Bankole: A time for moral leadership

Bankole Thompson

There are times when you have to stand up for what is right. Not because it is politically expedient, but because it is the right thing to do. There should be no safe spaces when it comes to the issue of right and wrong.

And the time to come out is now when the very character and foundation of this nation is being tested on so many levels. But unfortunately too many people — especially those with economic and political influence — are keeping silent with the hope that the problems will just wash away.

That alone is disappointing and is why we can count the few bold leaders — whether in business or politics — who are willing to publicly rebuke government officials or organizations that demonstrate cultural insensitivity or outright bigotry toward others.

Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation, which has been pivotal in helping Detroit emerge from bankruptcy, is not among the silent majority of leaders.

Walker is calling out other leaders to demonstrate moral courage by speaking out in times of crisis, especially in the wake of the Charlottesville, Virginia, racial conflagration and the prevailing troubles that await the elimination of DACA, among other challenges.

In a lengthy blog posted Sept. 6, “A call for moral courage in America,” Walker challenged heads of industries to stop hiding behind their titles and stake a clear position on matters fundamental to the survival of the nation.

“Too many of our leaders remain uninterested in healing the wounds of discrimination and prejudice, injustice and inequality. Our ideals have been hijacked at the highest levels, perverted by narcissism and selfishness,” Walker writes. “At the ballot box and in our digital public square, too often, our leaders are rewarded for practicing the divide-and-conquer, dog-whistle politics endemic to our modern era.”

But Walker saved his most powerful salvo for those who are leading nonprofits and civic organizations.

“In philanthropy and civil society, we have also been slow to recognize the ways our systems discourage moral leadership. We foundations often hide behind the particulars of our missions, rather than standing up for the deeper values our missions embody. We keep our heads down to avoid making our organizations targets for criticism, especially in the era of social media warfare,” Walker said.

“Neither the Ford Foundation, nor I, are immune to these trends, and I know we must do better. I often wonder whether the foundation uses its voice in the most effective way. I question whether I have inadvertently contributed to these problems, or reinforced these entrenched systems.”

He added, “I know many nonprofit leaders and university presidents face similar challenges. They worry about offending their wealthy donors. Some feel constrained in their ability to speak out. They have my empathy, because every day these leaders walk a tightrope to address the diverse and often conflicting perspectives of the constituencies they serve.”

I couldn’t agree more with Walker. It is encouraging to see a man of his standing willing to publicly prick the conscience of those with influence in terms of the resources they command, to stop covering up behind mission statements.

Even in Detroit, a city that is struggling with so much economic inequality, there are very few — and I mean very few — voices willing to call things as they are without filtering their positions through official channels.

In the civic community alone, the absence of voices willing to challenge elected leaders is mind-boggling. Some would prefer to whisper to each other than to speak out as Walker has done.

There should be no room for cowardice when history and the currency of the time are demanding that a leader’s voice of compassion be heard. Confronting inequality and systemic injustice is about right and wrong. It is neither Democrat nor Republican.

There may be those who dismiss Walker’s clarion call and say it is not his place to issue such an indictment.

Like it or not, Walker has thrown down the gauntlet. And it’s refreshing that it is coming from the leader of the nation’s second largest philanthropic organization.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

The writer hosts “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Super Station 910AM. This column appears Mondays and Thursdays.