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Grant Oliphant , president, Heinz Endowments


Someone asked me on Oct. 12, whether the Endowments was making some kind of political statement in issuing a grant to support relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

I answered that, no, we were not. It has been the practice of this foundation for decades to reach beyond our usual regional giving focus when major catastrophe strikes another American community, which, lest we forget, Puerto Rico emphatically is.

The grants we make in these instances are typically tiny compared to the scale of need—$50,000 to the Community Foundation of San Juan, for example, and the same amount to a relief agency in Houston. But we make these grants to alleviate some degree of suffering and to express solidarity with another community in its hour of extraordinary need, just as we hope they would do if disaster were to strike the place in which we proudly make our lives.

Nothing seems more fundamentally American than that. We help each other. We come to the rescue of each other. We stand by each other. And sometimes we even march and kneel with each other, in prayer and in protest, in sorrow and in joy.

On a day when the president seemed once again to attack Puerto Ricans for the audacity of their suffering and reporters for exercising their First Amendment rights, I suppose I understand why someone might wonder if our grant for Puerto Rico was some kind of a political statement.

In this era of demonization as official policy, of leaders plucking at our biases like ugly strings on Hell’s own guitar, what defense of the vulnerable, the poor, or the non-White, what protest of police brutality, what rally for the planet and its people, what basic act of understanding and compassion, cannot be conveniently cast as political?

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