I was in my twenties when I first saw Rent on Broadway. Having grown up acting in community theater and even having a stint on a TV show (story for another day), I am a die hard fan of the electricity that sizzles off live stages. That night in the Nederlander Theatre, something shifted in me. I went from being a removed appreciator of great talent to rocketing to my feet to clap and cry and dance and shout. I felt seen and moved and I knew that through theater, art, music and dance, people can connect and transport us out of our bodies and lives if even just for moments.
The year of 2020 has felt like a decade.
There have been some wild chapters—murder hornets, locust plagues, alien sightings. There have been dark, frozen moments, watching as that white police officer calmly knelt on George Floyd’s neck, an eerie execution in broad daylight captured on an iPhone and sent for the world to bear witness.
Were it not for the pandemic, for the Great Pause — as I call this year — would we have all slowed down enough to allow this time, this lynching at the hands of a police officer, this violation of a Black body, to have jolted us so violently? Because we slowed down and stood still. Was it the one-two punch of the accompanying video of the white woman calmly calling in a hit on the bird-watching Black man who asked her to obey the laws of the park that allowed things to click into place for so many? To realize there are entire subsets of laws, mores, metrics that say if you are white you can do just about anything. If you are Black and Brown, you are already condemned.
The Great Pause brought uprisings across the world. With so many sick and dying from COVID-19, so many out of work, the realization that the system is rigged was either long brewing or newly ignited—and people of all ages and races ran to the streets. Marching in masks, singing, and demanding that this time, THIS TIME, we need liberation instead of placation. We need to invest in abundance not admonition. We need to pedestalize the heroes, not the captors.
In my own home, the Great Pause brought a new reality. My husband lost his job at the beginning of the pandemic—and in turn gained five new ones. He is now the Dean, the Coach, the entire IT department, the Facilities Director and the “Projects as Assigned” Manager. My 10-year-old daughter began remote learning. She now types faster than I do, and has figured out ways to make every day seem special, and to “play” with friends virtually.
As someone who traveled at least a week out of every month for as long as I can remember, and who attended evening events two to three times per week, I have never spent so much time in one place. Turns out I can grow a thriving vegetable garden. I love working out in the mornings. I do my best cooking with jazz playing and dancing is something that helps move a meal to completion.
How do we adequately measure a year, the musical Rent asks us to consider.
In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, a year in the life?
I will measure 2020 in blessings. Here are a few:
~ The Blessing of Brilliant People. The Field Foundation staff is something else. They were not spared this year. There were cancer battles, loss of family members, repeated moves, care for our children, care for parents. There were struggles to find mental wellness in the face of extreme anxiety, to find balance in a world that seemed to need us every hour, every day. And this team rose when required and took time out when needed. I am proud of them for all of this. From launching Tuesday Teach Ins centering BIPOC organizers working to defund police, to serving on virtual panels while barefoot in their homes. From writing many newsletter items to lift new voices, to supporting new COVID funds and ensuring the dollars given centered racial justice and personally participating in mutual aid networks near and far. The way they each show up fully for this work is breathtaking and inspires me every day.
~ The Blessing of Vigorous and Respectful Debate. The Field Foundation board—and especially our leader, Board Chair Gloria Castillo, has set the bar high for trusteeship. So much in foundation-land is unseen. In happens in between the grants, in the boardrooms, in the committee meetings. Field is not new to racial justice work. We have, in fact, been training up for this moment. But this year we rooted in deep. Our Investment Chair Kym Hubbard led our continuing journey of understanding what racial justice looks like in a socially responsible investment space. Our Finance and Audit Chair Lyle Logan led us in understanding our spending policy and pushing us to understand what “impact” and “return” means to a legacy, not just to a ledger. And each of our trustees showed up fully to discuss, and, yes, debate—what the role of a racial justice foundation should be today and tomorrow. This is amidst grief and illness, hard-earned sabbaticals, and through fractured limbs. How does one thank a collective that redefines trusteeship as service to something bigger? Special shouts out to Dr. Cathy J. Cohen and Stephanie Field Harris for being unafraid to lead discussion on where we might journey next.
~ The Blessing of Collective Action. This year as we physically distanced, new collectives sprung up. Virtual institutions formed—without name, or pay, and with only a pressing need to rise to this moment. From the Just Action collective that will work in 2021 to help make real all those racial equity statements institutions put out, to the COVID Mapping Project, a collective of 20+ researchers and foundations committed to rebuilding with an eye on long-term racial justice recovery, this year taught me that here in Chicago we are not individual institutions but an ever-growing ensemble dedicated to the larger work.
~ The Blessing of Being a We. This is where you come in. So many of you, and others locally and nationally, inspire the heck out of me. You show me how to be kind and firm. How to have grace and mettle. How to be vulnerable and angry. How to be dreamy and steadfast. I have hope for what comes next because the boldest and brightest minds are at work on reimagining. Nonprofit leaders, public sector colleagues, philanthropic co-conspirators, artists, storytellers, organizers, and journalists. Our foundation is growing and rising to this moment because of the company we keep.
Make no mistake. This year has left each of us threshed. Grief, illness, anxiety—they have not spared our families and our loved ones. And yet. In that threshing comes a re-rooting, a new planting. I am stretching into 2021 firmly rooted in the history and promise of racial justice. Deeply humbled by the blessings of people working together across difference, knowing our difference is our strength. I am walking into the year a fierce believer. Knowing that in me, in you, in the bigger we—we will find sanctuary. I am growing and rising to this moment because of each of you.
Measuring in love,
Angelique Power, President
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year
from the Field Foundation!
Though we are physically separated, we are grateful for this year’s many blessings. We remain committed, passionate and excited about the work of racial equity and community empowerment — now more than ever.
From our Field Family to yours, Happy Holidays. We wish you all a safe and happy 2021 filled with peace and justice!