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Seeking systemic solutions, both personally and organizationally

Several months ago, my computer here at work was slowing considerably. It took quite a while to boot up in the morning, and I grew frustrated and finally called our tech-support vendor.

“You have too much information in there. You need to delete what you no longer need.” I did that, and it improved dramatically.

I had a similar discussion with a friend more recently. He was lamenting his increasing struggle on remembering names. I shared my own theory that over our lives, we accumulate more and more information, and can only hold so much. It’s not an age issue, I assured him, but a systems one.

I now have a more personal struggle I have wrestled with in the past several weeks. As we watch the protests across our nation, I have struggled with what should be our organization’s role in addressing discrimination. Our mission statement emphasizes a focus to enhance the quality of life for all citizens in our region. In our communities and our country, not all have the same opportunities for a better quality of life.

A recent report from Marketwatch stated that Black households earn just 62 cents on the dollar of what their white counterparts do. Post-secondary degree completion among whites is 63%, versus just 38% among African Americans. As I’ve watched, listened and read the many news accounts and personal stories, it reinforced to me that there is an American experience for others very different from my own.

One friend working for a nonprofit sent a response from one of her colleagues running another chapter of that organization in a larger city. He wrote about his experience of being stopped recently for a tail light being out, when it wasn’t. He mentioned his brother being stopped 38 times last year … 38 times. As best he could figure, his brother was guilty only of driving a new car while being Black.

I’m a product of growing up in a homogenous small Ozarks town, and going off to college in the Deep South. I have no personal experiences that relate to what I’m seeing, hearing and reading on a daily basis for the lives others are living and the challenges they face because of the color of their skin. What is clear to me, however, is that this it’s different this time. The protests are not just in the nation’s urban centers, but in our small towns — including here in the Ozarks — and places around the world. Historically marginalized people who, long ago, found their voice, are finally joined by a chorus of others and a wider audience intent on listening. It’s about time.

For me, this is not so much an age issue, but a systems one as well. I need to let go of past experiences and thoughts so I can be open to new ones. I need to better understand the history of our nation regarding race, and the historic opportunity this moment presents to our region, country and world to help overcome past sins. I’m grateful to work for an organization that has a focus on improving the quality of life for all citizens. I feel our board, staff and donors are ready for the opportunity this moment presents. We need to get it right this time as an organization, and a nation.

Brian Fogle is the President and CEO of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.

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