Skip to content
Echoes of Freedom
Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing was named the Black national anthem by the NAACP for its power in voicing a cry for liberation and affirmation for Black communities. | Photo by Keith Mays

Echoes of freedom

In a country of such promise, too many are left out of our economy. Systems change in social justice and equity are embedded in our entrepreneurship strategy.

As the echoes of Fourth of July fireworks fade, our country appears in a haze of turbulence. Independence Day celebrations bring us together at the halfway point of our year to reflect and share joyous times with friends and family. The day also reminds us of the distance between the American dream and our American reality.

We are proud of our nation’s hard-won independence. The day signifies our country’s desire for freedom over tyranny, and commitment to the preservation of basic human rights. But we also face the stark recognition that the rights our nation promises and protects are not shared equally. Too many people are left behind without the opportunity to better their economic standing.

While our country is founded on principles of equality and freedom, our history has not held faithful to these ideas.

Our country was formed on land once the home of Native Americans who were cruelly displaced.

Our country protects freedom, but freedom was denied to people who were first enslaved and then systematically excluded from economic mobility for generations.

Our country is a nation of immigrants, where first-generation immigrants often are not afforded their rights.

For these Americans, July 4, 1776 is not a milepost of freedom and equity.

These hard truths come while we are in the throes of a global pandemic and chronic racial injustice crashing over us in waves. For some, the force and power of those waves of racism are all too familiar. Others, who were previously immune to these waves, are feeling their pain for the first time. The global effect of a pandemic and crippling affliction of racism can appear ironically similar, but there is no vaccine for racism.

So, while we celebrate our Declaration of Independence, we know that for equality to be available to all, we will need to commit to one another, rely on one another, and Declare our Interdependence. Working together in uncommon ways toward common purpose, will build a community of new rituals and habits, of well-being, committed to fair play that invests in all of its people, and especially those who have been left out and left behind.

For several weeks, we’ve seen people bound together in outrage. For the third time in my life, I’ve watched my old neighborhood in Los Angeles writhe in tension; police lining the streets and tear gas being fired outside my high school and my favorite hangouts. This round of unrest and protest has revealed the full burden of a legacy of systemic racism that has disadvantaged and disenfranchised more than 40 million Black Americans, a full 13% of our population. Until we understand each other, we will ever again – always again – repeat our history.

Racism corrupts our ideals. It has contaminated our country at its roots and grown into thick and blighted branches. The prophetic and plaintive voices of our past – from Frederick Douglass to James Baldwin – join with the passionate voices we hear today to help us understand the entrenched and corrosive issues we face. These Issues are now compounded by the disproportionate impact the deadly coronavirus is having on the health of Black and Brown people.

We are proud of our nation’s hard-won independence. The day signifies our country’s desire for freedom over tyranny, and commitment to the preservation of basic human rights.

But we also face the stark recognition that the rights our nation promises and protects are not shared equally. Too many people are left behind without the opportunity to better their economic standing.

I have listened to and spoken with community and economic leaders and activists across the social spectrum searching for what we can do to end this cycle. I’ve asked, what is missing from the conversation?  Who are we overlooking? While most concede that the needle has moved in important ways, many Black Americans remain skeptical that real change will happen. It is a dream too long deferred, too long denied. Overcoming systemic racism will require equally systematic solutions and a sustained sense of urgency.

I’m encouraged by the tenor of the current debate and the social awakening that is occurring. People are channeling a movement that carries a responsibility to address the problems we face with direct and purposeful action. We have seen new leaders emerge in communities across America. Their fresh energy is the formula we need to sustain our recommitment to the principles of freedom, liberty, and equality.

We can right ourselves, but it won’t be easy. It will require diligence and perseverance. The latest evidence of systemic racism playing out now is exacerbated by the realities of dramatic and devastating economic hardship brought about by COVID-19. We are a country in pain.

For individuals, no short-term stimulus can replace the need that American families, including the most fragile among our under-resourced communities, have to sustain their livelihood. The stark reality for these families is that even before the pandemic, most were just getting by paycheck to paycheck. With the pandemic’s harsh effect on wage and service workers, families are falling deep in debt without a safety net. More than 40 million Americans live in poverty and can’t keep up. The thin line that held the hopes and dreams for so many families is now threadbare and nearly broken.

For businesses, the pandemic has choked the cashflow lifeline of small business, especially small businesses that line our main streets. Shuttered and dark storefronts are common in every town in American and closures will accelerate. Many businesses – both large and small — will never come back, nor will the jobs they provided. Economic shock waves have reverberated through job markets, supply chains, and financial structures.

A recent research working paper by Robert Fairlie at the University of California, Santa Cruz, provides the first estimates of the early-stage effects of COVID-19 on small business owners. It finds the number of working business owners plummeted from 15 million in February 2020 to 11.7 million in April 2020 because of COVID-19 mandates and demand shifts. The loss of 3.3 million business owners (or 22%) was the largest drop on record. Patterns across gender, race and immigrant status reveal interesting findings.

  • African-Americans experienced the largest losses, eliminating 41% of business owners.
  • Latinx also experienced major losses with 32% of business owners disappearing between February and April 2020.
  • Immigrant business owners suffered a large drop of 36%.
  • Asian business owners dropped by 26%.
  • Female business owners suffered a disproportionate drop of 25%.

People of color, women, immigrants, and those living in rural communities deserve better.

With candor and courage, we will turn anger into bold action, despair into duty, and injustice into justice.

At the Kauffman Foundation, we will lead with bold steps. Systems change in social justice and equity are embedded in our entrepreneurship strategy. Our work seeks to break down the systemic barriers that obstruct and confound the equitable, fair, and deserved opportunities for people from all walks of life. We seek transformative models and strategies that will guide the trajectory of the Foundation’s work.

At its best, entrepreneurship can lead the way to the inclusive economic development we desperately need. In a few weeks, we will be taking the next steps in promoting capital access with innovative financing mechanisms designed to reach underserved entrepreneurs. This approach is built to encourage early-stage investment and seed the growth of a community of practice in alternative funding. From our work in communities, with mayors and local economic development leaders, with our entrepreneurship support organization partners, and of course with entrepreneurs themselves, we remain committed to testing and building new models, methods, and programs that can reach deep into the root causes of the problems we must address.

The framework for our rebuild is reaching every sector of our society. We see philanthropy’s purpose and privilege at a crossroads. Leaders are writing thoughtful pieces suggesting we are ready for a reset. I hope philanthropy continues to collectively think through and fully commit to systems change. We cannot follow a pedantic five-step routine and grant our way to a solution. We will find our way forward by walking through streets in our communities and meeting our neighbors. We will learn what they need by listening and fully understanding the inequities and economic disadvantage that are brought about through the long-standing systems designed to exclude people. With candor and courage, we will turn anger into bold action, despair into duty, and injustice into justice.

This week, following the celebration of our independence as a nation, let’s reset our efforts to recognize the unity of purpose that connects us.

These moments are rare. This tectonic plate has shifted in our lifetime. Its full weight, and the adventure it holds, rests with us. All of us.

Today, for the chimes of our freedom to ring true for everyone, it’s not enough talk about our nation united. It’s time to put our unity to the test.

It’s time to hold America accountable to its ideals. And embrace and celebrate our interdependence.

Next