Saturday, October 29, 2011

Southeasterly Winds

Southeasterly Winds

For the past five years, I have served on the board of the Southeatern Council on Foundations (SECF) a membership organization of more than 350 private, corporate, family and community foundations in eleven states. I confess that I took on this role hesitantly...after 21 years in Georgia and six at The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, I had chosen to have limited exposure and connection to the larger region, more comfortable dashing across the world from Hartsfield-Jackson than taking a road trip. I claimed southern roots through both my parents who migrated from their birthplace in south Georgia to the north in the 1940’s. Yet I knew in my heart my move to metro Atlanta was less about returning home and more a choice to move to what was then dubbed "The Black Mecca".

Weather lore has it that "When the wind is blowing in the South, it brings food over the fish's mouth". I've given a lot of thought to this sentiment as I've passed the quarter century mark in my new home and finally branched out into the region, a journey that I have taken in tandem with SECF. In 2006, I stepped into a boardroom filled with folks from our southern states...folks who loved their communities. I felt truly an outsider. As I’ve shared, I am more city than country.

Secondly, all were CEOs and so, despite being senior staff of one of the biggest community foundations in the country and managing many and assets, much of my reality and experience was different. Third, I am an African American woman, at that time one of two on the board, and while Atlanta may have been my "Mecca", the south's formal philanthropic sector was not. I confess, I couldn't figure out what I could offer this group nor what they could give me.

Yet as I look forward to gathering on Amelia Island in November for SECF’s annual conference, "Celebrating Wisdom, Demonstrating Value, Cultivating Hope", I know that, as the southeasterly wind feeds the fish, my SECF experience has fed me. Another quote by the timeless Seuss, summarizes it perfectly,
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
Out there things can happen and frequently do to people as brainy and footsy as you.
And when things start to happen, don’t worry. Don’t stew. Just go right along. You’ll start happening too."

I've seen places. I've seen closed rubber plants whose owners, long gone, still support the local community. I've seen hurricanes strike beaches at night and residents cleaning and repairing by the time the sun rises. I’ve watched ducks march in line and boogied to blues til midnight. I’ve shuddered, feeling the ghosts of my ancestors in renovated plantations and shared hot tea and biscuits with colleagues who have grown dear. I’ve come to love beignets, dry rub, crepe myrtle, wide spaces, green pastures, majestic mounts and washboards that turn into musical instruments. I’ve run past painful statues of black jockeys and given standing ovations to talented, gutsy kids from “the other side of the track”. But, most of all, even despite its resistant and oft frustrating cling to the familiar and fear of the new, I’ve come to love the resilience and grace and potential of the South.

In short, I’ve grown. And so has SECF. With each year and each other we are becoming smarter, more effective, more relevant. We are listening to our constituents – those who have been with us for decades and those whose attention we have drawn – as we seek to cultivate and embrace the huge power of philanthropy to make a difference in our shared space of this big country. To collectively create a stronger, better region in which everyone can thrive.
To feed the fish.
Look forward to seeing you next week!