'The business of hope': Highlights from the 2016 Annual Luncheon keynote conversation - Metropolitan Planning Council

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'The business of hope': Highlights from the 2016 Annual Luncheon keynote conversation

Moonhouse Productions for MPC

MacArthur Foundation President Julia Stasch and Ford Foundation President Darren Walker keynoted the 2016 MPC Annual Luncheon.

“Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice that make philanthropy necessary”

—Martin Luther King

The quote above kicked off a refreshingly candid conversation about race and equity between Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, and Julia Stasch, president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation at the Metropolitan Planning Council’s (MPC) Annual Luncheon.

To queue up the conversation, MPC created a video to express the different ways in which residents in the region combat segregation and inequity—and how segregation can affect people in surprising ways.

Introduced by Terry Mazany, president of the Chicago Community Trust, the conversation between Walker and Stasch was a rare moment when the three leaders joined in a public space to provide their honest introspection, perspective about the challenges we face, and optimism about the future. Each focused their conversation on the need for major foundations to go beyond generosity to promote social justice and to interrogate their own actions and perceptions to ensure they are making a lasting impact.

The following are quotes and pieces of the conversation that resonated with the audience and with staff at MPC. Read the full transcript.


“As foundations, we see our efforts to bring about improvements in the quality of life and opportunity frequently stymied by the persistent but invisible hand of white privilege…We know there is a difference when the average life expectancy of African-Americans is 20 years less than whites living in adjacent zip codes only miles apart. We know there is a difference when African-Americans have only six cents of wealth for every $1 of white wealth and Latinos are only a penny better off with 7 cents of wealth for every $1.”

“To improve these outcomes, we must target and address approaches that directly support those most vulnerable and impacted by historic and structural policies and discriminatory and predatory practices that have gotten us to this point. We have to disrupt these practices at their roots. And by building wealth for those most marginalized, we in turn build the wealth of our region and fuel our future growth.”


“We in philanthropy, whether we work at places like MacArthur or Ford or whether individuals who are philanthropists, are very privileged. And there is a sort of belief that by giving back, we are doing enough. Dr. King[‘s quote] challenges philanthropy and philanthropists, challenges our privilege…and challenges us to move from generosity to justice.”

“So it's not enough to feel good and put money in the Salvation Army bucket. We have to ask ourselves: Why, in the richest country in the world, do we have this chronic crisis of homelessness? And we could look across all of the areas where we have problems as a society, and we privileged people are in some ways not willing to get uncomfortable enough to really interrogate and understand what it will take to solve these problems.

“I like to say we're in the business of hope at the Ford Foundation because at the center of the American narrative is that very simple idea. And I firmly believe that the greatest challenge to our democracy is not terrorism or a pandemic. The greatest challenge to our democracy is hopelessness. Because the idea of aspiration and opportunity are at the center of who we are as a people. And when those things disappear in our culture, they become harmful to our politics, harmful to our social fabric, and ultimately harmful to our democracy.”


“This country is in a crisis of legitimacy. And as a matter of fact, the degree of trust that institutions … of government, of the media, of the church, universities, data, all of these things, the legitimacy is questioned and trust is crumbling in them. So one of the steps that I think we need to take and we're starting to is: What do we need to do to remain relevant and legitimate in the context of efforts to improve the human condition?

“MacArthur was recently the subject of some criticism.  We were put on notice that we had not been paying enough attention to Chicago communities, and we had taken our eye off of issues of racial injustice and inequity here in Chicago…But the reality is that what we've done in the past may not be what we need to do in the future. So what we're doing is we're listening more.

“We are paying more attention to local leaders. Not just as grantees but as partners. And a new element of how we're thinking is that we want to actually be promoting their leadership.  Because the leadership of Chicago needs to reflect the communities of Chicago if the city is going to thrive in the future."


“We know solutions are possible. The question is: Do we have the will? I actually don't need another research paper to tell me what we need to do in America. We know what we need to do.  The question is:  Do we have the will?”

“So we must demand of our leaders that we have leaders who do not divide us, but who help us rise to our common humanity and understand while we may have differences, those differences are not so fatal to make it impossible for us to be -- the whole idea of e pluribus unum.  It remains at the heart of who we are as a people.  And so we need our leaders to help us get to that place.”


“It seems to me that the call to action not only from the just recent presidential election but from everything we're learning today and we see in our cities is that we ignore inattention and inequality in isolation anywhere at our own national, metropolitan and local peril.

The number one thing I think that each of us can do is to absolutely avoid cynicism at all costs because cynicism robs people of the sense that they actually can make a difference, that there actually are solutions. At the bottom line for philanthropy is we can't be in philanthropy if we're not an optimist.

PNC was the Presenting Sponsor of MPC’s Annual Luncheon for the 10th year in a row. See a full list of sponsors.


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For more than 85 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has partnered with communities, businesses, and governments to unleash the greatness of the Chicago region. We believe that every neighborhood has promise, every community should be heard, and every person can thrive. To tackle the toughest urban planning and development challenges, we create collaborations that change perceptions, conversations—and the status quo. Read more about our work »

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