Living in Retrospect: A Message from the Grave

By September 22, 2020Field News

The casket of Rep. John Lewis crosses the Edmund Pettus Bridge by horse-drawn carriage during a memorial service for Lewis on July 26 in Selma, Ala. Photo Creator: John Bazemore, Photo Credit: AP


On July 30, 2020, The New York Times published a message from the grave.

Civil Rights giant and longtime Congressman, John Lewis, knew he had lost his battle with cancer. Rather than spend his final days resting and fading peacefully – he unleashed one last act for the greater good and wrote a message to each of us. This missive urged us to keep going without him, to fight at all costs for human dignity and to “study and learn the lessons of history because …the truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time.”

Writing a note knowing you will be gone before it is read.

The Present actively unfolding while simultaneously viewed from the Future’s gaze.

Living in retrospect.

Six months of social distancing, masking ourselves in public and stretching to remain ever-connected digitally, the Field Foundation staff has found new ways of digging in and reaching out. Calls, Zooms, Google meets. One-on-ones, panels, keynotes given barefoot in front of framed ancestors watching quietly from our walls.

We are all living our lives in retrospect these days; watching the ink dry on a history book each day while simultaneously scrolling the headlines on our phone. We know 2020 is a year that will be studied, analyzed. We feel it with each statue pulled down, each city budget shifting investments from policing to the promise of people. With each uptick of lives stolen by Coronavirus. With each school struggling to determine how to feed and educate children, protect teachers, solve for the mounting trauma and do it all on shrinking budgets and with no vaccine in sight.

Injustice viralized.

Priorities reevaluated.

Essentiality redefined.

The world collectively examining the high-functioning and eagerly supported racial caste system that slides to fatal lengths based on the darkness of skin. The world collectively asking how this caste system is codified and designed? What is the role of government to change this, of our publicly held companies, our cultural, academic and philanthropic institutions? What is the role I play, you play?

The pen, it is writing. The ink, ever drying.

And when it stops, what will the history books say about us; and what will we have learned, done, changed?

Now in our 80th year, Field Foundation’s history is also ever-unfolding.

We started this year by looking back on our founding and how we were born from the mind of Marshall Field III in an attempt to equip the organizer, the artist, and the truth-teller with everything they need for the fight. Knowing that it is the fighter who changes the rules of the game, that a dug-in fight is sometimes the only way to gain any ground, and that in the end – until those most marginalized are designers of their own destiny – no one can prevail, no one can be free.

In our forthcoming Biennial Report, we will take the opportunity of our 80th anniversary to reflect on the past, present and future – how it overlaps in elegant loops. In these past few years Field has changed so much. How we fund, who we fund, how we measure our work, how we aim to build trust, how we invest our dollars and how we keep learning by constantly recognizing how far we still have to go.

And yet, given that in the original documents from our Foundation, Marshall Field III called us to work for “racial justice,” in many ways our latest change has simply circled us back to our earliest beginning. We are returning home, retracing our steps, heading steadfastly back to where we started.

So, what will history say about us, about our actions, about this time? Let’s ask the ever-prescient John Lewis, a staff member in the sixties at the Field Foundation of New York.

In Mr. Lewis’ final note he offered us this…

When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.

Walking with each of you in the wind,

Angelique Power, President 


Welcome the 2020-2021 Field Fellows!

The Field Foundation Fellowship is a supervised field placement for graduate students, offering work and philanthropic experience for the next generation of grant makers. Our Fellows come to us for a ten-month academic year, while also pursuing advanced degrees from institutions throughout the Chicago area.

Since Field started this work more than 30 years ago, 50 fellows have interned with Field, many of whom are, themselves, now philanthropy and nonprofit leaders.

We are excited to announce our 2020-2021 Field Fellows: Sofía Gabriel del Callejo and Richard Tran.

Sofía Gabriel del Callejo
Sofía is pursuing an MA in Arts Administration & Policy in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). She is joining Field as the Communications Fellow.

Richard Tran
Richard is the Field Programs Fellow. He is working on his masters degree from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration and will be working with each of our program officers to support their work.


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