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Building for the Future: Closing the 2021 REDF Partner Retreat

I’ll have to admit this is a bit surreal because I’m very accustomed to being on the other side of this virtual mic. My heart is beating fast as I talk because speaking to you – my peers, the leaders I’ve looked up to, the leaders with whom I’ve shared a cheer, a commiseration, and a cry or two, oof – all the things … well, suffice it to say, the stakes feel higher talking to y’all. I want to make sure I do this right.

Some of you may know I’m a recent transplant to the West Coast, and more specifically Los Angeles. I’m doing all the things a new Angeleno might do, not the least of which is to go to the Hollywood Bowl, an amazingly striking music venue I’ve honestly only before seen in rom-com movies on the big screen.

The last concert I went to was Ledisi performing an evening of Nina Simone. She was glorious. Astonishing. Overwhelming. And exhilarating. She came out on stage with this kimono-inspired dress and six-inch heels and her first song nearly knocked me off the orange cushion I rented for $1 so that my butt didn’t hurt. She channeled Nina as though Nina coursed through her veins; and even as she was channeling Nina in this extraordinarily powerful way, she was also very uniquely and very awesomely her own. She knew she was standing on Nina’s powerful shoulders.

You all are channeling your own Nina, while standing on your own two feet, too. As leaders of social enterprises across our country, you have hustled for customers, stressed over revenue, coached the people, and built the businesses that endured the worst this past year, for a population of people who themselves have hurt the worst in this past year as well. And what a year (and some change) it was. The world broke open. It got heavy with the weight of its own sickness – a sickness in the form of COVID-19, a sickness in the form of hatred and racial injustice, a sickness in the way we have stomped on our planet – not understanding the fact that how we treat the soil below us fuels the future before us.

I have no words for the pain that was and remains. But our entire team at REDF want you to know that we see you, we are so grateful for you, and we know that you are the key to making sure so much of our overlooked talent in our country are seen, too.

As I reflect on what we’ve done together these past few days, I’m reminded of all these moments where we could feel the power of this community.

Social enterprise might just be our medicine. Medicine unlike what we might imagine as in to treat or cure a disease, but the connotation indigenous cultures give medicine as a way to achieve balance. Therein lies for us both power and responsibility.

And I thought, maybe this was what Edgar was getting at in his book when he said: “the issue is creating a culture of respect, curiosity, acceptance, and love.” That’s what we hope to build with all of you.

This is of course a difficult task, especially when we are at once integrating into an economy that has often excluded the people we serve, while also agitating around it to push it to become more inclusive. We will get there, though, if we do it in lock step with one another. And in so doing, maybe that’s how we best channel our own inner Nina, and be both activist and poet all at the same time.

It is our honor to do this work with you, to be on that rocket ship with you like Carla described. Thank you for giving us the gift of your time to help build and strengthen our community.

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