Philanthropy Journal of North Carolina – Time to get moving

By Todd Cohen

Charities do our grunt work.

They take on society’s toughest jobs while struggling to make ends meet.

And because they work in the trenches, they know intimately the crushing problems we face.

Charities now need to take on another tough job and push all of us to stop hiding from our problems and instead work together to fix them.

Americans live in denial. We won’t look at the failure in our midst or take the steps needed to build healthy and caring communities.

Worse still, we muzzle ourselves for fear of offending people with power and money.

So we play the game, using sanitized jargon to avoid saying what’s wrong and what needs to be done to fix it.

In North Carolina, for example, we face huge problems. To name a few:

* More than one in three North Carolinians earns less than needed to achieve a basic standard of living.

* Our infant-mortality rate was third-highest in the U.S. in 1999.

* We ranked first in cases of syphilis in 1998.

* We smoke more than the rest of the U.S., with tobacco use accounting for 40 percent of all preventable deaths and $2.1 billion in health costs and lost productivity.

Yet faced with plunging tax revenues, our leaders grope blindly for taxpayer dollars while slashing funds for critical services.

Instead of confronting our crisis, defining what our state should be and mapping how to get there, Gov. Mike Easley last year tried – and failed – to apply the tourniquet of a state lottery.

And rather than asking Americans to make sacrifices to take on the enormous social and global challenges we face, President Bush wants to lower taxes, particularly for wealthy people.

It’s time to speak the truth, and charities need to lead the way.

Seeing first-hand the ills that rot our communities, charities serve both as clinics to treat those ills and as labs to test antidotes to them.

Now they need to be our watchdogs as well, speaking out about what’s wrong, how to make it right and what it will cost.

Leadership today is a gaping hole: Voters don’t vote. Taxpayers won’t share. Academics can’t act. And politicians won’t take risks.

Charities can fill the void by helping us see why and how we should invest the dollars, time and know-how needed to make change happen.

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