A Letter to Darren Walker, President, Ford Foundation

September 14, 2016

Dear President Walker:

I’m a fan.  When the Ford Foundation rolled out with its 20% Indirect Cost Proclamation I was like, “Holy shit!  Walker is for real yo!”  (I’m from East New York Brooklyn, so you’ll understand this is my first language.)

That said, I am concerned about your recent short video piece on being a “Disruptor.”  I was with you until you declared that being a disruptor of the status quo is “fun.”  Why the worry?  Suggesting the role of a disruptor is “fun” hints you may be falling victim to the creeping insularity that, sometimes, comes with mega-foundation-directing, flying-at-30,000-feet daily life.

Here’s another take on being a “disruptor” and taking on the status quo: Your job and funding get threatened.  An example: Years ago I signed-on with the current San Francisco mayor and district supervisor to support their campaign to bring tech companies to a long-dilapidated commercial corridor in a poor neighborhood.   Later, when I objected to how the city abdicated on its responsibility to leverage tech’s investment to the betterment of local residents, I was threatened by a city official to get on board or risk losing my job and having my organization’s funding cut.  (At the time I was running a small Tenderloin nonprofit.)

I resigned shortly after to make sure my organization – the Tenderloin Economic Development Project – was not punished for my refusal to play along.  And I was cool with that because I wasn’t going to kiss the city’s ring, but it wasn’t easy or “fun.”

Another example.  Years later, I had to blow a whistle on the city and a flaky community foundation as they undermined an important community development project.  (Actually it was just a toot, I haven’t yet fully pulled back the curtain.)   That wasn’t any fun at all.  Worst of all, I stopped getting invitations to happy hour events, receptions, galas, etc., and my monthly food & beverage bill went way up.  (Just kidding!… sort of.)

So that’s how it goes President Walker, at least for some of us.  If you have an ironclad source of funding and job security, enjoy it.  Go wreak havoc on the status quo, just please don’t call it “fun.”

Your fan,

elvin

P.S.  To the safe havens and friends out there that always kept their doors open to me (and no doubt to other political dissidents) – Luggage Store Gallery, the Vietnamese Youth Development Center/Judy Young, Warr/Zamora Productions, Marc, Ellen, Keefer, Ebony, Lex, Shelley, Frances, Carmela, Terrance, Deanna, Bita, Indra, Paul – thank you.