The power of legacy: Why where I come from led me to NCRP

Written by: Elbert Garcia

Date: January 17, 2020

As we head into the Dr. Martin Luther King holiday weekend, its natural – maybe even necessary — to reflect on what we are each doing to honor the legacy that he and other civil rights movement leaders left for us to follow. Reflecting on that present for me starts in the past.

I am the blessed son of Dominican immigrants, the youngest of 3 children born to Nelson A. Garcia and Prudencia del Rosario de Fatima Rodriguez Merino. Parents whose various jobs bore little resemblance to the dreams and careers that their potential merited.

Like so many newcomers, their imperfect reality was shaped by the belief that their hard work would create better opportunities for their family. That their most important contribution was to be the best bricklayers to a better future and hope that there was enough room for them to follow.

However, as the old Spanish saying goes, del dicho al hecho hay mucho trecho (Loosely translated: There’s a long road between words and deeds.)

And whether they liked it or not, they came to find out that for all their altruistic sacrifices, they couldn’t build it alone. So often, it was left to us as children – and me particularly — to translate their plans into reality.

To not just be their voice in an English-dominated world, but to also ensure that they got back the information they needed to develop their own best voice.

Growing up with a foot in multiple worlds, it’s easy to see how language – and class, race and gender — hides other elements to the stories that people know.

When those elements reflect real people, in real communities, living real lives, you can’t help but want to ensure they see the light of day.

Considering that upbringing, it’s no surprise that I would wind up as a writer and a communicator. No surprise that the son of a seamstress would spend most of his career weaving together ideas, stories and perspectives. No doubt that the child of a ring polisher would be spending his time cleaning up narratives and buffing up speeches for public consumption and distribution.

No other path to walk down than to add my voice to help communicate the important work being done here at NCRP.

For close to 40 years, NCRP has been a key player in the philanthropic sector, encouraging funders to maximize the good they are already doing by being accountable and transparent organizations that employ effective grantmaking practices that benefit marginalized communities.  

They are the kind of close friend who loves you enough to tell you the hard truth when no one else will, but also is the first one to roll up their sleeves to help you do better.

The one who won’t stop pushing you, even when you are resistant, because they see more of your potential than you do.

Our challenging times are in need of sector friends like these. As we have seen in Australia, Brazil and Puerto Rico, our planet is literally on fire and shaking.

More and more, people spend their days in nervous anxiety, afraid that whatever stability they have – economically or socially – could be gone tomorrow.

For far too many people and governments, hate and violence is both a currency and a drug, a way of feeling empowered and accomplishing short-term goals without any regard for the destructive seeds that it sows.

The paradox of the current crisis is that while there is an urgent need to act immediately, sustainable change happens best when behavior is learned, not dictated.

Yes, people of good will must act, but they also have to be given the time and grace to change habits that prevent us from exercising power in a healthy and equitable way.

“Human beings with all their faults and strengths constitute the mechanism of a social movement,” said Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in one of his last books, Why We Can’t Wait. “They must make mistakes and learn from them, make more mistakes and learn anew. They must taste defeat as well as success and discover how to live with each. Time and action are the teachers.”

If time and action are the teachers for sustained social change, philanthropy has both an opportunity and responsibility to help craft the safe spaces where these professors teach.

With the help of critical friends like NCRP, they can help create and facilitate the kind of classrooms that communities – across race, class, gender, sexual orientation and language – need to make this world better.

Classrooms that make our road to a more just and equitable future a bit easier to travel. 

Elbert Garcia is NCRP’s director of strategic communicationsFollow @ElbertGarciaFl and @NCRP on Twitter.