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The legacy of George Esser

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By Todd Cohen

Torn by poverty and intolerance, America needs leaders who will fight for social justice and human dignity.

George Esser, who died Nov. 5 at age 85, was a fighter.

A quiet scholar and community organizer whose effectiveness was rooted in his dedication and decency, Esser in the mid-1960s directed the North Carolina Fund, a statewide effort to address the interlocking problems of racism and poverty.

Funded by the Ford Foundation and inspired by the administration of Gov. Terry Sanford, the Fund in turn inspired or helped transform the focus of a broad range of nonprofits and foundations working for social change in our state.

Esser also served as a mentor and role model for leaders committed to razing the unfair and often ugly barriers to social progress in North Carolina and throughout the U.S.

Yet despite the impact and promise of the Fund and efforts like it, politicians pandering to selfish and self-absorbed taxpayers are withdrawing the helping hand that Esser believed society should extend to people in need.

And compared to George Esser’s commitment to change that is civil and inclusive, our social discourse has turned ugly and divisive.

To fix America, we need more leaders like George Esser.


Todd Cohen is the Editor and Publisher of the Philanthropy Journal.

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