Home Challenging Poverty The imperative of moral leadership : By: Darren Walker – President, FORD...

The imperative of moral leadership : By: Darren Walker – President, FORD FOUNDATION


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In the late fall of 1863, President Abraham Lincoln traveled to a small town in Pennsylvania, the site of the American Civil War’s bloodiest battle. On that sunny, November day—the war still raging—Lincoln addressed the ages. The republic, he said, was engaged in a great battle, testing whether democracy can long endure. Nearly 157 years on, we, too, are engaged in a test of whether democratic values and institutions can endure. And the test is happening everywhere, all at once. It’s become commonplace to note that America faces a pandemic of pandemics: Fear and fire and fury that betray corruption and climate catastrophe and callous indifference to 400 years of a racialized caste system; a lethal virus and subsequent economic fallout that lay bare the profoundly unequal ways in which we survive or succumb—in which we live and die. Already, America has lost as many people to the coronavirus during the last eight months as during the two-plus years of battle leading up to that decisive conflict in Gettysburg. In this context—in any context—the passing of icons Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Congressman John Lewis felt like heavy blows. And, in addition to the lives we mourn, we grieve countless other losses: Visits with family or meals with friends. A first day of school. Plans cancelled, and dreams deferred. Birthdays, graduations, and holidays—all those rites of passage, stolen. Lost forever, a precious moment to sit  with a loved one in their final days, or a memorial service to say goodbye. n these cases, some of us might say, “thank goodness for technology”—for the video calls and internet service that keep us connected. But I grieve for those children without tablets and laptops and high-speed connections at home, in urban communities and rural ones alike. Shame on us for asking studnts — some 12 million kids across the United States  — to click into classrooms from the parking lots of fast-food restaurants. This is hardly the only way inequality has announced itself, or amplified our anguish. The statistics and stories abound. A couple of weeks ago, clicking through the channels late at night, I landed on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal. The producers had opened the phone lines and invited Americans to share how the pandemic had affected them. Some people had lost their jobs, but not received the unemployment checks promised to them. Others were staring down an eviction or a foreclosure. Thea, fron South…

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