Flashback to October 2019: the days were full of sunshine reflecting my excitement for my first week at the Field Foundation. Upon arrival, I received a binder full of resources on the history of the Field Foundation and its grant-making process, among other resources. In the binder, I also found a letter from a past fellow. They shared that this would be a transformative year at the Field Foundation and urged me to take stock of my time. It was my intention then, as it is now, to add to the archives of past fellows and write a letter. So as an ode, farewell, and thanks, I write this letter to future fellows, sharing my lessons.
Lesson #1: Know your history. I came into the Field Foundation at a transitional time. We were three years into a new model that centers racial equity and invests in Community Empowerment through all our program areas. We were also preparing for our big move into the FBRK Impact House, our soon-to-be interactive campus, with other organizations striving for equity in Chicago. We at the Field Foundation come from a long lineage and tradition of striving for equity in Chicago, with 80 years of grant-giving and impact. I urge you to learn both the history of the Field Foundation and the history of this city.
Lesson #2: Don’t forget to look at email addresses! In my second week I was fooled into online fraud by someone pretending to be a staff member. The details of the story are not so important. The important part is how staff showed up and supported me; the care with which folks responded was so incredibly telling of the compassionate, transparent, and equitable culture of the Field Foundation. I knew early on that I was not only going to be supported professionally, but also personally.
Lesson #3: Ask questions & be critical. You will be encouraged to ask questions. Ask them! About yourself, about the art and science of philanthropy, and about the sometimes-weird dance of philanthropy. Ask how we as a foundation are living out our values and what we need to change in our processes to better serve our grantees. As you ask yourself these questions, you will also find others who are eager, excited, and ready to ask the hard questions.
Lesson #4: Jump in. Get your feet wet! In addition to doing work around grant processes, program officers and staff members are heavily involved in various ways all over this city. Responding to invitations, starting their own projects, supporting important initiatives and, most importantly, people. I had the opportunity to take part in the Investment Committee meetings to learn what it looks like to use our endowment to invest for equity in our community.
Lesson #5: Know your superpowers! In the fall of your fellowship you will be trained on all the ins and outs of site visit preparations and you will have the opportunity to shadow and co-conduct site visits alongside program officers. Know your own superpowers and the superpowers of your team members. I learned that my superpowers are much like Wonder Woman: compassionate, outgoing, and ready for battle. As for the team, meet The Mighty Field Foundation:
Tempestt – Buzz Lightyear: To Infinity and Beyond
Angelica – Spiderwoman: My Spidey Senses are Tingling (seeing the web/interconnection of systems)
Lolly – Black Panther: The Untold Story
Hilesh – The Flash: Speedy and Engaged
Tommie – Clark Kent/Superman: Ordinarily Super
Angelique – Captain Marvel: Action and Hope
Mark – Tony Stark/Iron Man: Inspiringly Committed
Michelle – Mrs. Incredible: Stretching the Limits
They are my heroes. Ask them why!
Lesson #6: Be prepared & stay informed. Be prepared to sit in many conversations and in many rooms: ones you never thought you’d be in. You will see things on a macro view of this city, and you will see how philanthropy plays a role in shaping and supporting lowercase policy. Stay plugged in to remain prepared, engaged, and informed.
Lesson #7: Be moved. Without a doubt, you will be moved. You will be moved by the program officers and staff, by our grantees who are experts of their communities, by the various stakeholders in this city and their commitment to meeting the needs of Chicago; all of whom are showing up when and where it matters most. You will be moved by New Leaders of Chicago recipients who are various ages, races, and program areas, all committed to working hard in Chicago without seeking recognition. You will be moved to uncover all the innovative and creative ways in which people are responding to the needs of their communities. And you will grow from it.
Lesson #8: It’s about our community. You will hear time and again that what matters most is the groundwork. Our role is to keep our ears on the ground, build relationships, show up, and make sure that the messages of those in the field are passed on and shared to various channels. It is about using the power and influence of philanthropy to elevate the voices on the ground and urging other entities to make space for those who are historically kept out of conversations that most impact them
Lesson #9: Pay it forward. That fellow from years ago, whose letter I read when I first started, was right: this really has been a transformative experience. I’ve learned some great lessons and gained so many new skills. Now it is my honor and responsibility to pay it forward and build on this communal learning, to continue the lineage of striving for equity.