Finding the Courage to Break the Silence

Friday, November 17, 2023

Finding the Courage to Break the Silence

In the last month, Philanthropy New York has witnessed and participated in a deafening silence within our sector around the atrocities in Palestine and Israel. As PNY staff, we’ve experienced this silence during meetings and programs with members and within our own office. Still, it wasn’t until our staff met as a full team last week that we broke that silence to speak with each other. Over several hours, we shared personal reflections on what was said and unsaid, on what we could do and what we couldn’t do, and the feeling that what we could do was not enough. This spoke volumes about these events' emotional weight and mental toll. Our team’s relationship to these injustices spans the full spectrum – from witnessing the shared trauma and emotions of this moment to feeling the direct impact on our lives and work. We share all of this to say that we imagine that the silence that was present here at PNY, is likely present in organizations across our membership. We’re sharing our internal conversation here as an expression of our commitment to share our own learning journey, however imperfect, to inspire members to create their own practices and equity learning paths.

Our Conversations 

Silence for many of us felt like complicity. We were grappling with numerous emotions and challenges related to the horrifying crimes against humanity and the genocidal wars unfolding across the world and across time. In previous times of crisis, responses in the sector afforded spaces for engagement that accounted for everyone’s humanity. This time felt different. And it meant we had to find the courage to break the silence. Courage meant leaning into our values and having conversations that named our struggles out loud struggle with the dynamics of power in our personal and professional lives, struggle with emotions like rage, grief, and isolation, and struggle with the need to engage our members in a time where polarization has heightened our collective vigilance. Courage meant testing assumptions, challenging conventional wisdom, and seeking to understand the systemic roots of inequity. Our discussions led us to a clear understanding: our commitment to being more power-aware is imperative. Valuing humanity leaves no room for justifying violence. Our liberation is bound up in each other's, and our fight against injustice is interconnected.

Our Commitment 

We recognize the gravity of these conversations – their complexity and potential for controversy. However, our values compel us not to shy away but to embrace these discussions, to create space within meetings and programs that foster nuanced dialogue and understanding, and to unearth the roots of injustice and oppression. Philanthropy New York extends an invitation to our members, both institutions and individuals, to hold space for humanity and step into this silence, together.

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