By David McGrath
Thank you FRRR for awarding NRCF a travelling scholarship to Melbourne for the ACP. ‘ForumLite’ was addressed by Mr Fred Blackwell CEO of the San Francisco Community Foundation. They have assets of $US1.3 billion, $US800 million endowment, 500 grant recipients and 70 fulltime staff.
Some quotes from Fred:
“When you leave New York – you ain’t goin nowhere”
“Equity is the new coconut water – lots of talk but you never see anyone drinking it”
“We should be growing the pie – not splitting it into small pieces”
“I used to work in local government – now I work in philanthropy – where everyone is nice to me – now I am constantly told I am very handsome and my jokes are funny – it was disturbing at first”
“Be crisp, clear & visible”
Of the numerous tales told by Fred this one I still ponder . . .
In the early 1970s, a few wheel-chair bound friends wheeled themselves to a kerb in Berkeley,California, poured cement into the form of a crude ramp, and rolled off in to the night.It was a political act, a gesture of defiance.
Despite their unevenness, the makeshift sloping curbs provided the disabled community with something invaluable: mobility.
Hundreds more kerb cuts followed Berkeley’s. Then hundreds of thousands, all across the country. Disabled advocates continued to push for access to the basics that many Americans take for granted—sidewalks, classrooms, dorm rooms, restrooms, buses. At last, in July 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the landmark ‘Americans with Disabilities Act’, which prohibits disability-based discrimination and mandated changes to the built environment, including kerb cuts. “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down,” he proclaimed.
Then a magnificent and unexpected thing happened. When the wall of exclusion came down, everybody benefited—not only people in wheelchairs. Parents pushing strollers headed straight for curb cuts. So did workers pushing heavy carts, business travellers wheeling luggage,even runners and skateboarders. A study of pedestrian behaviour revealed that nine out of 10 “unencumbered pedestrians” go out of their way to use a curb cut. An economist might call it a “positive externality.” A military officer might call it a “force multiplier.” Fred Blackwell likes to think of it as the “curb-cut effect”—and it’s changing the way the USA thinks about the struggles of the most vulnerable communities.
There’s an ingrained societal suspicion that intentionally supporting one group hurts another. That equality (Fred calls it equity) is a zero sum game. In fact, when we at the NRCF target support where it is needed most—when we create the circumstances that allow those who have been left behind to participate and contribute fully—everyone wins.
The opposite is also true: When we ignore the challenges faced by the most vulnerable among us, those challenges, magnified many times over, become a dragon economic growth, prosperity, and national well-being.