We Stand Together

We Stand Together: Rob McPherson, Central Indiana Community Foundation

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A need to improve racial equity pushed a local organization to change its mission.

Several years ago, the group put into motion a new plan for a more Inclusive City. For Monday night’s We Stand Together, the focus is on the Central Indiana Community Foundation.

Over a century ago, the Indianapolis foundation formed, and it’s now called the Central Indiana Community Foundation. The goal has always been to do good in the community. In 2017 when the organization analyzed its five-year strategic plan, the foundation decided it needed to do more than good.

Representatives noticed when it came to economic mobility, the color of someone’s skin often factored in. The vice president of development and strategy, Rob McPherson, said, in a push to dismantle racism, improve equity and inclusion across the city, the mission changed.

MCPHERSON: Who would have known for years ago when we started this journey our own personal racial equity journey as well as the institutional strategic planning journey, that we would find ourselves here in 2020 with a pandemic, and economic crisis, and a racial reckoning across the country. So we’ve been preparing for this. Maybe not this specific moment but we are ready to go. We dropped all the planning and all of the thinking and all the theoretical work and moved right into action. From last year right into this year. So with all of the racial unrest since memorial day and the murder of George Floyd, we’ve been strongly positioned to continue the conversation and strengthen the communities bond towards dismantling systemic and structural racism.

WINFREY: And talk about some of the work you all do to make this work. Or to get this thing rolling.

MCPHERSON: Well we do three things. We are a grant making organization. So deploying some of our financial resources is definitely part of our efforts. But we also provide philanthropic advice to other families in the community who have philanthropic wealth to distribute. And then we provide kind of a human lead, human leadership, influence leadership, influence capital to help change some systems and do some convening and move initiatives forward.

WINFREY: Did you find that through that particular element that when you have those organizations that are closer to the community you can get work done more efficiently or you have a better idea of what it is that those communities need?

MCPHERSON: I would say the latter. We have a better idea of what those communities need. As part of our strategic planning process before we changed our mission, we did a lot of listening out in the community. And a very simple adage of doing with not too came out of that process. So many times communities disadvantage communities, underrepresented communities felt like the not for profit sector or the charitable sector was coming in with this program or with this initiative, and here you must need this. And there was never really any listening or joint planning or what could we do together, or this is what we need. Do you have something like that. So that very simple adage of with not to has helped inform how a lot of our grant making, a lot of our strategy work, and the way in which we want to work the how we do what we do moving forward.

WINFREY: Have you seen the value or the mood change when you go in and you’re like what do you all need from us versus this is what we have.

MCPHERSON: Absolutely, and it’s about relationships. We have to create these trusting relationships with neighbors, residents and communities as a whole. And that takes time. Sometimes speed is the enemy of equity. Sometimes we especially in an institution like ours we want to make decisions like thia or get the grants out the door and the people to the table or whomever. It’s all about relationships. And if we don’t create authentic trusting relationships, people of color in this community. As a predominantly white institution, I mean we were created by white men back in 1916, and a white culture has perpetuated it until the last few years here. So in order to create trusting relationships with black, indigenous people, other people of color we have to spend time and prove ourselves.

WINFREY: And why is it so important that people who don’t look like me are a part of the conversation and are willing to put themselves out there to say hey I see where there is something lacking or I see a place where I can do something?

MCPHERSON: I think in addition to listening, like you and I have talked about already. I as a white man need to understand other peoples lived experiences. I don’t know what it’s like to be a black woman. I don’t know what it’s like to be an immigrant from Mexico or Guatemala. I have got to honor those experiences, and I have to I know your life and your background, and your family, and your tradition, and learn as much as I can. Again I think that’s part of the suppression, part of the oppression of the past is not celebrating that. Or me not spending time and investing my time in the lived experiences of the other person.

Around the end of the month CIFC will be holding a virtual event outlining what’s been accomplished along with some new announcements. The organization is also expanding its work with Eli Lilly for the racial equity fund.