Dear Generation Citizen Community-
Last week, I joined a Zoom call with some of our young people – alumni of our GC program going back several years, calling in from places as diverse as Oklahoma City and Queens, NY and San Francisco – facilitated by our Student Leadership Board. The students discussed how they were doing, how their respective states were responding to the crisis, and the challenges they were seeing in their communities. Some talked about a lack of coordination between schools and families, resulting in many students still without laptops for distance learning. Others worried about summer jobs programs being shut down already, and wondered how they would earn money in the coming months. Others were helping their communities with food drives and advocating for more food security.
It was a powerful reminder that now, more than ever, we need to put our young people front and center. Putting young people first has always been core to Generation Citizen’s mission and who we are. It’s what we’ll continue to do, while being humble about our role in the midst of such a difficult moment for so many, and an environment that is changing daily. We are answering this call through a variety of initiatives, and actively working with others in the civics education arena.
We will also be mindful of how we show up, which I’m attempting to do in this communication. Transparently. With integrity. And, for what it’s worth, in this incredibly hard time, I think empathy, kindness, and generosity are crucial. I don’t mean this in a glib way- this moment is so hard on so many. Which is precisely why how we show up, to each other, to our communities, matters.
Ultimately, we do believe that the one entity that really does have the ability to address crises of this magntitude is the government – and it has failed us across the board with its response to this crisis. It did not keep us safe in the face of overwhelming evidence that the virus would overwhelm the country. It has not prioritized keeping employees in their jobs. It has not provided adequate resources for education in this critical moment, perpetuating a digital divide.
In the wake of all of this, we’ll need to rebuild a government that is more responsive to the needs of its people, especially those most vulnerable. This is work I believe GC, and the young people we partner with, are poised to help lead. We will work to ensure that the voices of young people, who are entering a historically bad economy, are front and center in this new democracy. And we will work to ensure that educators across the country have the resources and preparation to steward this next generation of citizens into our democracy.
Like many nonprofits and small businesses across the country, the economic downturn will be challenging for Generation Citizen. We had a 10-year gala planned for April 22nd that we are postponing until Spring, 2021. We know it will be harder to fundraise from individuals who are hard hit by this recession, that foundation endowments will decrease, and that school budgets will be especially hard hit. We are taking swift action to mitigate these risks: we have cut spending wherever possible, applied for an SBA (potentially forgivable) loan. I have personally taken a 50% salary cut. We know the road ahead will be tough, and more than ever, we’ll need your continued support.
Your investment in GC is a big reason we’re poised now to be a civic resource to our communities. Knowing that in this moment, work to strengthen our democracy is as important as ever, we’ve launched a “Democracy Doesn’t Pause” initiative to:
- Provide Resources: Will will create, promote, and widely distribute civics education resources for educators and caregivers to engage their students during distance learning. We will also deepen our virtual support of GC teachers. We have already launched three lessons focused on young people taking action which you can see here. We also will explore a more collaborative framework with other civics education organizations to jointly curate resources in this time period.
- Facilitate Connections: At a time when we are all isolated we will create opportunities for authentic connection amongst students, educators, parents and caregivers, policymakers, and supporters. These may be informal gatherings (like our recent call with Student Leadership Board members.) We will also plan more formally organized events, like virtual convenings in each of our regions to promote dialogue between youth and their local government officials, and taking our postponed SXSWEdu panels online.
- Sustain Engagement: We will create and/or share tools, resources, and platforms for all of our constituents and their communities to sustain active civic engagement and to participate in our evolving civic landscape. We will provide virtual Census lessons and refresh our Beyond the Ballot toolkit for ways to participate electorally beyond voting.
I had planned to step down from my role as CEO on June 30th. We have an active search, and that search is continuing. But I offered to the Board to stay on until Generation Citizen is on a more stable footing, and they accepted that offer. I do so not to prolong my leadership, as I still believe that personally and professionally, a transition is necessary. But in this moment, I do want to ensure I am doing all I can to ensure the organization is set up to succeed in the future, and would not be able to guarantee that were I to transition now.
I am proud of how the GC team and staff have shown up in the past few weeks. We have parents on staff who are balancing work with caregiving. We have program staff whose job duties have suddenly been turned upside down, and who are leaning in to new areas of responsibility. For others, it’s figuring out fundraising in this hard economic environment.
Everyone is dealing with some challenges right now. One of my favorite speeches is from David Foster Wallace- “This is Water” which he gave as a commencement speech at Kenyon College in 2005. The basic gist is that we are often unaware of the totality of how any person shows up to an interaction, and we can choose how to respond in kind. Someone can be cranky to you, and you can be annoyed back at them. Or you can have empathy, and understand that there might be a lot behind the surface that informs their state of mind at the moment.
I’ll try to show up with that empathy right now. And GC will continue to try to address the rising need and be a resource in this unprecedented moment.