Political activism for social justice has always been an important part of our life. We both became radicals while we were still in high school in the 1960’s and were deeply involved in the civil rights and anti-war movements. After we married, we worked together in a radical legal collective that represented movement people; anti war activists, Black Panthers, and labor activists.
When the energy of the 60’s and 70’s dissipated, our values didn’t change, but we had to find new ways to express them. Instead of working on revolution and protest, we began putting down roots and building power in our communities. We have always been dedicated to organizing, so when we found ourselves in a position to contribute financially as well as with our sweat equity, organizing is what we supported. Giving for us is simply a natural extension of our commitment to a progressive political agenda.
Initially, most of the money we gave came from Paula’s father, who was a very successful businessman. One of the reasons we feel so comfortable giving his money away is that we for sure didn’t earn it; we inherited it. We both have a huge amount of respect for Paula’s father. He worked hard for his money, but he never thought he was better than anyone else. He died very young, but I think he would be happy to see his money being used to help others have a shot at the American Dream. More recently, Barry has won some big cases, and we have used his earnings to support additional giving.
Looking back, we were lucky to have family money. Even though we had three kids when we were very young, we were not focused on our personal financial security. Barry was free to use his law degree to defend workers rights and civil rights instead of working just to make a living. It took us a while to feel good about our money. In the culture of the sixties and seventies the attitude was that rich people were terrible, and we kept quiet about our wealth. But one of the great things about being involved in community organizing is that you realize that money does not determine character. There are poor people who are jerks and rich people who are wonderful, and vice versa. When you are working together for social change it doesn’t really matter where you come from and what you have, its what you contribute that counts. We use our money for really good things and we’re no longer embarrassed about it.
In the 1980’s Paula was invited to join the Liberty Hill Community Funding Board. It was a place where she could combine her passion and skills. It was so fulfilling, that in 1992 she left managing Barry’s law firm and began working as a volunteer staff person at the Liberty Hill Foundation. Liberty Hill was a perfect fit for us. Their model is change: not charity. We have watched Liberty Hill grow from a small struggling public foundation to a powerful anchor institution supporting social change in the city of LA. It feels good to know that Liberty Hill will be here long after we are gone.
Change is a long-term process, so the groups we fund are there for the long haul, learn from their experience, and build power and impact. Our funding is very focused and consistent. We support community organizing for racial and economic justice, and civil right. Virtually all of our funding is through our donor advised fund at the Liberty Hill Foundation.
For example, Community Coalition was founded right after the Rodney King civil unrest in South LA. The neighborhood was violent, dangerous, ripped apart by drugs and crime; lives were being destroyed every day. A friend of ours, Karen Bass, who is now a Congresswoman, said, “If we are all so concerned about the people in South Africa and Nicaragua, why aren’t we doing more for our own community?” The Community Coalition went door-to-door, listening to people in South LA and finding out what they needed. They started by shutting down crack houses and liquor stores. Now, twenty years later, they are running an amazing youth leadership program and the neighborhood is so much healthier. The Community Coalition shows why supporting leadership from within the community is so important.
Over time we realized that we could do more than give to help the organizations that we cared about; we could fundraise for them. All work requires money as a part of moving forward. We gradually learned how to fundraise, even though it took a little time to get for us to get comfortable in that role. It’s just another way to give back to our community, which is what we have always done. Although everyone can find ways to give to their communities, we are lucky enough to be able give money too. Some people think that you need to give a lot of money to make a difference. But frankly, the fact that a group can count on your $50 or $100 or $250 donation year after year is very meaningful to that organization. Any amount you give is a valuable amount and will make you feel good.