'Be a part of something big and beautiful:' On why racial equity matters in environmental philanthropy

Matt Wisniewski

Matt Wisniewski

By Matt Wisniewski, Senior Program Associate, the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation

At a recent session of the InDEEP Embedding Equity Community of Practice, I was asked what inspires me to work toward equity and inclusion. I had a couple of  answers, things that I had said before in one form or another, but I didn’t find them particularly satisfying. Eventually I wrote “To be a part of something big and beautiful.”

I wasn’t exactly sure what I meant when I wrote it, but I did know this was the real reason, the reason behind my other reasons, the reason that could answer any “But why?

It’s a phrase that also seemed to resonate with other participants. It popped up here and there in conversations and share-outs, and each person brought a bit of a different focus to it. It strikes me that this is how personal change works: take an idea and make it so that you too can own it. Here is my attempt at owning that phrase.

Big is commitment. Big is long. Big is the arc of a lifetime. Big is focusing on myself first. Big is seeing how things connect. Big is participation. Big is liberation, and knowing that the only real liberation is total: it encompasses everyone, every institution, everywhere.

But I’m not everyone, I’m me. I’m not everywhere, I’m here. And I’m not a part of every institution, nor would I want to be. Folks might be tempted to say, “You know one foundation, you only know one foundation,” yada, yada. But I’m counting on them to lead from where they are to fill out the picture. Depending on it, actually. That’s how we get really big.

Big is real change in the world. Big is change in myself.

Beautiful is inspiring. Beautiful is personal. Beautiful is feeling connected to other people. Beautiful is the contentment I get from freeing up my own humanity a little. Beautiful is the mirror that others hold up for me. Beautiful is being a learner, being a little quiet.

Beautiful is holding my ideas lightly while gripping my values tight.

Beautiful is a good day’s work. Beautiful is of understanding the importance of language, and of its limitations. Beautiful is granting someone permission to fumble. Beautiful is real change in the world. Beautiful is change in myself.

Big and beautiful both aim high and give me something to work on. I want to be able to look back on my life some day and say I was a part of something big and beautiful.

KHA Admin