Carlo Delumpa is an SVP Partner, Board of Director, and he chairs our Equity Committee. He is a strong advocate of our work in advancing racial equity and capacity building, and has been an SVP Partner since 2012. Below is his “equity journey” story.
My father immigrated to the United States from the Philippines after World War II at the age of eight. He and his siblings, and my grandmother, were fortunate to be granted U.S. citizenship thanks to my grandfather’s service in the U.S. Army under General Macarthur as an officer in one of the most brutal theaters in the war. “Grandpa” was assigned to a U.S. army base in Atlanta, Georgia, at the height of segregation. My dad was persuaded by a judge to forsake his given name, Guillermo, to take “…William, a more pronounceable, “American” name. Seemed like a small price to pay to live the American dream.
But can you imagine what it would have been like to be a person in the color in the deep south in the 40’s and 50’s? Especially since Filipinos were pretty rare there back then – they weren’t white but they weren’t black either. My dad was sent to the back of the bus by the white people, and sent to the front of the bus by the black people. So he sat in the middle. And eventually he developed relationships with mainly the white kids and their families.
Given the rampant racism in that part of the country at that time in history, what group would you have chosen to ally with? In many ways, it was about survival. Dad does speak fondly of those days, of the friends he made, some of whom are lifelong. He used to tell me that “once you let people get to know you, then they’ll welcome you into their homes”. Still, he had to fight through the racism – sometimes literally.
By the time my sister, brother and I came around, our family was fully “Americanized”, which had its advantages. We grew up in the SF Bay Area, Dad became a professional civil engineer, and my mother was a stay-at-home mom running a seamstress business out of our home. We went to catholic schools, we had two cars and an RV, had a nice home in Sunnyvale, and took driving vacations to exotic places like Canada. I was class president in my freshman and sophomore years in high school and was elected student body president in my senior year. We all went to college (actually all three of us kids went to UC Davis), and went on to have our own families and professional careers. By many standards we lived a life of privilege. We were a middle class family and wanting for nothing.
I never really thought about how my dad’s choices of peer group, in his early days in the United States, had influenced my life. Growing up, I just thought that’s the way things were. When I look back at it now, the impact was profound – it changed the way I regard myself, the way I show up with people, the way I dress, the way I talk. It shaped how my siblings and I were raised and eventually who we became. We were – and still consider ourselves to be – part of the dominant culture. If you closed your eyes and listened to me speak, you would never guess that I have brown skin.
Honestly, I am thankful for the opportunities that growing up allied with the dominant culture opened up for me. I have experienced racism, have gotten passed over for promotions by guys less qualified than me, and I pick up on microaggressions pretty much every day. But the belief that I am part of the “in-crowd”, along with the many friends who are my support system – mostly white – has afforded me a certain level of safety from the barrage of oppression that exists in communities of color.
It wasn’t until later in my life that I really began to embrace my own culture, and how I am different. It wasn’t until later, working with Social Venture Partners Portland (SVPP), that I began to understand what it’s like to be a person of color within the dominant culture. Given the social and political climate, it’s hard not to experience that contrast. It’s only lately that I’ve truly found my way to Equity.
Which brings me to the right here, right now and the work I’ve been doing with a bunch of courageous folks in SVPP. I co-lead our Equity Committee as an SVPP Board Member. Through learning opportunities within SVPP, and with our community partners, I began to truly understand the impact that disparities within the social, economic and educational systems have on underrepresented minorities.
These are the same disparities I would have faced had my dad and Grandpa made different choices about their community over seventy years ago. And through the work we’ve done alongside non-profits in communities of color, I have learned to embrace my own identity, appreciate my own advantages, and take the first steps into my leadership in recognizing, calling out and assisting in changing systems of oppression.
That’s what Equity work is all about. It’s a mindset – a philosophy – about making changes in systems so everyone has access to resources to satisfy their essential needs, advance their well-being and achieve their full potential. It’s not about charity. It’s not about wealth redistribution. It’s about changing the systems that are causing the disparities in the first place.
Why is this so important? Because we all win when everyone achieves their full potential – when our children thrive in their early learning years and emerge ready to discover their full potential. When they graduate from school career-ready. When their careers and businesses thrive in our community. Our shared prosperity depends on everyone’s participation. And that’s the real thrust of the work we do at Social Venture Partners Portland.
My own path with Equity became clear only a few years ago. This was not an overnight transformation, and as anyone who does the work will tell you, Equity work happens from the inside out. One must reflect on their own advantages and privileges, the impact they have on the world in how they show up, and how far they are willing to go to become an ally to those who do not enjoy the same access to resources and opportunities. It’s hard work, believe me, and the good thing is that there are many others who have gone before us that leave us a breadcrumb trail on how to begin our own journeys in Equity:
- Educate Yourself – This is perhaps the hardest part for many people; it certainly was for me. It’s difficult – indeed heartbreaking – to witness and understand how systems are rigged in both obvious and subtle ways to shuttle resources and opportunities away from underrepresented minorities. It oftentimes comes with an extra helping of guilt – if you’re really looking you will feel uncomfortable. I encourage you to not look away, to stand in the discomfort and let it be the juice for you to make small changes in your thinking, feeling and intentions that lead to empathy and compassion. At this step, that’s all you need to do.
- Surround Yourself with Allies – With Equity work, there truly is safety in numbers. Injustices at the magnitude you will begin to realize will seem absolutely overwhelming and you will feel helpless from time to time. That’s where standing shoulder to shoulder with allies in this work help to build a sense of solidarity and community. I am thankful for my colleagues in SVPP’s Equity Committee and there are countless groups in our community committed to similar ideals and outcomes. Just reach out, you will discover a wealth of resources and a network of support for your own journey.
- Do the Work – I spend a lot of time in my head thinking about this stuff. And while it is so important to be introspective about how racial, gender, lifestyle, social and economic injustices impact my life and those I care about, there is no better teacher than getting into the field and doing the work. Your company may already have programs or partnerships within the community that provide you with convenient avenues to get plugged in and bring your gifts and talent to the work. The world needs you – to show up as who you are and be part of something larger that will lift us all up.
- Renew – The enormity of the task and frictions we encounter can tend to wear one down and feel deflated from time to time. That’s a natural part of any change. Remember your wins and those of the community around you. Celebrate the differences. Learn new things about people and cultures that may at first appear strange and different from you. And remind yourself that many of us want the same thing – to live in peace where we are able to bring our best selves to our work and communities and raise the next generation to be better than we are.
Equity work – equal access to resources and breaking down systems of oppression – seems simple enough but it’s far from easy. This is why I think of Equity as a journey and not a destination. The most important thing is to take the first step, open your eyes and look at how things really are in your community, at work and even at home. The world needs you, especially now, to be the transformation. The doing will naturally follow. As for me, my journey continues and I know that I am far from the destination. But I hold out hope that in my lifetime our collective efforts will lead to a real transformation and we can leave this world a better place than we found it.