Edgar Villanueva is the author of “Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance.” At this live event, Chanda and Edgar talked about their personal experiences in philanthropy, the power structures that surround wealth, and the steps needed to bring compassion and healing to the institution of philanthropy.
Tim Hart-Anderson 00:01
Good morning, everybody. Good morning. Good morning. Glad to hear great energy in the room. Good morning. Welcome, welcome. Glad to have you all here. There’s some empty seats up here. These tables. Welcome everybody. My name. My name is. My name is Tim Hart-Anderson. I’m the pastor here at Westminster church, also the moderator of the Westminster Town Hall Forum. Glad to have you all here. There’s great energy in this room. This is exactly what we’ve designed this room for the community to come together good ideas, Justice emanating from here and from other places in our city to make this a better, a better place to live. We’re grateful that the Minneapolis Foundation is here. This is not the first time they’ve been here and we want to continue this opportunity using our facility to to help the community grow and deepen and become a more equitable place to live and work and have our have our being as we say, theologically, we’re glad to be able to partner with you at Westminster church welcome and have a great day here. I’m going to turn it over. Good. Okay.
Carly Bad Heart Bull 01:21
[Dakota greeting.] Hello friends and relatives I’m so happy to see you all here today. My name is Carly Bad Heart Bull — that’s my English name. In Dakota, my name is Takada Kimaniwe, which means woman who walks toward the future. I’m Dakota. I’m a citizen of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. But my people come from right here in Minnesota mokoche. I work in philanthropy, I work at the Bush Foundation. I’ve been there for five years, and I currently work as a native nations activities manager. So I work on our work in Indian country across all of our program areas. It’s an honor to be here today. Both to be able to hear my dear friend Edgar, speak and share his wisdom. And to start off, I’d like to introduce my deckshe uncle, Glenn Wasicuna. He is Dakota from Sioux Valley. And he is a Dakota language teacher, a former journalist. He currently teaches at Mankato State University as he teaches Dakota language and he lives on a farm in Good Thunder, Minnesota, with his lovely wife, Gwen Westerman, my auntie sitting over here as well. So Glenn is going to help kick us off with with a prayer and also share a short story — just some words of guidance for us all.
Glenn Wasicuna 03:01
Good morning, everybody. In the Dakota tradition, everything is followed by prayer. We pray first in everything that we do. So first of all, before I share a story with you I’d like to pray but I’d like you to pray along with me. Pray from your hearts. We will make a good strong prayer. Pray in your own way. Pray with me and we’ll do that now. [Dakota prayer.] Thank you. I was wondering what to expect here today. I had no idea. And I was thinking all week, what I was going to say and when I walked in here, in front of the on the table, there’s a book and on the bottom it says Indigenous wisdom to heal divides and restore balance. And it fit perfectly into what I’m going to relate to you right now. My uncle has the Dakota name was Otter Cote. In the English world, he was known as Eli Taylor. He lived across the field from where we lived on the reservation. And we used to visit a lot he would come over and or else, we’ll go over there. And he told us a lot of stories. But during that time, he used to disappear from the community for weeks at a time. Months. Nobody really knew where he went or what he did. But he’ll come back and he’ll tell stories. He said he met some people who are just like us. They talk like us and some of them even looked like us, he said. But nobody really believed him I don’t think but all his life he was doing that. And just recently, I began to realize where he went and what he did. You see, we lived in Canada. I was born in Canada. You know the story how that happened? How did the Dakota people ended up in Canada? And he used to come over to Minnesota. He visited all the Dakota communities. He talked to those people because they were his people. They looked like him. They talk like him. They think like him. As time went on, he used to come to Mankato. And he talked to people there. And this… Now the fruits of all the things that he’s done. All the things that he’s talked about and talked with people is true today. For example, if you’re ever in Mankato outside the Public Library downtown, there’s a statue of a Native American person. I think it’s called a winter warrior, I’m not sure. But it’s been there for quite a while. And I used to think about that. How did that get there? It must have taken a lot of people to talk about it. Agree on it and decide to put it up. And of course money. Where did the money come from to do that? It must have taken a great deal of work to correct that person. And this happened a long time ago. And then across the street from that library, there’s a white buffalo today. I’ve huge white buffalo. Again, I used to think, who made it possible? How was it done? And how many people were involved to make that happen? And the amount of money that must have taken to erect that for Dakota people. And then I used to go to land of memories park in Mankato. It was dedicated for Dakota people. Again, how did that happen? And who made it happen? And how long did it take? And then, again, recently, there’s a… I don’t know what to call it. What do you call that? Where names are? There’s a scroll erected with all the names of Dakota on there. Again, the same thought came to my mind, who did this? Whose idea was this? And then bison were brought to you in your park in Mankato. Not necessarily for Dakota people, but for for everybody to commemorate the Dakota people. Again, that must have taken an incredible amount of work and foresight to do that. And then, I think the best thing that the people of Mankato have done up to now to help the Dakota people was to bring that the Dakota language to its University. And there’s going to be signs within the university in the language as we work with them. But that’s the most the best thing that has happened because very few of us that speak the language now. I get emotional. When I heard Carly speak this morning… It brought tears to my eyes to hear that beautiful language. But those are things I wanted to talk to you about in Mankato. The people of Mankato have done a lot of work for Dakota people. And my thought on it now, what do I do as a Dakota man to say thank you, for all that work that you’ve done over the years? What can I do? Or what can I say? To show my appreciation? And I think the answer is right here — to restore the balance and to heal that divide. I think that’s what remains now. We as Dakota people have to heal. We talk about healing a lot. But nobody tells us how do we do that. I think the best way to start is to speak together, speak to one another, talk to one another, share things with each other. And it’ll start. So I wanted to share that with you and I hope you have a good meeting here today. And take some good ideas with you. And now start this process. Thank you very much.
Chanda Smith Baker 15:06
Good morning. Thank you for being here today. I’m sitting in those words. And when we at the Minneapolis Foundation were thinking about how do we raise up issues and the importance of conversations, there was a moment in the room where we said, well, we’re tired of talking about it. We need to move towards action. And then there was a follow-up conversation that went something like, but are we having the right conversations with the right people? How do we begin to have conversations with people that maybe we wouldn’t? How do we begin to have conversations and say things that maybe feel uncomfortable, maybe a little gritty, maybe a little painful, shameful, in order for us to heal and restore and move forward? Maybe part of solving the city’s appalling disparities has to do with understanding how we got here. And so we decided to move into these conversations. In a way, frankly, that is not comfortable. Not just for you, but for me, for the Foundation. We decided that being more aggressive to resolve the urgent needs that our children have in this community, that our families have, that our neighbors have, that our families have, will require us to disrupt our own behavior at the Foundation. And to say we’re willing to cross a barrier because a city that works for everyone matters to us. And so I welcome you in this space. I’ll tell you, I don’t know where this conversation is gonna go. I know decolonizing wealth, by itself is enough to sit on all day. I know that for those of you that have read the book, it may have felt uneasy. There were pieces of it that were frankly extremely difficult for me. I’m living this while you’re living this, we’re doing this in real time. I would say to you that what you don’t understand when we finish, ask somebody. That I have my perspective, my worldview, in my experience, I can speak from that. But the more conversations you have with people that have more experiences unlike your own, expands you in ways that benefit this community. And I invite you to do that. I’m going to introduce our speaker who I’m very glad to have met. This conversation follows the conversation we had back in March — white fragility. I was joking this week, I said, well, first we had white fragility to help people get unfragile. For our next conversation on decolonizing wealth, I don’t know what’s coming next, but maybe something on reparations. I don’t know. So Edgar, I welcome you. I appreciate where you have stretched this work in your experience and bringing it to us and across this country. This book is on wildfire. It’s the thing in philanthropy right now. I got Edgar’s bio. I’m gonna try my hardest to read it. Because I was nervous this morning, I left my glasses. So Edgar is nationally recognized on social justice philanthropy. He currently serves on the board of the directors of Native Americans. He’s actually the Chair of the Board of Directors of Native Americans in Philanthropy, which is a fund that sits at the Minneapolis Foundation. He’s a board member of the Andrews Family Fund, a national foundation that works to improve the outcomes of vulnerable youth. And if I understand it in the book, and if it’s still true, you’re one of two Native Americans that sit on a national board. Is that right? More or less, but still take away one or two, it’s still not good. Edgar is an instructor with a grant-making school at the Johnson Center of Grand Valley State University and currently serves as the vice president of programs and advocacy at the Schultz Foundation for Public Education, where he oversees grant investments and capacity building. In addition to working in philanthropy for many years, he has consulted with numerous nonprofit organizations — national and global philanthropies — on advancing racial equity. Thank you and let’s give Edgar a very warm welcome.
Edgar Villanueva 20:28
Good morning. Can y’all hear me okay? Soundcheck? All right, great. I’m truly honored to be here. You know, I, there are times where I go to places where it feels like, I feel a little bit like a stranger coming in. And today, this really just felt like home. I think for a lot of reasons. One, there are lots of familiar faces in the room. So good to see friends and colleagues from different organizations. And also, I just know that in Minneapolis, there’s such a vibrant native community. There’s such a vibrant philanthropic community that is really doing some intentional work to push our field. And so it just felt comfortable. And so thanks to the elder for the words this morning, that really set the pace for our conversation and brought in a spirit of love and unity. I don’t know where this conversation is going either. But I intend to have some fun along the way. And to just go along with the flow of what you know, we want to accomplish in our time today. I want to thank the Minneapolis Foundation for pulling this together. And I am a donor, a proud donor, to the foundation to the Generation Indigenous Fund that is housed there that was launched by Native Americans in Philanthropy to support native youth organizing around the country. And also thanks to the Bush Foundation. And you know, Jo-Anne, and Carly, for all the hard work you guys put into this and all the staff and team. So this is probably the most beautiful church I’ve ever been in. Quite lovely. Nothing like our little church down south where I grew up. But I really appreciate all the hands that go into making it possible for us to be together today. I’m curious about who’s in the room. So if you’re a funder, give me a little wave. Okay, if you’re a nonprofit leader, give me a wave. Awesome. If you are an Indigenous relative, give me a little wave and maybe a little shout out or something. Okay. All right. Yes. Relatives here. Anyone here realizing you’re at the wrong meeting? Right. Like what is going on here right now? Okay. Good, good. Okay. No, I see no one running for the door. So I am from the south, I did grow up in sort of a faith tradition of call and response. So feel free to just relax and we’ll get through this together and have fun, and hopefully leave inspired and challenged and thinking about our lives personally in our work a little bit in a little bit of a different way. I’m going to just begin by reading a little something that I wrote. When I was writing the book… How many people have read the book? Okay, 75% maybe? Okay. You may recognize this but the field of philanthropy is a living anachronism. We are like a stodgy relative wearing clothes that will never come back in fashion. It is adamant that it knows best holding tight the purse strings. It is stubborn. It fails to get with the times frustrating the younger folks, it does not care. It is, we are, like a mansion with neoclassical columns and manicured lawns. Staff with butlers and maids who pass silver trays of tiny, tasteless niblets. Pigs in blankets anyone? Angels on horseback? To guests wearing tailcoats and bustles as a string quartet plays tunes written centuries ago. No one’s voice rises above a certain decibel. No one jokes. No one’s words call attention to the ludicrous and unsustainable farce that is the entire scene. It is, we are, a period play — a costume drama, a fantasy of entitlement all tourism and superiority. Far too often it creates, or we create, division and suffering rather than progress and healing. It is, we are, a sleep walking sector, white zombie spewing the money of dead white people in the name of charity and benevolence I’ll get it out. It is, we are, colonialism in the empire’s newest clothes. It is, we are, racism in an institutional form. Philanthropy moves at a glacial pace — epidemics and storms hit, communities go underwater literally and metaphorically, black and brown children get shot dead or lose their youth inside jail cells. Families are separated across continents, women are abused and beaten and raped. Although Rome burns while we fiddle with another survey on strategies, another survey on impact. Other sectors feel the heat of competition, not us. We politely nod at the innovations of the business sector. It takes us half a century to implement even one of them. We indulge those who say that diversity is important by conducting several decades of analysis, hiring consulting groups with absurd price tags, we publish reports, we create a task force, and debate moderately over what to call it. We do not actually change not more than superficially. So this is philanthropy. It is, we are, the family that embarrasses me, that infuriates me. But it’s still my family, my relations, and I believe in redemption. So as from this place of calling this family to a better place that I wrote, philanthropy, honey, it is time for an intervention. I was so honored to get featured in The New York Times with this book. And that was like the big headline, “Philanthropy, honey, it’s time for intervention.” I was like, not probably my most brilliant line, but kind of how I talk every day, so it’s fine. So last year, in 2018, I was named the most radical critique of philanthropy by Inside Philanthropy. And I can’t imagine why I’m still trying to figure it out. But I don’t think that what we’re talking about today is really all that radical. You know, I am telling my story, as you said, this is my story and my experience, I’m bringing to light stories of so many folks who have worked inside the walls of foundations who have labored on the frontlines of nonprofits, all of us really trying to move us forward to a better place, a different way of thinking, a different type of partnership and showing up in community. And all of this, you know, my message is done with love, with respect and for, you know, really a gratitude of understanding the privilege that it is to get to do this work, but at the same time, not withholding the grave responsibility to that feel to speak truth to power. Because I really do believe that we can and must be better. And so if that’s radical, I’ll take that title. But just wondering how many folks today will agree to just be radical with me for a little while? Let’s just be radical. Okay. It’ll be fun. Let’s do it. So where I’m from in North Carolina, I’m an enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe, and we are a tribe in southeastern North Carolina. We have about 60,000 members, and we are the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River. And where I’m from we meet folks, the first thing we ask is, who’s your people, right? Who’s your people? Who’s you people, all right? And we just began to rattle off names of our grandparents because we have this inherent belief that we’re all connected. And so it only a matter of time where it’s like all your Lacklier, which kind of Lacklier you know, which family? And we find soon enough that everyone is pretty much like a distant relative. And so you know, where from we even sell t-shirts that say, “Who’s your people?” because it is sort of a value that we hold, we know that we’re inherently all connected. So yes, my people are Native American. But I hate to disappoint some of you because I cannot build a canoe from scratch. And I cannot catch a deer with my bare hands. These are stereotypes that I respond to all the time. And actually, my identity as a Native American is quite complicated because of the history of colonization in this country. It’s been a long journey for me personally, to decolonize my mind, my thinking, and to connect more deeply with my Indigenous values. And I, you know, I’ve really grown to appreciate those values and that worldview that have been passed down to me, particularly from my mother, who I will talk about in a minute, because I’m such a mama’s boy. And I always had to talk about my mama. It’s just the way it is. And you know, and as someone said, I’m one of the few Native Americans that have worked inside of philanthropy now for 15 years. And we know this as a small bubble of privilege and concentrated wealth. And because of the history of this country, and where I grew up being the very first point of contact in this country for colonization, and then finding myself inside of, you know, a sector with so much privilege and power and sort of this sense of forced assimilation… It’s no wonder that I struggled as a young person really trying to figure it all out. And you know, where I grew up in North Carolina as a young boy, you, you know, you have to check boxes and you’re white, black, or other. And so I grew up in the other box. And imagine how that how that feels to be in that box… To be something that’s defined as other, but to be in a box that is like, under constant threat. It’s like, I think I’m in this box, but I’m not sure because the government says that this box isn’t legitimate. And to be from a community of people, there only are, you know, if the government of another country says that you are. Like, we have to prove that we are who we are. So all of these complexities really created for me quite an identity issue in my life. And I’ve been on a lifelong journey to sort of reconcile that. And to decolonize my thinking to understand, like, what’s really going going on in my life? Uh, who am I and why am I showing up? And what kind of leader do I want to be? So a lot of this… Back to my mom, my mom was a single mother and she worked two or three jobs as I was a child growing up. And two out of the three jobs, she was a domestic worker, the other job was at DMV… What a terrible place to work. Kinda. Sorry if you work there. But my poor mom, nine to five, working at DMV, and then second shift, a domestic worker, third shift domestic worker. And in this role as a domestic worker, she took care of frail elderly folks, she was like a nurse’s aide, right? And so she was in and out of homes of sort of wealthy folks in our community in Raleigh, North Carolina. And sometimes I would go to work with her. She would kind of sneak me in, you know, third shift, and I would hide in the car while the other nurse laughed, and she would come and get me a sneak me in. And for a moment, I was like, wow, this is how other people live. Like, they have all these rooms. And it’s just one person that lives here, you know, a library in a home, like, what is this? And I would, you know, read books, and sometimes steal a little bit, don’t tell anyone. Play their grand pianos and just, you know, really, like, you know, get tucked into a fancy couch. So I was really exposed at a young age, that sort of this divide of like poverty, but also this kind of proximity to folks who had wealth, and watching my mom from afar kind of move between these worlds and work hard. And so my mom on her precious days off, do you think that she just sat back and kicked up her feet and ate bon bons? No, not even then. My mom was really involved in outreach in the community through our church. So I grew up as I said, in the south, and I grew up in where the church was sort of the center of our lives. I even went to seminary, we can talk about that another time because that’s a whole thing, right? But you’ll probably pick up on some of those dynamics. It’s in my DNA. But at the church that we went to my mom started a bus ministry. And I don’t know if these things even exists anymore, where buses go out and pick up kids for church. But my mom, every Saturday, she spent her Saturdays, well, actually, I should say our Saturdays because I was drug along, right? Every Saturday, we would go out into the community, and we would just, you know, love on kids and give them candy and knock on doors and just interact with the community. And, you know, it kind of went like, you know, knocking on the door, my mom would say, you know, “Hi, my name is Sheila. I’m from the community. We go to this church down the street. And we just wanted to let you know that if you wanted to, we can come by and pick your kids up for church.” And so what started as you know, this, this simple kind of outreach really just blew up. And in a matter of time, every Sunday, my mom was busing in like 300 kids to this church, right? A fleet of buses. And I kind of you know, was just around and watched my mom have the capacity to not only love me and take care of me, but to love like hundreds of kids. And so we would bring them into church and sit around and they were like pile up on us and just want, just be so hungry for love and affection. And, you know, and so I learned, you know, early on, like there’s something about this ministry for my mom, that is like sustaining her that is making her whole, that is bringing a balance to her life. And through all the trauma and pain and stuff that she’s been through, she still is resilient enough to actually do this work to help others. So, you know, I think about the work that she did as sort of her met her medicine. And I knew early on that when I learned what a philanthropist really was. I was like my mom was actually the first philanthropist that I knew, right? So yeah, I come from a lineage of Indian givers. Have you heard that word? I remember when you’re a kid and someone called your Indian giver, it was like a bad thing, right? It’s like, well, that term has actually been tarnished, because it actually came originally from a native worldview of what it means to give and to be in community. The native worldview shifts the focus from altruism to reciprocity. Reciprocity is based on our fundamental interconnection, there is no other, there is no us versus them. There is no haves versus have nots, there are no funder-grantee-type relationships. Reciprocity is the sense that I am going to give to you because I know that you would do the same for me. No one is just a giver. No one is just a taker. We are all both because at some point in our lives, we give and we take. This also reflects a dynamic of a cycle as opposed to a one-off, one-way relationship. Someone said reciprocity is a matter of keeping the gift in motion, through self-proclaimed, self-perpetuating cycles of giving and receiving. Through reciprocity, the gift is replenished, all of our flourishing is mutual. The native principle of reciprocity is where white colonizers and settlers got the concept of Indian giver. Natives express that any gift that was given with, you know, was not really for free, there was an expectation of an ongoing relationship. The idea that I will give this to you, because I know that you would, and that you will, at some point in the future, do the same for me. So one of the main points of my work of this book, and just all the conversations I’ve been having around the country, and even recently, outside the US, is this idea that our mutual dependence is so necessary for our social well being. We are symbiotic. All of our flourishing is mutual. So this idea of altruism as a purely charitable act, it really doesn’t exist. The way things that are really ours, that we’re interconnected, we’re interdependent, and that is reciprocity. Reciprocity means that we are only a healthy community if we’re taking care of every body. Every body. Say every body. Alright, great. So I want to talk with you for just a second around this idea of money being medicine. In the indigenous worldview, many kinds of things can be medicine. It can be a place, a stone, a word. You know, it could be a natural phenomenon or dream. For me, I’ve got all kinds of medicine. But definitely, if I’m feeling like I’ve had a bad day, things are off, I have a couple friends that I’ll call like on my walk home, and they always cracked me up, you know, on the phone, and I’m like, I feel better and life is good again. So anything that we deem to be sacred, that brings a sense of balance to our lives can be considered medicine. Anyone can find and use medicine just by by allowing your intuition and your feelings to determine whether something can serve as medicine. Now, the elders taught me that you don’t choose the medicine and the medicine chooses you. And so where I had a major moment in my life, in writing this book, and this this kind of quest to recenter myself in my own history and Indigenous values, I was struggling because I was working in philanthropy, and trying to move money, trying to reconcile my baggage around money and wealth and inequality and all of this, and I had an elder to say to me, the medicine that has chosen you as money. And I was like, what? Money? Isn’t money dirty, evil, bad, like the root of all evil and all these kinds of things that we were taught in church? Doesn’t the Bible say something about that? And, you know, I took that with me and sat on it for quite a while. And what I came to this idea of understanding that money is actually quite neutral. Money itself is nothing more but a way to measure value to facilitate exchange, and what is exchanged but a type of relationship between people? Money is a stand in for the sweat we spend on growing food, sewing clothes, assembling electronics, coding apps, creating entertainment, researching and developing innovations. Money is simply a proxy for the materials that we have used, the services that we’ve granted, the responsibilities shouldered. Materially money is just a bit of nickel, copper, paper, whatever they make it out of these days, right? It’s mostly digital in a lot of ways. When’s the last time you held a wad of cash in your hand like, right? It’s quite imaginary, harmless even. But taking it back like, in fact, you know, I told you I went to seminary, the Bible does not say that money is the root of all evil. It says that the love of money is the root of all evil. So in other words, when we let money be more important than life… When we let money be more important than relationships, when we allow money to be more important to humanity, they’re in is the evil. Now, I’m not saying that there are problems with money when it’s hoarded, when it’s used to control and dominate people, but that’s not the money’s fault. Humans have used money wrongfully. We made money up as a concept out of thin air. So it’s all behind the intentions of how we use it. If we’re going to use wealth and resources to dominate, control, and hoard or if we’re going to liberate resources for community ownership in ways that restore balance and bring about healing. So I believe that money actually can be used as a tool of love to facilitate relationships and to help us heal. So I’m not going to get into a major talk about colonization and decolonization for lack of time, because that’s a lot to unpack in our limited time together. But I want us to just understand that our history in this country of colonization has been severely traumatic. We romanticize our history of colonization. We lift up colonizers and our history as heroic. We are taught in school, right, that these folks are heroes. But what we are reaping today, and all the work that we’re trying to do are the remnants that have been left behind from generations of colonization, that have divided our communities that have led to all of the disparities that we are experiencing current day. And colonization is not something that just happened five years ago, it’s something that is in real time happening to this day. We are still putting children in cages in this country, right? We are still dividing families, we are still oppressing communities in this country. And so I want us to understand that we as a sector of philanthropy have to own up to any role that we may have played in contributing to that. We are inherently connected to money and wealth and the history of the accumulation of money and wealth in this country. An injustice that I grapple with every single day is understanding how my community, the Indigenous community, how other communities of color through, you know, land that was taken away genocide, enslavement of folks, the exploitation of low-wage workers, the role that all of these ancestors played in helping to generate and accumulate wealth in this country. And yet, we are not benefiting from our share of that wealth. This wealth has been locked up and kept away from our communities. So in philanthropy, we as a sector, who have benefited from that accumulation of wealth, who sit on resources, we have to ask ourselves, how are we contributing to these acts of colonization? How are we contributing to the separation, the division, the exploitation of communities, if we are now sitting on resources that were made on the backs of these ancestors, but yet, we are refusing to liberate those resources in a way to flow back into this communities? The fact that philanthropy sits on $900 billion of capital. 900 billion with a “b” and less than 1%, of grant-making goes into Indigenous communities is a shame. The fact that only 7.5% to 8% of grant-making goes into communities of color, only 7.5% to 8% to communities of color is actually something that we should be really, really, really embarrassed about. And so what do we do? How are these dynamics showing up on our work? When we think about who in our sector is calling the shots, who has access to this money, who gets to allocate, manage, spend the money? Where are the grants going, who are sitting around the decision-making tables, all of those elements are how the colonizing virus as I call it, are still operating within our institutions, within our systems, or within our policies. And so what do we need to do about that? We need to decolonize wealth. Well, what does that mean? I’m going to skip over some of this because a lot of you read the book, and I want to get into a conversation. So in order to decolonize wealth is simply embarking on a journey. And that journey is one beginning with coming to terms with what is what, right? Like not being naive to how we’re showing up. We just didn’t pop on the map today and work in these charitable institutions that have great missions. There’s a history that came before us. And we all need to understand how our personal history intersects with the history of this country. We need to understand how our institutional history intersects with the history of this country. How have we personally and how have we institutionally perpetuated those dynamics of colonization? How have we potentially harmed communities and what is our role in making it right? Well, we all need to understand that the dynamics of colonization, the separation, the division, the exploitation has harmed everyone in this room, not just not just Indigenous communities, not just communities of color. But all of us in this room have been harmed by the, by subscribing to a false idea of white supremacy. We know that’s not real. It’s something that someone made up, but we’ve all subscribed to that in some way or another, and it’s causing harm in our communities and causing harms in our family. So, you know, we talked about in the book and we’ll probably get into this I’m sure in our conversation, a pathway to healing. It begins with understanding the history, understanding the trauma, and then committing to a process of grieving, apologizing, and responding in appropriate ways. Decolonizing our own thinking and our approaches to wealth is really key to our healing. I have seen in my my work after investing –I counted this up–$130 million. So a lot of money for a little poor Indian from North Carolina to have moved. I’ve seen past that altruism and to some dark parts of our sector that we have to call out and bring light to, to the you know, the altruistic facade, the colonial shadows, the good ol’ boy networks, the white savior complexes, the internalized oppressions that exist among some of the few token people of color who gain access. These are real issues that are agonizing people who work within the nonprofit sector and within foundations, and we have to find spaces of healing to, to discuss them. I don’t have a solid answer for the way out from all of this. But I know that after 15 years and talking to hundreds and hundreds of people that people are suffering from all of these dynamics, the nonprofit sector is suffering, staff members within foundations are suffering, we’ve got to find a way to begin conversations around healing and coming together. So I’m hopeful. I’m very, very hopeful about the conversations that I’m having. We are in a moment people. Do you feel it? We are in a moment. And I was saying to someone this morning, I really I just wish that I could have had like a documentary camera man, follow me around to so many spaces that I’ve been because I can’t even like convey or articulate what is happening in a physical way, what has happened in a spiritual way, the way that folks are stepping up and responding. And that’s not because of Edgar. But it’s because of decades of, of labor and prayer and pushing and planting seeds that we’re beginning to reap. It’s also because of the times that we’re living in, we cannot be more polarized than we are right now. As a country, something has to be done and continuing to do business as a sector, the way we’ve been doing it, sprinkling a little funds here and there feeling good about ourselves is not going to move the needle. If you invest at all five, thank you. If we invest at 5%, you know, that’s the minimum payout rule for foundations. If we invested all 5% from foundations into radical social justice work, that would not even begin to move the needle. If we’re willing to refuse to admit that sometimes we’re doing good as as philanthropists as a side hustle. We’re not doing good with all of our resources. We’re not bringing all of our power to bear. We’re not willing to consider divesting from harmful and destructive industries. You know, what is it really about? Like, what are we willing to risk? How uncomfortable Are we willing to be? How brave are we willing to be in this moment? Because our future depends on it. As a sector, our young people depend on us to do this. And we have desperately got to find a way to bring our communities back together as one country as one community. We all have a responsibility in making this right. So I’ll just say in closing, because we’re going to jump into a conversation. I know you all want to talk and I can’t wait. Let’s just understand that we all have a responsibility to make this right. All of us. We all have a role in the process of healing. It doesn’t matter if you feel like you’ve come from a community that’s received more harm. If you’re a descendant of a community that may have caused harm. It doesn’t matter we’re all here now together and there’s work to do, and so I’m ready to get started. All of our healing is mutual all of our thriving is mutual. Let’s do it. Thank you.
Chanda Smith Baker 49:34
Okay, I gotta get this right. They trained me on this like this… I tell my family I can’t be smart in all the ways.
Edgar Villanueva 50:03
Chanda Smith Baker 50:23
Thank you. He said nailed it. I don’t know what the opposite of nailed it is, but that’s what’s I did. Alright, so there’s a lot in the conversation or the what you just shared with us and in the book and I guess we’ll just jump in, I have tons of questions to ask. And one is that I have to start with is the first part of the book. You structure it around the institution of slavery. Why would you do that?
Edgar Villanueva 51:00
Yeah, so there’s a lot of analogies in the book, one is sort of a plantation. And the other is the body. A couple of reasons why I use the plantation slavery analogy in the first part of the book, which is kind of like where it hurts, right? One is, when I started my job in philanthropy, in 2005, I literally worked on a plantation in North Carolina, on the estate of RJ Reynolds, which was old tobacco money, and, ironically, was a health foundation. So many paradoxes in this work. So, you know, I drove into this beautiful campus, the estate of RJ Reynolds, now I was given to Wake Forest University. And it’s this, you know, gorgeous light museum and everything now. And so here I am, you know, this little brown boy, 28 years old, so much thinner than I am now. And, you know, driving into work on my little Honda Civic, and looking around, like, “What is this place?” And I’m just, I’m always very connected to place and history. And remembering that just imagining the folks who are working on that plantation every single day, and here I am driving up to this house, walking into this gorgeous building, this foundation office. And learning very early on that although we had an explicit mission of funding, low-income communities in North Carolina, seeing who we actually were funding and what our data look like, and where money was going. And just wrestling with that like, and the fact that we had these portraits of, you know, the family members in these gold frames all around, and no one ever mentioned the community and folks who contributed and worked for that family. So I always, like held that as just a reality in a quite literal way. Also, where I’m from in North Carolina, our tribe, the Lumbee, tribe, we’ve been in a lot, we’ve had a long history of civil rights struggle with the black community. We, you know, based off where we are situated geographically and our history, there’s been a lot of solidarity. The second reason that I kind of went there was, through the years working in philanthropy, the plantation analogy has been something that has been discussed among people of color, kind of privately, in the hallways behind the backs of white people. And, and I’m letting you in on the joke, okay? But you know, we, it is a certain feeling of being not a person of wealth, being a person of color, and now working inside, in a way that feels like, “Okay, I’m inside the master’s house.” Now, I’m still connected to the community, this is where I come from. But now I now have some privilege and power. But I still have to know my place. Right? And so it was sort of an analogy that has been… I didn’t make it up, it has been used for years. And I was like, this is how we feel. And it’s time that we kind of let people know we need to bring this the way that this feels actually to, to this stage and all the dynamics and all the characters of a plantation actually just really easy to kind of identify how they might be represented in this work. Yeah, I went there with it.
Chanda Smith Baker 54:28
You did go there.
Edgar Villanueva 54:29
Yeah. I mean if you’re going to do it, might as well.
Chanda Smith Baker 54:33
Yeah, you did go there. So you know, decolonizing wealth, I guess I went into it thinking it was for the other people. And then got to that piece and I’m like, wait, what? I’m in the house.
Edgar Villanueva 54:47
Chanda Smith Baker 54:47
That doesn’t feel good to read about it that way. it is a behind-the-scenes sort of conversation. That many folks of color… It’s not that it’s… It’s not an unfamiliar conversation to me. But it is something that has been beneath the surface that I’m wondering, what kind of feedback have you gotten, particularly from African Americans around that analogy?
Edgar Villanueva 55:17
Lots of support and great feedback. I was very cautious through the whole process, because for many reasons. One, our sector has a culture of extreme politeness. And I knew that I was doing and saying many things that may be considered taboo. And so my ultimate goal with this work was to be helpful and not to just be controversial, or to throw people under the bus or to just unravel all this stuff. But I really approached everything, every analogy, everything I said, every story with a spirit of love and wanting to be helpful. And but yeah, I had a lot of anxiety around… Because, you know, I have assimilated at some level to be successful in this work. And, you know, I wonder if I would ever work again, when this book came out, or if I will be blacklisted from the field. And even from my own community, right? Like, the Native community is very diverse, we have 560 plus tribes. And so I wasn’t even going to be naive enough to think that all native folks were like, yeah, like, we love this book, you know. So with that particular question around how folks from the black community might receive this, I talked with a lot, I interviewed lots of people for this book, including black folks, and particularly black women who, because in my particular story, some of my interactions have been, you know, particularly with people of color and women of color. And I struggled with bringing some of this stuff to light, because I’ve always felt like there’s a conversation, a private conversation that needs to be had, and things that we as people of color need to deal with behind closed doors. And then there’s a public conversation. And where I kind of landed with this… One is without my story, there is this notebook. So I just got to tell my story, it is what it is. But also, there’s a two-prong or two-legged stool, if that makes sense? Or there’s two sides of this, my analogy is not going well, there are two things that are upholding white supremacy and one is like good old fashioned white supremacy, right? That is a thing and that we constantly are talking about and lifting up and are working to dismantle. But there’s also internalized oppression. And white supremacy is so strong, a dominant, that even we as people of color, and I’ve done this, can internalize that and behave and perpetuate white supremacy in ways that can be even more damaging. And so when we’re talking about dismantling white supremacy, we need to just put it all on the table. Like it’s oppression across the board, and that’s oppression that is fueled and facilitated, you know, sometimes by white people, but sometimes by people of color. And it’s not the people, it is a it is ideology, it is a behavior. And most of us, I mean, no one like we can’t help it. Because we wake up every day in the lives that we live at this moment in history, with a pill in our mouth, as I’ve been saying lately. And we can choose to either spit the pill out or to swallow the pill. Every morning, it’s just there, like, this is where we are. And so it’s a conscious decision that all white people that all people of color have to make every single day to dismantle white supremacy in that ideology, and to change and shift our thinking or to decolonize our thinking. And so the lessons are for all of us in the book.
Chanda Smith Baker 58:46
So one of the other, I would say, themes in the book, or were the conversations that you had with people of color. So that’s one of the conversations we just discussed, but were there other themes or feelings that could you help the audience and particularly those that maybe haven’t read the book, just some more insight into what have you been hearing from people of color that are working in philanthropy?
Edgar Villanueva 59:14
Yeah, you know, I feel very fortunate when I started in philanthropy, when I was very young, like, there’s so many more young people now, but I was 28 and I was like a baby when I started philanthropy. Like my next colleague, and in my particular foundation was like, 55. And back then I thought that was old, right? Now I’m like that’s not that old. But you know, I felt like there were all types of biases, like when I was young, you know, later I learned that being from the South was, you know, when I left North Carolina, the way I talked was like there’s a bias around that. But also, of course, being a person of color. And look, I have light-skinned privilege. So I’ll just name that like, and I comb my hair to the side and kind of fit in a little bit. And so, so I know that my my path, you know, is probably not quite as difficult as what others have been through. But what really pushed me to write this book is because I was like, initially, honestly, I was pissed. Because I came into an organization I had, I graduated from a great graduate school, I worked hard in school, I was the first person in my family to graduate from high school… I had options, you know, you know what i mean? I chose to work at this foundation. And when I got in there, and I was like, passionately doing my thing, and I was a good program officer, I knew I was good. And I was making change in the organization. And I know how to manage up and not be like, you know, a rogue employee, there’s, there’s a way to do make change, right? And at the right pace. But what I began experiencing, as a young person of color, what, you know, what felt like microaggressions, but also just outright oppression, and being you know, put in my place and told that I was idealistic and too passionate, I need to do this and do that. They didn’t like the car, I was driving, like all kinds of things, right? And, you know, so I ultimately became frustrated that this is not what it’s cracked up to be like, I’m here to make change in community. I feel like I’m the only one here sometimes who actually cares about the community. And I wanted to write a tell-all that just ripped it apart and expose it, exposed it all, right? Well, then I was like, well, that’s not gonna be super helpful, like, you know, like, it would be interesting to read and fine, maybe I don’t know. But what really pushed me like that I need to do something is, in my own path to when I left my first job in philanthropy, I was so wounded, so wounded, I was hard, I was diminished. I had physical issues showing up because I had internalized so much oppression, and I lost sight of who I was, because I don’t know what it is about foundations, they just want to suck your soul out and brand you, you know, it’s like, you no longer exists to be anybody but an employee of this organization. And like you’re not a holistic person, you know, so anyway, I digress. So, when I left my first job, I was like, I don’t even know who I am. And like, no one would hire me because I was like that foundation person, like, you can’t be this foundation person as you were that foundation. So in my own path to sort of move getting through all of that I reached out to my community, which at that time, were people of color I was in the PIP network, Trista was my friend, you know, is my friend. You know, you know, we there was a network, a strong network of people of color, younger folks that existed at that time, that was like my community. And I began just hearing that I wasn’t special. My story was like everybody’s story. And I’m like, what?Why? Why is this the case? And there’s a great report from ABFE, the association for black foundation executives called the exit interview, which interviewed black foundation professionals who leave and why. And it’s very, it’s written very politely, but like, if you really have a real, real talk with folks, you know, all these stories are the same. And I was very frustrated that for, you know, bright people of color, who were passionate about change, many coming in with lived experience. And we’re hired for that reasons. But yet, when we come in, we’re not allowed to lead in that way, or to bring those ideas to the table. And so I was like, something’s got to change. Like, I’m tired of talking about equity. Like I’ve been talking about equity for years and years, the years. And right? So let’s get to action and what some of the action is, like, we’re not having the right conversation. We’re not talking about what’s happening actually, inside our own institutions, and how we are showing up in community and how we’re actually there are simple things we can do as funders to do right by community, but there’s also a long wage plan of work that we need to do to be right by community and to be in community. And so that’s why, you know, it’s terrible. I mean, from from women sharing with me that they had miscarriages because they were so stressed out at work. It should not be that way. Right? And so we need healing across the board. We need healing in community. We need healing in the nonprofit sector. We need healing in foundations. We all are suffering right now because of these ideas of division and dynamics of colonization that have been passed down, thinking ideas of scarcity mindsets, ideas of competition, ideas that we’re not all working hard enough. Does anybody here feel like you’re not working hard enough? Right? Like I could not be working any harder than I am right now. Right? But it never feels like it’s enough because we have so assimilated to these ideas of that are very connected to our history of colonization and it’s actually killing us.
Chanda Smith Baker 1:05:00
So you just mentioned that there are simple things that foundations can do. Can you share a few of those simple things?
Edgar Villanueva 1:05:09
Well, you know, I’ll start, I always go to the money with foundations, right? Because we do lots of great things, right? We have convenings, like this and are super important. We have a very loud, visible voice so we can be advocates, right? But ultimately, what the community really needs from us is our money. Right? We move money. We don’t like to talk about that for whatever reason. But it’s always odd to me that when funders don’t want to talk about money, we move money. Like that’s like, really what we do. And so I mean, the simple thing is like, look at where you’re moving money, if you don’t do that, collecting that demographic data and actually having conversations like, wow, we are only moving such a small percentage of money to communities of color into organizations led by people of color. Why? Explore that question, and begin unpacking that and go upstream with your process to figure out what needs to change. Do you need different types of board members, different types of staff? Do you need to go out in the community and talk to groups and find out what’s happening? Where’s the disconnect? Why are our resources not getting to you? Is it our application process? Are we not sitting at the right tables? Are we showing up in a terrible way? So that’s like the easy thing to do. Because we have that data, we had guests found it, whatever you use, what’s the other one I forget? Phlox. Like we all have those systems where you can look today and run a report on where our money is going, and who’s receiving that money and begin asking the questions around that. And so, if you’re at a foundation, you’re not being equitable about where you’re putting money that should keep you up at night. Like if we were about real change communities, if we’re about using money as medicine, as I’ve been framing it that we have to move money to where the hurt is the worst, and that hurt is in communities of color.
Chanda Smith Baker 1:07:06
When you were speaking, you said that it’s taking you a while to decolonize your mind. What did that look like?
Edgar Villanueva 1:07:16
It’s still happening all the time. So there never is the finish line. Unfortunately, folks, I’m sorry. And that you’re gonna have a checklist or like a three-day retreat, and you’re done. I wish it was that easy. It is, you know, I outlined some steps in the book. And I have seven steps, because the publisher made me have seven steps, right? I mean, it’s, we have to have a checklist. But the truth is, this is a lifelong journey and commitment. And it is, it is a cycle. And for me, my process began right after the election. I found myself very depressed, and feeling sort of betrayed by this country and scared. And thank God that I was like, the next day on a flight to a Facing Race conference. So I could be like in community. And so around right after that conference, I went home to North Carolina, and I just went and sat in my community and met with elders, went to breakfast, and just asked them to remind me of our original instructions. Like, who are we? Like, who am I? Who are we? What is this land? What does it mean to be, you know, to to be a good person? How do we take care of each other and community? What is philanthropy? Nobody knew what that word was in my community. They’re like, “Baby, what?” And so I just had those conversations and just, like, just soaked that all in to be reminded. And, you know, that was a luxury that I had, because I had began this process of writing this book, and I had no idea this book has not ended up nothing like I thought it was gonna be like, it was literally like a transformational experience, that all of these conversations put me through to get to the way that it is. And that type of experience is, I believe, for me a major part of decolonizing ourselves. We all have histories, we all have family histories. And for some reason, like we give those up to assimilate to this idea of being American. You know, and being American is fantastic. I love this country. And you know, it’s there’s a lot of terrible things happening. But I still love this country. And I love the idea of being a dual citizen of my tribe in this country. However, it’s like, we were taught to like give up everything else. We all like, well, not we, but many of you came from other places, and those other places had culture and languages in a way of being and when you look back far enough, many of them were tribal and communal and in ways and it was really this, this idea of this assimilating to be an American, this false idea of white supremacy that created the walls and boundaries and the separation, and that we now kind of all, like, navigate around. And it’s leaving us empty and disconnected. And so the first step two, all of this, as I tell folks, remember where you’re from, like, go back to your home country, maybe, and spend some time there and talk to people, your home community, and be reminded, like we are, we are like spiritual beings that have memory in our bodies and instructions that have been passed down, you know, from our ancestors. And if we’re not being obedient to that, and we’re not being open to that, in terms of who we are, we’re not showing up as our full selves. And I think that there is an appetite for that. Because when you see all these commercials for these DNA tests? oh, I don’t like someone needs a look into that something’s going on, like, I don’t trust the I’m just that’s me. As a native, I will not take it because it’s very problematic. But I think that the reason that these tests are so and by the way, the person always finds out, they’re a Native American, which is interesting, right? Oh, I’m Native American. I’m like congratulations, you get nothing. But it’s, it’s there. It’s obvious what with that, and like what’s going on this country, people are looking and searching to remember who they are. And, in fact, when you go far back enough, like we are all very similar. So that is, for me, that was my path is like to remember, you know, I’m out here trying to be this kind of leader that I was told I need to be, and, you know, assimilating to what I see other leaders being and doing, and it was just all messing with me, because I’m like, that’s not who I am. That’s not how I lead. That’s not my culture, my values. And when I went back to my home communities, these aunties and grandmas, and folks who would not even understand what we were talking about right now. Probably. I learned like God, the the type of leader I need to be has just always been there. And so how do I get back to that? How do I center myself in that wisdom of who I am, who my community is, and actually bring that in? And then I was like, this is actually the answer for philanthropy. This is the answer for all. Like, we all need to go back to our original instructions and just put those into practice. And, yeah, so that was my experience.
Chanda Smith Baker 1:12:24
Interesting. So for our nonprofit listeners, you talk a little bit about how they should be interacting, perhaps differently with philanthropy. And that there are ways that maybe we could turn that exchange of resources of those investments around. What advice or thoughts would can you share with that audience?
Edgar Villanueva 1:12:51
Yeah, so I’ve been in your shoes, I ran a nonprofit. It’s hard. It is hard. And I know, in this dance that we’ve created between funder and nonprofit, funders holding the power. And so it’s really challenging, but I am inspired. I know, within the nonprofit community, you see things that are happening, right? Nonprofits are refusing money from organizations or foundations that are basically getting their money by killing people. And so I think that’s really bold and radical. And I’ve, I’ve even explored that question myself, like, you know, how if I was returning, just to see a nonprofit refuse money is really amazing. I know, there are folks that work within the development community who are having radical conversations around shifting fundraising from being foundation-centric to being community-centric. And ultimately, I think foundation leaders have to remember who are you accountable to. And when you look at who foundations are legally accountable to I mean, I’m sorry, who nonprofits are legally accountable to right you have a board, sometimes funders, sometimes partners like MRU, you know, agreements, sometimes the government if you’re getting government funding, but we don’t have social contracts, and we don’t have contracts with the community. But ultimately, the sector should figure out a way and needs to figure out a way to be accountable to that community so that every decision you’re making as a nonprofit leader is out of respect and dignity to the people that you serve. And I know that that’s hard when you have funders who are not willing to let you be your whole selves, or let your community show up and do the work in the way that they want to do it. And I think sometimes we have to make hard decisions to not partner with foundations that are unwilling to do that. And for funders in the room, we gotta stop doing that.
Chanda Smith Baker 1:14:44
And do you think that there, do you think that there’s a trust issue that happens between philanthropy and particularly people-of-color-led or Indigenous-led organizations like, do you think the treatment is different than when those investments go to broader communities?
Edgar Villanueva 1:15:03
Oh yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. I think that funders have trust issues and control issues. And… Right? I mean, if I had $1, if I had $1, for every time, you know, I’m presenting a proposal, and it’s a community group, community of color, and it’s like oh, that’s risky, like, we have our coded language that is actually quite racist that we need to examine. That’s risky. You know, we, you know, use evaluation and outcomes to weaponize, you know, in a way to not move money. I hope I’m invited back next year.
Chanda Smith Baker 1:15:47
Oh, my goodness. So let’s talk about evaluation. We had a question that was sent in to, to me that actually did say, you know, where do you think the the opportunities or the challenge of the way that we’re currently evaluating our work in philanthropy? Where do you think that is?
Edgar Villanueva 1:16:05
Whoa gosh, well, you know, I think where do I begin? Let’s see.
Chanda Smith Baker 1:16:13
Well, you can begin with weaponized evaluations. Begin there.
Edgar Villanueva 1:16:17
Well, you know, philanthropy, like, we’re funny, right? Like, we want to give a certain amount of money. And we’re still trying to get folks to give to general operating support. So the way that we fund that is like, we fund this, but not that, and it’s, you know, we will pay, you have to have an evaluation, but we won’t pay for it. And at the end of the day, someone said yesterday that they ran a nonprofit that had been so marginalized by foundations that they could not have gotten any less funding from a foundation unless someone from the foundation came and busted their window and stole a computer. Right? So anyway, but to your question about evaluation, I can’t get over that analogy. It’s kind of hilarious. But you know, just the types of evaluation… I remember when I started the philanthropy, where we had all these criteria in place at my particular foundation that if the grant was above this much, you had evaluation… Was this much had to be external evaluation… So just how we actually prescribe and mandate, uou know? And then I remember, like, when we actually got those reports in, did we really read them? Do we do anything with them? Right? So how about like flipping the script and really thinking about evaluation as a way to build capacity or letting that be community driven. And so, you know, asking a partner, what do you want to learn from this? Is there anything we can do to support your learning? Or evaluating this in a way that’s feeding back into your work and actually building capacity at your organization? Who are your evaluation partners? Is there a way that you can actually build out an evaluation that’s building community capacity? We have all types of evaluators of color and people with lived experience out in the community who are doing evaluation. Can we actually create jobs through evaluation to hire people in community to do that work? Um, if it’s one of those extensive types of evaluations? Or do we even need an evaluation? Do we even need it? Like, what are we evaluating? Trust people that they did what they said they were going to do, right? And so I think, like, you know, just questioning all of it and like put your grantees together, ask them, like, what makes sense for evaluation? What do you want us to do? How can we support the learning of the field? And like, we do want to learn and we want to grow and we need information at some level, but like, let’s do things that makes sense. That’s make it make sense. Yeah.
Chanda Smith Baker 1:18:37
And for our donors, that are making investments and want to know that those investments are in fact making a difference and being used… That might be a hard pill to swallow. Yeah. In terms of what you just talked about. So you’re not suggesting that there’s no way to examine whether or not the investment or the strategies that we’re implementing are working? Or are you saying that?
Edgar Villanueva 1:19:05
No, I think I think it really depends. I do think that you can be a donor that absolutely has a relationship with the organization and a community to just trust them. I believe in the work you’re doing. I see it, I see you as a person, I believe in your leadership. I’m on your website, I see your annual report. I don’t need you to write a special report just for me. And so I think that if you are a donor, I might be going out on a limb here. But if you’re a donor that feels the need to know like, I need to know exactly where every penny that I gave where it showed up in your organization. You’re asking for something that’s not realistic, because the truth is when your nonprofit and you put together a budget for a program, I’m not saying that you make it up right, but it is like it’s a budget, but there’s all types of other expenses that are in there, right like evaluation, like accounting, like all the things that it just takes for a nonprofit to do their work and to show up and community. And so it’s really a little bit idealistic to think that I’m going to tell you exactly what I do with this penny. And so I kind of I used to use this analogy, but it’s really outdated. I need a new one. But I think it of like, when you go to buy a television, do you say, this television is $200? How much is the knob on this TV? Right? Like, I only want to pay for the knob I don’t want, like, how much is the antenna? How much is… I don’t even know what TVs have anymore…
Chanda Smith Baker 1:20:30
Edgar Villanueva 1:20:31
I’ve offically become old where like, you know, like, I’ve crossed that line where my analogies are not cool anymore. Yeah, an assignment for my fellow… help me with some like modern analogies. But you but you know what I mean? Like, are we investing in in like an overall impact? Or, like, if you are if you’re feeling the need to and someone said yesterday, we were in Seattle in a conversation, a funder said, “I don’t want to do general operating support, because I want to know where my money is going.” Yeah, I mean, I kind of understand that. But like, But why? Like, why do you need to know exactly like, you know, the precise like things that you’re paying, you’re paying for, believe and trust people. This is philanthropy, this is about relationships. If you’re investing in an organization, you need to trust the leadership of that organization to deliver on what they said they’re trying to do, and not be spending crazy amounts of time working on reports for you when they could be in the community doing the work.
Chanda Smith Baker 1:21:33
You talk about philanthropy being a sleepwalking sector. And I’m really, you know, I sat on that for a minute, because I do think that we are on a journey. And I don’t believe… I could be wrong, but I really don’t believe that we are collectively as tuned in to the history of this country, as we ought to be. And so I really wrestled and struggled between the idea of are we sleep like do we know and we’re choosing to sleepwalk through it and not make different decisions? Or do we really not know the history of this country? Whether it’s been too painful, whether or not we know intuitively or in our, you know, biological response. But that, you know, is it possible that we have just avoided this generation after generation to where that’s been forgotten? And that it’s not necessarily sleepwalking? It’s just miseducated?
Edgar Villanueva 1:22:43
I think it’s like, both. We are definitely miseducated, right? Like, I know, I wasn’t taught the proper history of this country in schools. And I know there, I work at a foundation that funds education, and we have grantees fighting to have curriculum in schools that is accurate. So I don’t think things have changed much. So and I also think it’s just like human nature to we don’t like uncomfortable stuff. And it’s like, even within our own families, right, where there’s like traumatic incidents and abuse, we sweep that shit under the carpet, and we just kind of keep living and moving forward. So there’s something about our culture, I think our, maybe our humanity, potentially that chooses to ignore. And, and I know even for me, in my family, we’re like, “Well, we’re here, we made it, like, we’re at least we’re here, right? Like, no need to unpack all these things and talk about Uncle crazy over there or whatever, right?” But what I’ve come to really learn and appreciate, you know, and in writing this book, and talking with folks all over that, in order to really move forward as people and as a community as a sector or however you want to slice that, we have got to pull that curtain back and actually look into our dark, dark history. I think, you know, I was really inspired last week or two weeks ago, I was in Canada, and had a chance to meet with funders all across Canada. And what’s unique up there is that we’re only like, I guess we’re only a few miles away, maybe I don’t know, I’m like way up there. Just up there from here. I don’t know where I am. I can see it from here. Sorry. Oh, God, this is lack of sleep. I get crazy. But but you know, in Canada, what I really appreciate is their country as a country had a decade of truth and reconciliation, right? For a decade, people just sat in community and like talked and people will just listen to First Nations people in all that they have been going through. And for 10 years. That’s a lot of talking. It’s a lot of listening and things are not perfect in Canada by any stretch of the imagination. But what I felt there was like such an awareness like people know, like people know their history there. And in the philanthropic community, the way they are responding to that they are they are just so further ahead, I feel in some ways in terms of how they’re thinking. And many foundations in Canada are signing on to public proclamations that we have listened to the community with, you know, in our kind of, what’s it called attaching to the wagon or whatever, of this truth of reconciliation process to align their grant making to respond to the recommendations that came out of that. I mean, that is like using money as medicine and like the clearest way I can describe, and so I think in this country, we we have not grappled with our past. We are not sorry about our past. Do you know that we have not ever had an official apology from the US government for slavery and for what’s happened to Native Americans? The only apology that has happened is President Obama did apologize to Native Americans, I think in his his first administration, but it was like Friday at 5pm. I never heard about it until like, I read it somewhere. I was like, Oh, that kind of happened. But we haven’t had a real apology. And then I think there was once where President Obama apologized for slavery. But we haven’t as a country, like as a real country apologized for our historical sins and the wrongs that have happened. So this is why although I’m excited about the conversations around reparations, I don’t think that we’re politically ready to actually respond to that major type of action and legislation. Because we’re not sorry, we don’t change our behavior in this country. We don’t change our behavior within foundations. We don’t change our behavior in families if we don’t know the truth, and we don’t feel it, we don’t grieve that truth and actually respond in a way that’s apologetic. And so that’s, that’s really what’s missing is we need to have a real process of truth and reconciliation as a country. But also we can do that as organizations.
Chanda Smith Baker 1:27:08
Yeah. And so truth and reconciliation and then reparations. And I, and I believe, I believe you mentioned this in the book, or I may have read it somewhere, but that there’s really a couple of conversations that are happening around reparations right now. And one is, is from what I believe I understood was that one is kind of repairing what happened in the past. And one is about not doing harm moving forward. Is that how you would articulate it? Or what do we do with this conversation at this point? It’s it’s raised up to the presidential campaign. Yeah. I actually believe President Clinton also mentioned something around an apology. But yeah, it went left for him real fast. But I but I think that this is going to continue to move forward. And I do I’m quite familiar with the work in Canada. And I think that there are a lot of lessons to be learned there. So I appreciate that example. But where do we go in that conversation? And I believe you’re suggesting that we actually deal with both moving forward and the past. But what are your thoughts on that?
Edgar Villanueva 1:28:11
Yeah, at minimum, we want to stop hurting folks. Right? So we are actively, you know, potentially causing harm. And so, in our work as funders, we, as I mentioned earlier, we can look at our investments to understand, are we actively hurting folks, right? There was the foundation in New York City that I met with who made a grant, to Thunder Valley CDC during Standing Rock. Fantastic, right? But that same foundation was invested in the oil company with the pipeline, and refused to have a conversation about divesting. And so, you know, at minimum, like we can make a decision that we want to do no harm. And where a lot of the harm is happening is actually on the investment side, right? And within philanthropy, we have this like weird firewall that’s been created, that we have programmed folks who are working in the community, and many have some analysis around race and power and whatnot. And then we have this investment world where most of our resources are sitting, where many of those folks are values neutral, are investing in a way that is all about solely focused on accumulating more wealth. And so we have to, like why are we really doing this? Like what business are we in? All of these resources are tax-deductible and charitable and so they all need to be used in a way that is actually helping community. So to do no harm is like minimum, right? Like, we should strive for that. And even to accomplish that, I think would be like sweeping change. But then to go a little bit deeper and say, Okay, we’re not gonna harm folks, but can we actually understand how we are, you know, how maybe we have harmed communities and find a path to reconciliation or repairing that? So some really interesting conversations that I’ve been in going back to Canada for a second… You know, so folks, they are actually looking at how the wealth was accumulated in their foundations, and not just like the particular industry. So like Northwest Area Foundation foundation, I think is fantastic. They know their wealth was, you know, accumulated from different railroads and building through the West and and process some native communities were harmed, and now they intentionally try to fund in those communities. That’s a beautiful example of repairing, right? So these folks in Canada are going a little bit deeper, like, not only this is the industry, but who were like maybe the workers and the people who were a part of helping generate this wealth, who suffered along the way. And is there a way we can use this wealth now to resource those communities, were they immigrant communities and whatnot? So that is, like the most woke thinking I have, like seen in philanthropy where folks are digging that deep to understand like, wow, you know, we, we actually have done some messed up stuff that we want to repair. And you know, that’s fine. Like, it is what it is like, we’re all here. Now, no one here is like, you know, designing some strategy to harm our community intentionally. No one came to work at a foundation this morning, say, and I can’t wait to be more racist today or whatever. Right? So like, you know, but the reality is, unintentionally, or maybe sometimes intentionally, but mostly unintentionally, we have along the way, potentially harmed communities. So we need to do an assessment of that. And, you know, strive to make that right. We have to get off of our high horse, in essence that we haven’t philanthropy have been, you know, the model organization and having perfect talking points, and the most beautiful website, all that stuff is important and I love a nice website, someone complimented mine this morning. I was like, “Yes, right?” But also like, can we be vulnerable? Can we model what these conversations look like? Can we be, you know, the first to, to admit, we’ve done something wrong, and that’s real leadership. But that’s real community leadership. And I think our nonprofit partners would like just applaud and jump up and down at the idea of a foundation admitting, you know, we haven’t always done everything, right. And we actually historically have done X, Y, and Z. And we’re committed into this community to try to repair that in any way possible.
Chanda Smith Baker 1:32:15
I think a piece of maybe what I’m reflecting on now, is that folks are giving money… Donors are giving money and making investments in community, and therefore things that they care about. And that part of the harm, if you will, or part of the challenge is not necessarily about that intention, but it is about maybe understanding more the impact, right? Or the history, or the analysis of where it’s not going and where it’s needed more? Like I’m trying to reconcile, even like, I give my money places, and I think that I’m doing really good. And I don’t want to walk away today thinking that I’m doing bad, right?
Edgar Villanueva 1:33:03
Right. Giving is a wonderful thing, please don’t stop. Someone said, the work that Edgar is doing is gonna make people stop giving. I’m like, that’s not true. No one’s gonna stop giving. You know, giving is beautiful. Sharing is beautiful, right. And so I just think if you want to be an effective donor and effective philanthropists, the issue that you care about, yes, give to that issue. Like that’s how we all give, I give to things that I care about, but have a race and power historical analysis around that issue. Right? So if you care about public education, for example, there’s a reason that we have disparities in education. Right? We have, we have a system that is very segregated, and has there’s been a lot of historical racism that has led to the outcomes that we see. And so to be an informed donor, I’m gonna want to understand is the nonprofit that I’m giving my money to aware of that history and trying to, are they just kind of randomly doing work in a race neutral way blindly? Yeah, that’s good work is probably going to help some folks. But to have the most impact, we have to apply a racial equity lens to our work, because all of the issues that we are striving to solve as a philanthropic and nonprofit community, are a result of poverty. And poverty is a product of public policy and death that has been facilitated by white supremacy. And so those are the reality. That’s the reality of the country that we live in. Although we said earlier race is a construct and white supremacy is not real, our policies and our systems have been designed around that thing that’s not real. And so therefore, we have to be aware of that dynamic and in our giving, you know, strive to be equitable in that. And that could be as simple as I’m not saying you have to hire a university to come in and do some type of major analysis of your portfolio but just look at who you’re giving to. Are you being inclusive as you can be? Are all of your, you know, organizations that you’re donating to, are they all like white-led and large organizations? Can you also just think about adding a couple of organizations that are grassroots or working in communities of color, Indigenous-led? Just be more insightful around building new relationships that you’re giving to communities that may not be like you are from the same background.
Chanda Smith Baker 1:35:27
Do you… Where do you think… Where do you get inspired at, right? Because this is heavy. You know, I think you talked about radical hope. Can you say what that means to you? And do you have hope for our sector?
Edgar Villanueva 1:35:40
I do. I mean, there are times where I didn’t have hope, when I tried to leave, and I keep coming back. I’m still here. I have so much hope. Tthis book came out last October, and I’m still on a book tour. And that’s not because like, I’m fantastic. And this is like the most awesome book ever, kinda. But I’m just saying. I’m hopeful because there’s a conversation happening right now. It’s a time of reckoning and time of truth telling, but also a time of love and unity, like I’ve never felt. Even three years ago, I would have never imagined that I would be walking into boardrooms and saying white supremacy, you know what I mean? Like, but I never got to that. And so if I could tell you all the places I’ve been, and all the people that I’ve talked to, sometimes confidentially, some of the most wealthiest folks on this planet who are like, waking up, so to speak, right? And I think that, you know, we’re living in a time now, where things are so divided and polarized, that even people with wealth are beginning to be concerned, like people who have been immune to like what’s happening, are feeling like shaky and are beginning to explore, like, maybe I need to do something different. Maybe there’s a different way. And so, you know, in spite of all the ugliness that’s happening in community and like, just like terrible things in the news every day, I see an awakening happening. I see that we are at a point of no return. Now that people are having these conversations, we can’t go back, like we cannot pretend we didn’t have this conversation today. And like not, not continue to explore and push. And so I think that the response to this work and to the response to the work of many colleagues who are out there trying to support the nonprofit sector, and being really connected to community and accountable to community is really just a sign of hope for me. And there are literal changes, like people are like stimulated like, “Oh, this is interesting and fantastic.” But there’s actually literal changes like every single day that people write to us and say, I’m starting a new portfolio or our foundation, because we read this book, we are bringing on two nonfamily board members to our family foundation board, because we read this book, those small kinds of changes like that really matter. One of the largest foundations in this country called me two weeks ago and invited me in and they’re launching a new Indigenous portfolio. They’re felt globally, huge foundation, because they read this book. So personally, that’s very rewarding, but it’s not about me in this book, it’s about a recognition that we have marginalized communities, and maybe unintentionally, but we need to, you know, correct that and make a course correction in our work. Also, I think there’s an awakening in this world and in Indigenous communities in particular, we are super resilient, we’re still here. And the fact that I’m still here, and I was from the first point of contact, and there’s any shred of anything native left in eastern North Carolina is a miracle. And so we actually, I think, are the original innovators, I have all kinds of ideas, about education about, you know, climate justice, and about the land and, and just being in community that I think is actually a really critical, really critical wisdom for taking us forward out of the mess that we’re in. And so I think there’s also a response to that right now.
Chanda Smith Baker 1:39:11
Your book shares seven steps for healing and movement. And so we’re not going to go into that because a good chunk of folks here have read the book. And those that you that haven’t can go read the book, and there’s seven steps towards healing in the book. But I would like to ask you, if there are things that you might suggest for our audience, that they might read a book that you would suggest, or some additional steps than what you provided in the book for what folks can take away from this conversation today to further their work on these issues.
Edgar Villanueva 1:39:51
Great questions. So I don’t know if I have a book that you need to read. But I do have some action. We’ve read enough, right? Like we there are lots of things we keep reading, keep reading.
Chanda Smith Baker 1:40:06
Some people have read enough.
Edgar Villanueva 1:40:07
Some people have read enough, right? So keep reading and doing your work, but also learn by doing, right? And so I think sometimes, especially as funders, we have an affinity for reading, reading, studying and studying. And if I, you know, like, millions of invites to come in and to teach funders about Indigenous communities and whatnot, right? The best way to learn is actually by doing in my opinion, and so you don’t have to wait until you feel like you’re an expert to actually start giving and supporting work around racial justice or equity, right? And so if you actually get into a relationship where you are giving and supporting an organization, they will teach you. And that is the best hands on type of learning. And I think, you know, you mentioned white fragility, which, if you haven’t read that book, please read that one. It’s fantastic. And so we have to just, you know, understand that all of this is bigger than us, it’s not about… No one is attacking anyone as an individual or as a community. But this is about a force that is at play that we have to dismantle. And so, you know, do that work and become an ally. So if folks have good recommendations around becoming an ally, some of some good books there, there’s a book called “No More White Saviors,” I think, which is a really good book for nonprofit folks to read, as well. Justin… Anybody know that last name right off? You can Google it and find it. But those are some good reading materials. We are actually putting together a decolonizing wealth toolkit, which we have a reading list that we’re collecting from folks and trying to figure out sort of the best menu, but again, do not stall from taking action. I think that, especially philnathropy in a white dominant culture airs too, on the side of wanting to be a perfectionist. All of our worst fears are being called, is being called a racist. And I understand that. And so we have to be vulnerable. And we have to be graceful toward one another and understand that in doing this messy work around equity, that we’re going to sometimes do the wrong thing or say the wrong thing. I still do and say the wrong thing on a regular basis. But I’m quick to hold myself accountable to apologize, and to learn from that and to change my behavior. And so don’t be afraid to jump in and build relationships with other people to begin supporting an organization that you may not fully understand their theory of change, you don’t have to understand it, just like support them and get behind groups and, and learn in that way. And so I know in this community, there are opportunities, there are funding groups and giving projects where you can actually get into situations where you’re learning about issues and learning about communities, and also becoming an activist through your giving. And so that’s like a really awesome way to learn as well.
Chanda Smith Baker 1:42:53
Perfect. So I appreciate you, sir.
Edgar Villanueva 1:42:55
Chanda Smith Baker 1:42:57
Thank you for a fantastic conversation that hopefully has inspired, stressed, motivated… Good stress… Motivated us to think more deeply about the good deeds, and the Robin D’Angelo conversation that we had… She really challenged us to recognize that good intentions are not enough. But that we have to focus on what is the impact that we are having, and making sure that what we are doing is actually furthering our mission and our values and our interests and making this community better for everyone. I appreciate all of you being in attendance today. I’ve shared that this work is a journey for all of us, including myself and us at the Minneapolis Foundation. We are very excited to be on this learning journey with you to a place that where we can heal and reconcile and do more good in this community on behalf of everyone. So thank you for being here and sharing this time with us.Close Transcript -
Edgar Villanueva is a nationally recognized expert on social justice philanthropy. Edgar currently serves as Chair of the Board of Directors of Native Americans in Philanthropy and is a board member of the Andrus Family Fund. He has also consulted with numerous nonprofit organizations and national and global philanthropies on advancing racial equity inside of their institutions and through their investment strategies. His book, “Decolonizing Wealth,” weaves a provocative analysis of the dysfunctional colonial dynamics at play in philanthropy and finance and offers a prescription for restoring balance and healing our divides using the guidance of indigenous wisdom.