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A Letter From Our Founders

The past few months have been grueling in many respects.

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

The past few months have been grueling in many respects. Our collective and individual strength has been tested as we’ve faced fears of a COVID-19 infection, a financial crisis, the trials of working from home, and the exhaustion of the daily news cycle. We’ve found ways to cope through pleasures large and small, and at times we’ve even learned to find some solace in silence, quiet time and reflection. We admire and are grateful to our staff and grantees as they have navigated this uncertainty while moving the work of Arnold Ventures forward.

The past few weeks have felt unbearable. The deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor have ignited long simmering disgust and outrage for the ingrained and systemic racism that pervades our criminal justice system. And the infuriating weaponization of race suffered by Christian Cooper has once again exposed the toxic racial undertones that pervade our society.

At times like these, our reflexive reaction as caring human beings is to act — to do something, anything, to remedy the situation. We seek to alleviate the suffering and become part of the solution immediately. In the past couple of weeks, we’ve fielded requests from many philanthropists asking precisely that: What are the one or two things that we can fund to fix the issue?

Of course we at AV know it’s not that easy. There’s not “one thing” to do. If there were, AV wouldn’t be a team of 100+. We all know there’s no one-sized solution to remedy problems created over generations. That’s true of everything that we do at AV. We tackle these hard issues understanding that we need to be prepared for long-term investments.

The tragic events of the past couple of weeks underscore how long and arduous the road will be to pursuing our mission of maximizing opportunity and minimizing injustice. They are a painful reminder that racial injustice is at the core of our most critical societal problems — and at the core of each issue that we tackle at AV. To name just a few of many examples: Our efforts in K-12 education are rooted in the belief that educational equity is critical to true opportunity. We fight for accountability in higher education because data shows that underprivileged minorities disproportionately fall victim to predatory colleges. Our democracy work seeks to remedy systemic exclusion of marginalized communities from our democratic process. And our health care practice strives to build a more equitable model — one in which wealth doesn’t determine access to basic services.

And of course, there’s no clearer example of the tireless fight against racism than our work in criminal justice. For more than ten years as an organization, and for multiples of that as a team, we have sought to reform a system that structurally discriminates and unjustly punishes people of color. The collective frustration that we feel today isn’t just about George Floyd. It’s about a system that has failed to protect minority communities for generations. A system that tolerates police apathy and abuse against our most vulnerable citizens; that detains people for months, sometimes years, before their trial only because they’re poor; that feeds on overincarcerating people of color and strips individuals of their rights and their dignity during that incarceration; that criminalizes poverty by imposing untenable fines and fees; and that makes reentry and reintegration, and therefore post-incarceration success, virtually impossible. Under the leadership of the brightest minds in the field, we’re proudly and steadily moving the needle on each of those issues.

We don’t have easy answers to the question of “What’s next?” We don’t have a new initiative to announce that will erase the legacy of racial injustice in this country. We wish we did. We share your outrage, disgust, frustration and anger at what we’re experiencing as a nation. But despite these raw emotions, we remain deeply hopeful, because we believe in our theory of change. We believe that thoughtful, policy-focused work based on research, evidence, advocacy and litigation will maximize opportunity and minimize injustice. 

Laura and John