Executive Director Uma Viswanathan and Program Director Alison Grubbs share why communities across the country give reason for hope in the face of America’s incredible challenges.
Our country is a tapestry of people and families who move through our society in vastly different ways. We come from diverse lineages and family traditions. We worship differently or not at all. We think and vote in contradictory ways. Our life experiences, values and beliefs inform how we make choices about the role our institutions should play in our lives. They inform what we believe about how resources should flow and how we want our stories and histories to be told. Some people have been holding great pain for generations. Some are afraid of what the future might hold. Our stories and beliefs may be directly opposing to each other. This is where we can start to clash.
These differences and conflicts aren’t a new phenomenon. Navigating them is a design feature of our democracy. Learning how to move forward together across our differences is what takes to live into this promise of America. That is pluralism.
Where does pluralism live?
National headlines reinforce the myriad ways that we are divided. As we grapple with economic hardship and uncertainty, our public health and mental health crises, and the loneliness and depression our children are experiencing – it’s clear we need each other.
Yet mistrust in each other and our institutions at an all-time high. The threat of political conflict — even speculation of civil war — are seemingly around every corner. These toxic levels of division are interfering not just with our national discourse and politics, they are affecting us deep within our communities. They are interfering with our school boards, disrupting how faith is seen in public life, threatening our communities’ ability to respond to health crises, and undermining community and familial bonds. It can all be so overwhelming to comprehend and, as we see hatred erupting into tragic racial violence as it did in Buffalo last weekend, it can be terrifying.
As the extreme voices get louder, it can seem like doing something about it falls beyond any of our capacity — that this level of division is a problem to be solved by unnamed experts out there. We may find ourselves cynical and bitter, or see the only way out is to avoid it all, to disengage.
But there’s reason for hope. There are people embedded in communities across the country who already are doing something about it. These are the people who New Pluralists is investing in through Healing Starts Here, our first, public, philanthropic initiative.
We are investing $10 million in local leaders, networks, and community groups who are showing us what pluralism looks like in action – in American neighborhoods, towns, and counties.
At the community level, there are people and networks who are doing the difficult work of helping us believe we can trust each other enough to move forward through conflict. As each of us go about our jobs, study, raise our families, and worship, these community members and groups are tirelessly challenging us to hear each other and respect each other. They are finding ways for their communities to work together in surprisingly inclusive ways – not always just out of the goodness of their hearts, but because it’s the most pragmatic way to get important things done. They are going against the grain, and may be criticized – sometimes by their own families and friends – for voicing different views and forming unusual relationships. The people and initiatives that build trust and shape the culture of our communities to come together in these ways are not often properly resourced, and their work isn’t often well understood or valued.
We’ve met some of you and seen some of your work. And we know there are many more efforts and people out there. We’re eager to find and support more of you.
The stakes are high, so New Pluralists is choosing to bet on the hope and promise we see deep in America’s communities.
Why bet on community leaders and initiatives?
At New Pluralists, we believe that practicing pluralism in our culture starts at home, in our communities.
This choice reflects our beliefs and values:
- Pluralism is already happening. Rather than seeing communities as something to be fixed, we strive to feed the strengths that already exist. We know there are people in communities across the country who are already upholding pluralism in their everyday choices and bringing others along with them in the face of the divisive forces we are all facing.
- Culture is built everyday, in a localized way. Culture isn’t something imposed from above; it is created by people and communities acting and speaking for themselves. Culture is built every day through the choices we make in our own lives, workplaces, and communities. We strive to learn from and support community-driven cultural work, as we discover how to enable pluralism to grow and take root across our country.
- Context matters. Challenges are different from community to community, which means the practice of pluralism will also look different. We want to identify and learn from a diversity of people and approaches that are rooted in their own contexts and use their own histories and local cultures to problem solve.
This choice reflects the insights and recommendations of members of the field.
As a deeply collaborative organization, over the past few months, we’ve had dozens of candid and spirited conversations with our funders, Field Builders, and other field leaders to understand where our resources can make the biggest difference. Their insights and advice guide our choices:
- Don’t wait, act now. We don’t have to know all the answers or have everything figured out before taking action. We can learn by doing. We have to start somewhere, and this is an opportunity to invest in the long-term, generational work that will affect culture change.
- Make pluralism feel real. The concept of pluralism can be fuzzy and abstract, and this investment is an opportunity to make it feel real. We can surface stories that help people see, feel, and understand that committing to each other and working through difficult tensions serves us better in the long run.
- Get local, but don’t pick places. As a new, national initiative, we don’t have deep ties in specific geographic areas, but we know some of the most powerful work is happening in place, led by communities . This is an opportunity for us to get to know local communities across the country that are catalyzing pluralism in place, across a range of local histories, cultures, and types of division. This rich learning about a variety of places will inform our future strategic choices.
- Think nationally, invest locally. We are mindful that New Pluralists hasn’t yet built the relationships or trust in local communities, so we must connect with organizations that have strong local partnerships and a process that respects the agency, expertise, and wisdom of the people who live there. We also want to bolster our network by directly investing in smaller grassroots efforts that are bridging differences and creating agency for their communities.
What will we invest in?
There are three aspects to this initiative.
First, we know that community leaders play crucial roles in helping groups set peaceful norms, remain open-minded to people who think or behave differently than they do, and create a wide-spread sense of belonging. They can be faith leaders, local business owners, civil servants, veterans, organizers, or others who play an important role in building trust across divides and keeping communities connected, whole, and peaceful.
We have heard that people in communities who are practicing pluralism are burnt out and feel alone. Practitioners are facing complex, emotionally taxing work under extreme circumstances of limited resources and uphill battles. We want to ensure that these leaders have what they need to care for themselves as they take on this critical work. Therefore, some of these resources will go towards work that builds the leadership of people who have trust and credibility in local communities, who can act as a steadying force among neighbors who are at risk of turning against each other.
Second, we recognize that there are networks and groups who are creating spaces for neighbors to gather, build connections with one another, and support the places they live and people they love. These organizations are led by and for local residents, who are creating opportunities for that community to celebrate its strengths, make sense of its history, and forge relationships across class, creed, and culture.
We have heard that many local communities find themselves mischaracterized, dismissed, or disrespected by outsiders — and that, in turn, can lead to neighbors taking out their fear, anger, and anxiety on one another. In many cases, these places are also experiencing economic or social disruption, which can feed a sense of hopelessness or despair. These community-led organizations and collectives are creating a vital sense of belonging by enabling neighbors to build trust and take action together, grounded in love for their community and a belief that, together, they have the power to change circumstances for the better. Therefore, some of these resources will go towards initiatives where diverse sets of residents are coming together to reclaim their stories and take action across differences.
Finally, we have also heard that in order to amplify impact, we should invest in research projects, storytelling, and network-building efforts that can help connect projects happening locally. We will invest $1M of this $10M initiative to help us all understand and learn from what works and what doesn’t, to find kinship and to build momentum together.
Is your organization ready to meet the moment and heal divides?
We hope this grantmaking initiative will support communities in navigating the inevitable tensions and conflicts that will erupt now and in the near and long-term future. The road ahead can seem challenging and downright scary at times, but with the promise of pluralism, we know we can find ways to strengthen our communities to live up to the promise of a vibrant, inclusive, and free democracy – in this moment, and the ones yet to come.
Healing Starts Here Request for Proposals
And we invite you to share it with your networks and colleagues that might be well-suited for the opportunity.