2021: Power, Progress and Possibilities

from Brian Payne,
President, The Indianapolis Foundation
President & CEO of Central Indiana Community Foundation

I don’t know about you but it seems 2021 is off to another whirlwind start. Since many of our staff have to work until 5 p.m. on Dec. 31 to process last-minute contributions and a few emergency grants, we all take vacation days and close the office for the first week of January. I love and deeply value that first week off in January. It seems very appropriate that we get an off-season—no matter how short—before we begin a new year or season with a sense of purpose and urgency.

Of course this year, the quiet of that week was interrupted by the riot and insurrection on our Capitol. That certainly impacted my week of rest and rejuvenation. It also highlighted that White supremacy not only has been emboldened but is tolerated—while Black and racial equity advocacy is often criminalized. The president who just left office called Black Lives Matter protestors “thugs” and other names while calling the traitors who laid siege on our Capitol “very special people.” Unfortunately, as we know, he is not the only one who thinks that. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens in this country express or—at least—support the same rhetoric and beliefs.

…White supremacy not only has been emboldened but is tolerated—while Black and racial equity advocacy is often criminalized.

I have heard the siege on the Capitol compared to Kristallnacht or “the night of broken glass.” This event in 1938 was a major escalation of the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany. I’ve also read from multiple authors that America right now with its emboldened White supremacy and White supremacy extremists has a lot in common with Germany in the 1930s and the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party. If you think that comparison is too strong or extreme, just read the best-selling book “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson. She documents that the Nazis greatly admired America’s “total oppression of Negroes and studied America’s best practices of oppression.”

It was also ironic to me that on Tuesday night before the inauguration and during the CICF board’s first gathering to discuss the book White Fragility, I received a news notification on my phone that outgoing Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, released a statement saying “woke-ism, multiculturism, all the -isms—they’re not who America is. They distort our glorious founding and what this country is all about.” If that’s not a major White Supremacy policy statement, I don’t know what is. This is what we are up against in our work. This is why our work is more important and urgent than ever. It seems clear that Pompeo must also be against humanitarianism which is defined as “the promotion of human welfare.” There is much speculation that Pompeo hopes to run for president in 2024.

“Black people amassing power enrages holders of White power.”

A number of our staff tuned into a webinar on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day presented by the Madame Walker Legacy Center and Indiana University. You can view that presentation here. It featured presentations and conversations with iconic civil and women’s rights advocate, Angela Davis, and co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Alicia Garza. They were incredible. I have four pages of notes, but one quote by Angela Davis sticks out, “Black people amassing power enrages holders of White power.”

Fortunately, it doesn’t enrage all White people who hold power. But the ones it doesn’t enrage have to step up bigger and bolder than ever before. That’s what we have asked the White leaders to do at our Inclusive City 2020 event in late October, and that’s what they’re doing. That’s what White leaders, allies, and co-conspirators on CICF’s staff and boards are doing in partnership and with guidance from our brave and brilliant Black and Latinx colleagues.

Last week’s inauguration showed the America I want to live in on a daily basis. A Black-East Asian Woman was sworn in as Vice President by a Latina Supreme Court Justice. I was moved to tears by the amazingly beautiful musical performances by a Latina pop icon, a White female pop icon, and a White male country music star from the South. Then they were all upstaged by Amanda Gorman, a 22-year old Black female poet and Harvard graduate who is still working to fully overcome her speech impediment—just like our new president—and who has already announced her intention to run for president in 2034 when she’s finally old enough to do so. They are all reaching their full potential. And they make me believe in progress and possibility.

I want to honor that my senior staff colleagues who felt that it was important that I address the national political upheaval and the siege on the Capitol. I also want to thank Pamela Ross, our vice president of opportunity, equity and inclusion for her efforts in helping me think through how to approach this letter to you and reviewing it before I sent it. As always, racial equity leadership is an inclusive team effort.



This was wonderful Brian. I thoroughly enjoyed this serious message that was lightened with such joy and hope for the future. I agree with your staff! It is imperative that you and other community leaders speak out against the often expertly hidden, insidious undertone of racism and white supremacy. Especially in our state. I want to know that leading philanthropic institutions in our community are helping to form a more positive, inclusive society. Thanks again


Amazing amazing amazing!! 🙌🏾


Thank you for taking a hard stand on this issue. We need people in leadership poSitions to speak up over and over again on the injustices that exist in this democracy


Thank you, Brian and CICF staff, for your outspoken leadership on racial justice. you inspire me and my organization!


i found your message refreshing, inspring and hopeful. thanks to you and your team.


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