Letter from Leadership

Actions speak louder than words, but words matter.

Language is quite powerful. A single word or phrase, if used correctly, can even unite a community around a common purpose and inspire action. We’ve been hearing a lot of one such word in Chattanooga in recent months: ‘equity.’

If you read our 2017 Annual Report last month, you’ve already seen some of this language in relation to how we are working to address issues of economic mobility, persistent poverty and education. Three weeks ago, the Foundation spoke with Joan McClane at the Times Free Press about the impact of race and gender inequities on economic mobility. And two weeks ago, we signed a community letter, also mentioned in a Times Free Press article, which confirms our support of equity in Hamilton County schools. All three publications use the term ‘equity.’

However, there is a real lack of definition around what the term means. It’s easy enough to replace ‘equity’ with any number of other words to achieve clarity of meaning, but we think the real issues run deeper than any single word can convey. Like the fact that 7 out of 10 Hamilton County residents born into poverty will stay in poverty.

What we really need is a shared definition. One that unites our community around a common vision for the well-being of all of our residents.

To the Foundation, equity touches upon the issue that the opportunity for a better life is not yet within reach for every Chattanoogan. Achieving equity means, simply, that everyone can live their best life, based on his or her own potential.

What would that look like if achieved? Student success would not be determined by zip code, but by a passion for learning. Economic mobility would not be determined by neighborhood, but by the drive to succeed. Headlines about innovation and economic success in our city would come side by side with headlines advocating for improved community outcomes for all. And finally, investments would be made strategically so everyone has the opportunity to reach their potential, no matter where they started from in life, raising the quality of life for everyone.

So while we are still working collectively towards a shared understanding of equity and a way to communicate that understanding to effect real, lasting change, wouldn’t it be amazing if Chattanoogans can come together to pioneer a solution? As a city, we can leverage the innovation and the public-private partnerships we value so much to take the lead on building a community where everyone can live their best life. Those are the headlines we long to read.

In the meanwhile, we are doing the work. Our mission is to improve lives, and the vision we are fulfilling is one where all of our residents have the opportunity to reach their full potential. So we will continue doing work that unites us to build a better Chattanooga for all of our neighbors. Because ultimately, it will not be our words the community measures to hold us accountable. It will be our actions.

With an open heart and real humility,

Maeghan Jones                                 Tim Kelly
President                                            Board Chair