For me meeting and reconnecting with people nearly always presents opportunities to see the world and myself differently. I am constantly inspired by networks driven by the desire to help each other and others. This week was no different. I had the chance to spend a few hours with a group of non-profit execs and leaders from around the country. Incredible leaders who selflessly devote themselves to causes and issues that will transform lives.
Some were just starting their roles, others were veterans, and still others were private sector refugees. But they all decided to work in arenas that they care about and where their work has impact. First of all the non-profit sector is blessed to have so many talented selfless people working tirelessly and out of the lime light providing the safety net for the less fortunate. But the world of non-profits is so much worse off than the general economy. Consider a “business” where the demand for service far exceeds the supply—sounds like a winner, right? No way. The challenge is how to pay for increasing the services, when your clientele is defined by need.The non-profit business model requires donations from individuals, corporations and foundations. Those sources are depleted. And donations to non-profits has never followed the economy on the way up and always lead the way down. So there is a serious, and probably invisible to you, disintegration of the infrastructure for the poor.
When you listen to the economic prognosticators you hear that the stock market has rebounded 60% since March, housing prices are up ticking, consumer confidence is leveling off, and corporate profit forecasts are improving. Contrast that with the beneath the radar hidden basement of the poor and uninsured. This is where the trifecta of cancerous challenges lurks: unemployed, uninsured, and poor. This population now represents tens of millions of families! It grows like a hidden tumor delivering great pain and suffering-now and will continue well into the future. And so the cavernous abyss between the haves and have nots also grows despite the economic improvements. The burden and cost of our poor will continue to undermine any long term sustainable growth.
One critical fact is being submerged in the uncivil war of words over health care, non-profits are the backbone for health services for the individuals and families that need them most. It is a special and vital network that is being washed away by the after effects of the financial tsunami. But all hope has not been extinguished.
Recently I had the chance to visit UMMA, the University Muslim Medical Association in south LA. UMMA was founded in 1996 by a bunch of Muslim students at UCLA, who wanted to carry their university experience into the community and pursue their faith by serving others. The followed their hearts and their minds and their religious teachings to build a clinic in one of the toughest and most under-served parts of Los Angeles. In what appears to be a small storefront office that looks more like a used car lot than a medical facility from the outside, but a state of the art clinic that will serve more than 16000 people this year on the inside. The staff is majority Muslim, almost all of the doctors are Muslim, who volunteer their time and expertise, but the clients are whomever in the neighborhood needs medical treatment – few if any are Muslim. They have quietly and consistently grown their clinic into a model for the country and today there are 26 similar Muslim clinics across the nation. So hundreds of thousands of non-Muslim Americans receive free or low-cost health care because of these clinics.
As the health care debate rages on and there is so much dis-information and misunderstanding. But standing in the waiting room of UMMA, you see the overwhelming need, you see diverse faces of people who have no other choices. Who probably do not know or care that UMMA is run by Muslims. They are grateful that there is now a facility in their environs which is devoid of hospitals and other medical facilities. Here is a side of the Muslim community that gets no visibility. Stereotypes and sensational newscasts hurt this community and its ability to become equal participants in our country. But like all pernicious stereotypes, the truth is massacred. The real people have to live amongst these vicious half truths everyday. It hurts their self esteem, it hurts their identity as Americans, it hurts their connection to us all. Yet at UMMA, Muslim Americans tirelessly work to carry on their deeply held religious belief in service of others. They seek no publicity or accolades, although they deserve our appreciation and support.
What we learn over and over again is that ignorance and prejudice ominously stand in the way of our ability to work together and find solutions to common problems. Regrettably, we think we get along with everyone else. We wrongly think we do not stereotype others. We are all colorblind. Racists are other people. Prejudice lives in other places. Once we face our own inner ignorance and ethnocentricities we can begin to embrace our human bond and the majesty of our interconnectedness. And recognize that differences are necessary to survive.Then we can truly leverage and reap the benefits from our humankindness.
We rely on an invisible network of non-profits, often managed by and funded by people we do not know and in some cases we do not respect. Should we care? Absolutely.
Thanks for reading (and enduring my sermons) John