The widening inequality gap we are witnessing as we emerge from the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic and the attention being paid to the killings of Black Americans including Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and, most recently, George Floyd remind us of the absolute necessity of continuing the work to create a society that supports and values each of its members equally. How can we build a society based around compassionate communities, whose members are motivated and empowered to take action to actively improve the world for their fellow human beings?
At a recent panel hosted by Idealist, a VolunteerMatch partner, Leslie Gordon from the New York Food Bank shared her opinion that the first step in becoming socially active is education and awareness. Educating ourselves about current events and causes in need is one of the most powerful things we can do. It’s also how engagement begins.
We have seen how the recent protests around the world have awakened and impassioned a much greater segment of our population to consider the long history of injustice and racism that exists in the U.S. The realities of financial inequality whose roots lie in this history, and the increasing duties of citizens and CEOs alike to address this topic, are also becoming more talked about in mainstream media: according to McKinsey & Co., black Americans can expect to earn up to $1 million less than white Americans over their lifetime.
During a recent CNBC interview, Mellody Hobson, president and co-CEO of Ariel Investments and a member of the board of directors at Starbucks, JPMorgan Chase and Quibi said, “So much of this unrest, this civil unrest, is tied to economic inequality. That’s just a fact. We need to move the needle on this economic inequality. The role of the CEO and the role of the corporation has changed, and while many may want to sit out on these issues, they can’t. They literally can’t.”
How can we continue to build awareness around the inequality we are facing? How do we address this collectively in our organizations? How as leaders of organizations are we supporting diversity? What actions can we each take today? Posting on social media, talking with friends, sharing an article, writing a blog post or volunteering— there are so many small and large steps we can take to increase awareness around these issues. As individuals, it’s up to us to be the change we want to see.
During one of VolunteerMatch’s panels honoring National Volunteer Week in April this year, Father Michael Pfleger asked, “We’re responsible for each other, and we need to understand the difference between charity and justice. We want to help people, feed people, clothe people. That’s absolutely necessary. And we have to be as committed to the justice of transforming those unequal playing fields as we are to the feeding of the hungry and of the clothing. Coming out of the virus, we better be just as committed. Now that we’ve exposed, again, the inequality, what are we going to do so that we do not have communities that are neglected and abandoned?”
Truly understanding the issues and the needs of our communities starts with educating ourselves, whether it’s online or from a book, documentary or podcast. Reaching out to nonprofits or talking with each other — whether that’s with friends, family, co-workers, or people in our community who are knowledgeable about these issues — is also vital to show our appreciation and concern for one another. As we learn more, we determine what we are passionate about, what resonates with us, and where we can truly make a difference.
During the same panel in April for National Volunteer Week 2020, actor and activist Hill Harper commented, “We can talk about volunteerism. And we can talk about folks who want to serve. But it’s a different level when someone has literally dedicated their entire walk to just that. Back to the Father’s [Pfleger] point about communities that are disproportionately negatively impacted. They are the same communities that we’ve disproportionately ignored. When we think about service, I think we have to think about disproportionate impact, what we can do for the communities that need it the most.”
Harper has been working to lend his time and status as a well-known public figure to bring awareness and action to the ongoing Flint water crisis. His efforts are a great inspiration in showing the power each of us as individuals can have if we take action around things we’re passionate about: he has been able to help raise thousands of dollars and has brought thousands of bottles of clean drinking water to the community.
In thinking about our own individual efforts, particularly during this time where such a light is on social and racial justice issues, access issues such as Harper is highlighting in Flint are often a good place to start, as Merck chairman and CEO Ken Frazier reminds us:
“This crisis has been brewing for hundreds of years, and we’re going to have to really step up to it,” Frazier said Monday on CNBC’s “Squawk Box. “We need to acknowledge that there are huge opportunity gaps that are still existing in this country. There are 5 million inner-city and other African-American kids who want access to the economy. They want to be participants. They want to be citizens…They lack the education, and there are opportunities.”
How Can I Help Today?
There are a variety of ways each of us can volunteer to fight injustices and discrimination. How can you best use your skills and energy to fight injustices and discrimination? Where do you see you can make the most impact? As an organization, what nonprofits could you partner with that are working towards widening the opportunities for everyone?
Check out some of the broad, searchable cause areas on VolunteerMatch:
- Race and Ethnicity: With 4,500 volunteers needed within race and ethnicity, you have a variety of options to use your time to help your community.
- Justice and Legal: There are many ways that you can give to help others within the justice and legal cause area. With more than 76,000 volunteers needed, you can find ways to make our world more just and kind.
- Advocacy and Human Rights: Over 513,000 volunteers are needed for causes related to advocacy and human rights.
- Pride Month: June is Pride Month and over 7,500 volunteers are needed to support Pride-related causes and organizations.
Many people are suffering because of dramatic shifts in their lives in a post-pandemic world, and because of injustices they are experiencing. It’s powerful to give people the gift of listening, even though it’s such a simple act. Being there to support and provide a sympathetic and empathetic ear deeply touches people’s lives when they need it most. Knowing that someone cares to listen and empathize with our struggles — whether those be around social injustice, loss of income, sickness, loneliness or other stresses — can give each of us hope.
Here are a few opportunities that you could help with if you’re interested in mental wellness and support:
- Crisis Text Line: There are 2,000 volunteers needed to support people in crisis all virtually via text. Volunteer Crisis Counselors are trained in techniques to bring them from a hot moment to a cool calm through active listening, collaborative problem solving, and safety planning.
- Mentoring: Whether mentoring someone professionally or youth, you are helping to give people hope and plan for their future. 324,500 mentors and mentoring-related volunteers are needed today!
- Suicide Prevention: Given the additional pressures of an always-on media cycle which can trigger re-traumattization, and ongoing worry about the pandemic and its impacts, many people are having an even more difficult time than usual. Become one of the 2,000 volunteers needed to help promote mental well-being and prevent suicide.
Across the U.S. the demand for food is going up. For example, the New York Food Bank normally serves 1.5 million people with 90 million pounds of food per year. With the New York unemployment rate at 14%, increase in the demand for food has been between 50%-200% depending on the area with many people who have never used the support of the food bank before. Annually, the New York Food Bank is supported by 20,000 volunteers, but many of these volunteers are from corporations or from the older population, so because of COVID-19, it created a large gap. The New York Food Bank is just one example of a growing number of organizations in the U.S. that need volunteer help.
Consider giving of your time to organizations supporting food security such as:
- Our nation’s Food Banks: Close to 23,000 volunteers are needed today and food banks are doing a great job innovating to create safe ways to volunteer in-person following CDC guidance.
- Meals on Wheels: Nearly 14,000 volunteers are wanted to deliver meals to seniors in your community.
- Food Drives: Food drives are always a great way to support food security, and today on VolunteerMatch, we have almost 22,000 volunteers needed in this area.
- Homeless and Housing: Over 101,000 volunteers are currently needed to support people in need of safe, fair housing.
VolunteerMatch was built to help strengthen communities by providing a platform for organizations in our neighborhoods working towards justice, equality, and dignity an opportunity to recruit their neighbors to their causes. For 22 years, we have worked to build those relationships, and it’s clear that this work is more important than ever before. Join us in taking action to fight inequality.
Volunteering During COVID-19 EBook
A Compilation Of Quantitative And Qualitative Data On Volunteering During COVID-19
Get insights into the new reality of volunteering during and beyond COVID-19 with early findings from the growing body of knowledge we are assembling — part of a series we’ll continue to pulse on over the coming months. Plus, a few tips on what to be aware of when shaping your programs.