The Cambridge Community Foundation’s ‘We are Cambridge’ Annual Dinner on May 6, 2019 drew the who’s who of Cambridge from all sectors—universities, nonprofits, businesses, and philanthropists, as well as local artists. An underlying theme was shared by all: that Cambridge is a wonderful place to live but we cannot take it for granted. Its future is hardly guaranteed and all of us have a responsibility to invest in and nurture what we love best about the city and to take some responsibility for its challenges.
CCF’s Board Chairman Rick Harriman kicked off the evening with his observations of Cambridge. He noted some of its strengths—world class universities, an innovation ecosystem, industry-leading companies, well-managed city government, cultural richness, diverse residents—and some of its weaknesses—escalating cost of living, the loss of economic and social diversity, the threats to the nonprofit community.
“We will not satisfy our civic responsibility if we do not strive to bring the citizens and sectors of this city together to address these weaknesses and threats to the inclusiveness of Cambridge,” said Rick as he set the stage for our President, Geeta Pradhan, to share her thoughts on Cambridge and its future.
Good evening, and welcome to your Community Foundation’s annual gathering of civic leaders.
Leading this amazing organization has been one of the great joys of my career. It has reconnected me to a city I always loved.
There is something special about Cambridge. Things happen here that set it apart from other places. Like:
Kindness and caring. For years, I have seen this man in Harvard Square who sits outside the T. You’ve likely seen him too. He holds a sign that says, ‘Seeking Human Kindness.’ I know he finds it here: through the homeless shelters he supports; through the compassion of our neighbors.
Inclusive diversity, of ages and cultures that I experience everyday walking through Central Square. I see it in the vibrant new murals, hear it in the music venues, taste it at the many ethnic restaurants, and watch it being nurtured by the 150 nonprofits we support throughout the city.
And of course, our sense of possibilities. Cambridge is a place of ideas, new thinking, and breakthrough discoveries. Ideas are fiercely debated here, from the ordinary concerns of life to the extra-ordinarily intellectual. I have been in conversations from the root cause of inequity at the Cambridge Public Schools, to the unresolved immigration problem of this country.
The Cambridge I love is a city of passion and compassion and so much more. But the reality is that cities change, and Cambridge is changing.
As our economy grows, it is re-defining the shape of our city, and it seems we have no control. And I find myself asking:
- Do we accept the fact that change is inevitable? How should we manage this change?
- How can we chart progress and honor our past? Support innovation growth and ensure equity?
- What do we hold sacred or special?
- What do we hold ourselves accountable for?
If we do nothing, we’re complicit. We are essentially saying:
- It’s okay to lose our middle-income families
- It’s okay to be a city of the poor and the rich
- It’s okay to lose our nonprofits because of escalating rents
- It’s okay to lose the minority families who have lived here for generations
- It’s okay to lose our history, our sense of place…and our sense of community.
But I don’t think it is okay.
It’s not right for our city’s institutions or for the people who have made Cambridge their home, put their roots here, raised their families here, or are aging here.
It is up to us to figure this out. We need to protect our city’s immense and time-tested diversity: of thought, of cultures, and experiences. We want to be a place where everyone can live a fulfilling life regardless of whether they are rich or poor.
Cambridge has painstakingly created its heritage of inclusion. You can go to arts and cultural events regardless of how much change is in your pocket. You can be a child of immigrants, attending Cambridge Rindge and Latin School and become the first person in your family to go to Harvard, MIT or Lesley. There’s an accessibility to experiences here that is unique.
It’s worth celebrating. It’s worth protecting for the future through philanthropy. As your Community Foundation, that is the vision we aspire to achieve.
We work to lift up the values that this city cherishes: values that speak to the biggest organizations or most powerful executives in our city, and values that speak to the smallest nonprofits and the families in our community. Our actions are rooted in those values —be they grants to nonprofits, support for immigrant legal defense, or working with all of you to tackle the city’s hard problems.
Tonight’s gathering is about affirming our collective values; committing ourselves to a vibrant Cambridge where everyone can thrive; and taking action. It is also about the importance of breaking bread together, sharing stories, laughter and joy!
So, please enjoy your dinner. And after, you will hear from two friends of the Foundation: Larry Bacow, President of Harvard University, and Christine Elow, Superintendent of Police in Cambridge.
Both of these leaders, in their own ways, are charting a future for our city, and living the values that guide my work and the work of the Foundation: for a diverse, inclusive, vibrant Cambridge.