Enterprise Community Partners Gotham City Gala,
November 12, 2013

Thank you, Terri, for that wonderful introduction—and for your extraordinary leadership. And thank you to everyone at Enterprise Community Partners for organizing tonight’s event—and for all the work you do in support of affordable housing in particular and smarter, more resilient, more just cities in general.

This evening, we celebrate Enterprise’s enormous progress. But we also meet at a decidedly progressive moment. We have a new mayor, with a new progressive mandate. Everyone is “talking transition”— whether its denizens of every borough excited at the prospect of a new beginning or our city’s leaders gathered at the meeting place down on Canal Street.

And, in the spirit of transition, of transformation, and of fresh starts—with high hopes, but also clear eyes—I’d like to “talk transition” myself: to offer just a few thoughts on our opportunity to make New York City a new beacon for social justice. It’s incumbent upon each of us to remind our neighbors why it’s in everyone’s interest to address inequality. Because we, right now, can set in motion a virtuous cycle of growth and mobility.

For those of us who care about social justice, there’s a who, a what, and a how to our work. Thanks to last week’s election, of course, we have a new who in Gracie Mansion (…or on 11th Street in Brooklyn, at Gracie Mansion’s hipster cousin). But the what and the how of our commitments remain the same: The challenges this city faced on November 4th did not suddenly disappear on November 5th. And the act of electing a new Mayor does not mean that inequality has miraculously vanished.

As I see it, the what of our work—the object of our efforts—is the cause of social justice: The great task of toiling against injustice until there is justice, and of evening out inequality, in all its forms, until there is equality. Income inequality, gender inequality, cultural inequality, educational inequality—I do not believe I am alone in believing that these are the most urgent issues we face today. Indeed, the problems are plentiful, and they are worsening. The mobility escalator has slowed for some, and completely stopped for too many.

In the case of New York City, this is especially true. The U.S. Census Bureau found that inequality is greater in our metro region than in any other area in the country. So the question of how—“how do we advance the cause of social justice?”—has never been more urgent.

Like so many of you, I believe that we need a new vision—one that champions vibrant, inclusive, equitable communities… one that recognizes the imperative of investing in our people in the name of sustainable, shared economic growth.

What does this mean, in practice, for New York City? It means transforming New York with several specific principles in mind:

  • New York can be a city that invests in its community infrastructure by providing fairer wages, quality education, and access to healthcare for everyone.
  • New York can be a city that reimagines community development by taking a holistic approach to affordable housing—examining the needs of those living on the streets, living in brownstones, and on every rung of the ladder in between.
  • New York can be a city powered by pro-growth strategies that promote economic mobility, sustainable businesses, and community partnerships.
  • New York can be a city developed through dialogue and collaboration—in a way that prioritizes green spaces, civic plazas, and a transit system that connects even its most far-flung citizens to meaningful, dignified work.
  • New York can be a city in which no voice is marginalized or silenced—not immigrant voices; not voices from communities of color. Every New Yorker has a right to help shape the policies, plans, and decisions that affect them.

And let me just say, for our part, the Ford Foundation is proud to be working with visionaries on the frontlines of all of these issues.

Now, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll all acknowledge that inequality cannot be fixed by one mayor or one foundation. It will take a concerted effort—from, and among, everyone—in order to make New York City a just city. It will take a community partnership. So, let’s renew and redouble our commitment to the what and to the how. Through aspiration, yes, but also through action.

We know that we have only a small window in which to affect real change—whether we’re new foundation presidents, or the new mayor.And we know that if we don’t make good on our promises—and fast—then enthusiasm will evaporate. Cynicism will creep back in. 

Let’s seize this progressive moment while we can.Our community needs all of your creativity and disruptive thinking to solve the challenges we face together.And I have no doubt that you’ll deliver it in spades.

Thank you so very much. Enjoy the evening.