A Letter from our New Board Chair
To our Community, Donors, Friends, and Supporters,
First and foremost, I am proud to serve on the board of an organization whose founder/chief executive, loyal donors, friends and program participants demand to know where it stands on issues of social justice. As board members, we have pledged to uphold the mission by ensuring the financial integrity of ARTZ Philadelphia and to support its growth and vision for the future. I believe that if we are “not part of the solution then we are part of the problem” -- which has been a guiding mantra for me during a lifetime of struggle in civil and human rights movements. I have also been and continue to be guided by Bishop Desmond Tutu’s admonition:
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
How can we be neutral or remain silent after witnessing George Floyd’s life snatched from him by an officer with his knee on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds and seen other lives lost violently and unprovoked to police or white supremacists? How can we be silent as inequities perpetuated by systemic racism flourish in brown and black communities and result in poorer quality of care in long term living facilities and disproportionate numbers of black and brown people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias . . . the very communities in which ARTZ Philadelphia has its programs and services? The simple answer is that we cannot. The truth is that we are called on to be part of a permanent dismantling of systems of oppression. This time it has to be different and we have to do more and do it better.
As I write on behalf of the board, please know that we are listening more closely to each other and we are having difficult, and sometimes painful, conversations not just about our personal views but about our roles as the governing body of ARTZ. We are asking and discussing our proper role as ARTZ board members in working to eradicate systemic racism and its disproportionate impact on equity in healthcare, education and housing, which has been exposed to an even larger degree during the COVID-19 pandemic; where we stand on matters of justice and policing; supporting Black Lives Matter, even as our resiliency as an organization is being tested during the pandemic.
On behalf of the board, I can tell you that we are trying and that we are committed not to having a one- time or one-size-fits-all response but rather to truly becoming “of, by and for all”; and, requiring our decisions and actions to be in line with equity, justice and inclusion. We are committed to acknowledging our collective responsibility.
It is a work in progress and to date our actions include:
Fully supporting the public statement in support of Black Lives Matter issued by the ARTZ Philadelphia Executive Director.
The majority of board members added their voices to others in the arts community to demand that the City of Philadelphia support reform and defund the police.
We continue to support revising the ARTZ Philadelphia mission statement to be more community-focused; increasing the number of people of color who serve on our Board of Directors to more inclusively represent all the communities we serve; and continuing to be more equitable and inclusive in our relationships with community stakeholders and in our hiring decisions as the organization grows.
Most importantly, we continue to educate ourselves, listen respectfully and work collaboratively so that justice, equity and inclusion are embedded in all of our decisions and actions as we move into the future we envision and hope for: a society that upholds justice and equality for all of its people.
We thank you and trust that you will remain strong in your support of ARTZ Philadelphia. Please promise to let us know if your confidence ever wanes regarding the vision, convictions and actions of the ARTZ governing body -- we are listening.
Yours in pursuit of equality and justice,
Lynn Fields Harris