Some things are best kept within the family, be they mom-and-dad business, a secret recipe or Week Three’s last Interfaith Lecture on immigration.
Continuing the week’s theme of “We Were Strangers Once In A Strange Land,” Gail Christopher, vice president of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and her daughter, Heather McGhee, president of Demos, closed the week with a split lecture on the changing demographics of Americans’ country of origin, race, ethnicity and age.
Speaking first, McGhee offered a 20-minute answer to Director of Religion Robert Franklin’s question of how each of their organizations will play a role in affecting the national future.
“Demos is a 15-year-old policy organization that was founded on an idea that the inequalities in our economy are tied inextricably to an inequality of voice in our democracy,” McGhee said.
She said Demos offers policy advice to politicians and the media in an attempt to produce positive change for the middle class. McGhee said America’s lack of political care for the middle class equates to neglect of what was once one of America’s greatest triumphs.
“The middle class in this country didn’t actually create itself,” McGhee said. “I actually think that the middle class, the idea of being secure, with hard work and effort, was America’s single greatest invention. … Because no country in the world had ever done that on the scale that we did.”
However, McGhee argued, America is not investing in the middle class the same way it did after World War II, which led to a middle-class boom. Federal policy has since tilted toward the wealthier, leading to today’s increased inequality of wealth.
Constructing her argument, McGhee said Demos works to inform the public of who they are and how today’s policy shapes tomorrow’s future. She cited the Immigration Act of 1965, which lifted racial quotas on immigration, as an example. She said the policy is emblematic of a change of American self and should be a role model for self-examination today in political choices.
“To be a people in a democracy whose taxes support common investments, who must make decisions every day and at the voting booth that provide for our common future, we have to have a higher sense of who we are,” she said.
Speaking after her daughter, Christopher stepped up to the lectern and discussed the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. At the foundation’s inception, its first leaders were given simple instructions for how to use its funds.
“Do what you will with this money, so long as it helps children,” Christopher said, reiterating Kellogg’s words.
More specifically, Christopher works to rid the world of the concept of valuing any human life as above or below one another. She considers the ideology harmful to the nation, yet she expects it to manifest more with each generation. She works to fix this through children, attempting to “heal” them of harms done in America’s racial history.
“I believe this adherence we have to a fallacy of a notion, a belief in a hierarchy of human value is a core wound in the soul of America,” she said. “We have yet to heal.”
According to Christopher, the country needs to take steps toward healing these wounds. The first of those steps starts with facing the ugly side of America’s founding — specifically, the emphasis colonists placed on owning slaves.
“We have to face that fact, and we have to face the consequences of that fact,” Christopher said. “And once we face those consequences, we have to face the implications of them. Lastly, we face the feelings.”
Closing the week on immigration, Christopher focused on the importance of a common love of humanity and the power love can have in all aspects of life, education and public policy. If people can embrace this love of one another, she said, they can solve the world’s problems.
“We can grow into a different nation,” Christopher said. “A nation that embraces our humanity.”