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Sixteen months ago, Cone Health Foundation welcomed Jamilla Pinder to our staff in the newly created role of Director of Equity and Community Engagement. The purpose of this new role is to help the Board and staff deepen its ability to listen more and have the Foundation’s work guided by those with lived experiences of inequities.

Jamilla’s prior twenty-four-year tenure with Cone Health’s safety-net clinics have given her a front row seat as to how systemic inequities have affected Greensboro. Recently, we took some time to chat with Jamilla and posed the question (with apologies to Oprah): What do you know for sure after 16 months of community engagement? This is Jamilla’s response.

“First and foremost, there is privilege associated with working with a Foundation. That may sound like a harsh statement. The truth is that power and privilege are simply a part of philanthropy’s history. My primary job is to listen to the community and its leaders and allow that context to inform the Foundation’s strategies. Only then can we change systems and improve lives.”

“Showing up really matters. The opportunity to attend 25 faith-based gatherings, 112 coalition meetings, and over 50 nonprofit site visits has given me a deeper understanding of the depth and breadth of the work going on to move Greensboro in the direction that looks more like the one we want to live in – where everyone has the opportunity for health. That also means that I show up authentically curious and freely admit – I don’t have all the answers and I am willing to hear what’s working and what’s not.”

“This work is not neat. Community change invites us to bring our full selves to everything we do, and that is often messy, and meandering, and always evolving. However, the pain and suffering caused by the pandemic serves as reminder of the ‘fierce urgency of now.’ That balance of extending grace to ourselves and others as we engage in the hard but necessary work of improving the quality of life for all is my daily search.”

“People are weary. They are not interested in one more survey or one more report. They know the needs in Greensboro. Yet organizations are asked to work miracles when they are underfunded, and therefore underpowered to deliver on important work – like feeding and housing people. The reality is systems and structures created entrenched problems. They will not be fixed in a one-year grant cycle. Nonprofit organizations need to be flexible and responsive as conditions demand. Those critical elements cannot be accomplished unless the organization has the committed long-term funding that allows them to plan, budget, and execute a long-term strategy.

“I am excited about Cone Health Foundation’s future. Our Board and staff are working to get this right. We want to move funding so that it creates a future in which health inequities no longer exist in Greensboro and not just focus on treating symptoms but also working on root causes. Join us!”