Reflections on Intolerance

By Bruce McNamer, President and CEO

While on vacation in Europe last month, I spent the day touring the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp in Poland.  For me it was such a powerful, if still inadequate, reminder of the scale and brutally systematic nature of the crime perpetrated there by the Nazis – and of their unapologetic, explicit, even prideful buy-in to hatred and cruelty and dehumanization on an epic scale.  Pure, unmitigated, unequivocal, racist evil.

The very next day, I was shocked, saddened and angered to learn of the violent march of self-proclaimed neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville.  By the end of the day, one of their own had killed one woman and injured many others. Pure, unmitigated, unequivocal, racist evil lives. 

I expect the horror of Charlottesville was brought home to each of us in different ways.  I didn’t need to go to Poland to be outraged.  But being there sure brought home the stakes to me.

Every day I am thankful to live in a country that was founded on the principles of freedom of assembly, speech, religion, and the press. Unfortunately, as of late, we are too often reminded that this freedom also extends to hate speech and even the most evil ideas.  But allowing such expression must be the extent of our accommodation.  To “see both sides,” to tolerate violent intolerance, to morally equivocate, to be silent in the face of evil … is to side with evil.  

I am heartened and inspired by the millions of people from across our country and around the world who have spoken out to condemn this display of evil, as well as the hate and intolerance that seem to have found new license in recent months. I believe our country is resilient, most of its people decent, and that our founding ideals of liberty, justice, and equality will sustain us in spite of these assaults upon them.   

But that will be the case only so long as we don’t stand passively by.  That has been tried before, in places like Germany. If you are concerned, and wondering what you can do, there are ways that you can help make a difference for our most vulnerable neighbors.

Here at the Greater Washington Community Foundation we serve as a bridge, connecting donors who want to make our community stronger and more vibrant with nonprofits that are serving the most critical needs throughout the region. In February, we partnered with the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation to launch the Resilience Fund to ensure our region’s communities are resilient and supported in the face of federal policy and budget shifts. Through this Fund we are responding to the critical needs of nonprofits working to address changes that are disproportionately impacting people of color, immigrant and refugee communities. Our first round of grants was awarded last month to help the region’s networks of community organizations working to support immigrant communities affected by changes in international travel, immigration, and deportation policies. For our next round of grants, we seek to address intolerance, incivility, and the uptick in violent incidents linked to race, religion, national origin, and other differences.

How can you join this effort?

Stand with Us Against Intolerance on Sept. 12  

The Resilience Fund Steering Committee invites you to join a Stakeholders Briefing on September 12 from 10-11:30 am at the Meyer Foundation. Learn how our neighbors are being affected by policy recommendations and increases in incidents of bias and bigotry. Explore what steps we can take as a community to stand together against intolerance.

Guest panelists will include: Nicole Cozier, director of diversity and inclusion at the Human Rights Campaign; Doron Ezickson, D.C. regional director of the Anti-Defamation League; Hurunnessa Fariad, interfaith/outreach/communications coordinator for the ADAMS Center; and Dr. Rashawn Ray, sociology professor at the University of Maryland. Please  RSVP here to receive more event details.

Join Us by Making a Donation

Contribute to the Fund and join with others who seek to advance community-based solutions that support community cohesion, work to limit intolerance, and address federal policy changes that are adversely affecting residents and families in the Greater Washington region. We initially set a goal of raising $500,000 for this effort — a goal which we have already surpassed thanks to the generosity and compassion of our community of givers. We now aim to raise $1 million with your help. You may give directly to the Fund through an online donation form available here, or as a fund-to-fund transfer in Donor Central if you are an existing donor to The Community Foundation.  

This is just the beginning of our efforts. It is more important now than ever that we stand together to fight intolerance and build community cohesion for lasting change.

Thank you for being part of our community of givers and for your own commitment to our neighbors.


Bruce McNamer
President & CEO