are carrying and have carried, for years for some, and for lifetimes for many. So much injustice, so much violence. We started this journey at the Peter & Elizabeth Tower Foundation, like so many other funders, catalyzed by and grieving from the 2020 murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. We took some time as a team to share the sadness and frustration that we felt.  But we knew we couldn’t stop there.  What were the implications for us as grantmakers?  How would we respond to this injustice? We developed our “why:” Why is it essential that we focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion at the Tower Foundation? Then we set out to learn together as a Board and Staff, launching a work group to guide this work. 

Unfortunately, the incidences of racially-charged violence kept piling up. Later in 2020, Daniel Prude was killed down the thruway from us in Rochester, NY while experiencing a mental health crisis, an example of racism and mental health stigma intersecting with deadly consequences. From this, we evolved our work at the Foundation, coming together to talk about how racism and racial disparities could be more squarely addressed in our work. At the Tower Foundation, we focus on young people who have faced adversity given their identities as people with disabilities, mental illness or substance use disorder – but on top of those identities, what makes these young people’s experiences unique and often inequitable? What other identities are at play that we need to pay attention to? How is the experience of accessing supports different for a Latino teenager with a disability than for a White teenager with a disability? This focus on intersecting identities is essential to how we think about equity at the Tower Foundation and how it relates to our focus areas. 

And of course, here in Buffalo, there was the racist massacre of ten Black people shopping at a grocery store in May, 2022. The grief has stayed with us, while the need to connect, heal and move our own actions forward feels more urgent than ever. In the words of social justice activist Valerie Kaur, how can we be brave with our grief? “When we are brave enough to sit with our pain, it deepens our ability to sit with the pain of others. It shows us how to love them…We come to know people when we grieve with them through stories and rituals. It is how we can build real solidarity, the kind that points us to the world we want to live in—and our role in fighting for it.”

Author and activist adrienne maree brown put it this way: “This palpable, active, ongoing grief is a non-negotiable part of this period of immense change. Grief is one of the most beautiful and difficult ways we love. As we grieve we feel our humanity and connection to each other. Building the path from this heartbreaking present to a future where we center our collective existence in love and care is where we come in.”

Over the last two years, alongside these injustices as well as our own learning and preparation, we have established a set of goals focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion that we are truly proud of. These goals are aspirational to be sure, but this moment in history demands that we recognize that equity is foundational to healthy and loving communities. We need to invest in justice and nurture it, not take it for granted.  We feel that, by crafting DEI goals and striving to actualize them, we will grow as a funder.  It has already begun to open new ways for us to connect with our grant partners and the communities in which we fund. In this brief report, we share some of the highlights of our equity work in the last year relating to each of our goals. We welcome you to read this and share with us any thoughts or reflections you have.