Letter from the ED: The New Growth Mindset

As we enter the fourth year of the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund’s newish Mission, our focus on Equity in Education is mirrored or resounds around us in various ways in philanthropy, America and Connecticut in particular. Our socio-economic ecosystems continue along well-worn tracks which have maintained inequitable conditions of living, learning and liberty, especially for people of color. Over several centuries, attempts to remedy inequality of opportunity litter the roads of United States history. Legal, social, political, economic, cultural and other methods are still laboring “with all deliberate speed” to resolve the genetic deformity of our democracy.

One century ago, Charles Beard (a historian at Columbia University who co-founded The New School and finally retired and expired in New Haven) published an opus (An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States) which asserted that the economic inequality that he witnessed in our society was embedded in the DNA of our nation from the writing of our founding documents. Although it could not have been a revelation to women or people of color, more and more white men (who were the first owners of democracy’s promise) were beginning to notice the shape of the river carved out of the conquest and genocide of one people and the enslavement of other human beings (whether as chattel slaves or the domestic slavery of marriage). One by one, attempts at resolving these defects achieved significant turning points along the way (women’s suffrage, abolition of slavery, universal education, labor laws, civil rights and voting rights laws, etc.). As a result, the status and conditions of marginalized, oppressed and disadvantaged people improved at significant rates.

At the end of the last century, the Graustein family legacy of “education as a path to opportunity” emerged in a strategic investment of resources, leadership and good will to build on this progress and close more gaps in the fulfillment of our nation’s promise of equality and justice for all. This evolved over two decades and led to a strengthened early child development network and community of providers, advocates and families in Connecticut.

After two decades as an organized family foundation, a family-led mandate to re-evaluate direction and strategy based on an assessment of the status of children in Connecticut resulted in our new Mission and Strategic Approaches. As we address Equity in Education, we are mindful of the way that the current ecosystem maintains itself, and resists significant reform. Moving forward, the Memorial Fund wants to think and act in partnership with key stakeholders, starting with those most affected by the barriers of racism and poverty, in order to reform or replace these ecosystems at the school, community and state levels. One year ago, we adopted a Theory of Change to clarify our understanding of our work and approach to obstacles to change.

As schools seek equitable ways of education and engaging communities in decision making, the Fund wants to provide communities with the resources for their own development into equity infrastructure that creates and maintains equity outcomes in every way. This means becoming institutions which are equity focused and centered on the experiences of people affected by inequity to insure that they receive the supports needed to thrive without limitations of race or economic circumstances. The social determinants of education mandate that we give attention to the way that housing and other living conditions impact a child’s ability to fulfill their intellectual and social emotional potential through education and other means of social development.

As one modest sized foundation, we are ever mindful of our limitations of scope and our lack of centrality to the problems or the solutions emerging from the work of communities attempting to liberate themselves. Our commitment is one of sincere loyalty to these stated goals and an authentic desire to partner with the communities and institutions who share our goals and values. We are optimistic and inspired with the work emerging in communities and schools which build on centuries of social justice work to improve our “More Perfect Union.” As always, all of this will require time, growth, and evolution.

Cultivating the patience needed for the duration of this journey, paired with the urgency to waste no time, will stretch us in ways that we cannot imagine. But, no one said it would be easy and we knew all along that the way forward involves more than the quick fixes that we keep attempting to do as a nation. Focusing on the whole ecosystem picture will remind us how embedded the obstacles are in every thread of the fabric of our society. Then, maybe, we will learn not to declare “Mission Accomplished” when we have only begun to do the work. In that spirit, we welcome all partnership opportunities which center those people most affected not just as targets or beneficiaries of our efforts but as key agents of leadership and change.