Kent McGuire: I do think it’s right … I’m inclined to say it this way, Na’ilah, I’ve endeavored to reveal the complexity that is real, that is actually there. Right? Which, of course then makes trying to work on it from a philanthropic perch more complicated, right? The incentives, oddly, in philanthropy, I would argue, push you to run away from the complexity.
I’m sort of proud of the moves I’ve tried to make to engage the complexity that is real. And I’m more than a little anxious about how to develop the impact story that I know Hewlett wants to be able to tell. Right? We work for defined periods of time, which gives me even more urgency with respect to that. I don’t want to be one of the few people of color to sort of come in and lead a program and then do it so badly that the only thing I persuaded the foundation is they should turn their attention to a different problem.
Na’ilah Suad Nasir: I hear you, I hear that, because that’s always the anxiety, right? That like, I’m not going to live up to this thing, especially when your hire has these symbolic aspects to it where people are really rooting for you and wanting to see what you’re going to do that’s going to be different. But I imagine the more realistic risk around the impact measurability problem, is that when you’re working on these complex problems of inequality, of racial inequality, you plant the seeds that then get built upon. And whether those seeds are changing the discourse of how we’re diagnosing the problem of building new kinds of knowledge-sharing networks and collaborations for school leaders, that stuff is … The things we are going to do that are going to create real change, there’s a longer time horizon to that change.
I guess the question is, are we comfortable understanding that problems like racial inequality that took generations to build and seed into the fabric of the United States, may take generations to get out of? And our job isn’t to fix it, because that’s not feasible, and if we think we can do that, then we’re fooling ourselves and trying to fool everybody else with us. But our job is to turn the tide and figure out what some of the core building blocks are. And that feels like in some ways, what’s been so special about this time, about this kind of post-2020 with the pandemic and the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. There’s all of a sudden a more widespread recognition that these problems are big and deep and long-standing, and we have to dig in.
Kent McGuire: Hewlett does take the long view. This nuanced dance between picking really important, complex problems and working on them over time, while bringing fresh eyes to those problems along the way.
There’s a measure of personal accountability about the things I want to make sure happen, but I’m not worried Hewlett is going to turn and run … In fact, one might argue that the foundation is visibly making bigger commitments around questions of race, inequity, and justice that extend beyond the Education Program.