What do a Standard Oil heiress (that’s me), a working-class Jewish woman, and a working-class Cuban-American man have in common?
We all changed our lives through a cross-class dialogue group. Six of us met monthly for six years. We told each other everything: our hopes and fears, the strengths and foibles of our heritage, and even the exact dollar amounts of what we own, earn, spend, save, and give. It was terrifying. It was liberating. We were fearless, asking the un-ask-able yet always staying at the table with each other.
In 2004, a year after the group ended, I decided to release into the world half of my remaining $900,000. I directed some of the money to Class Action, a nonprofit I co-founded with another member of the dialogue group. Most of it, however, will be distributed to groups led by poor and working class activists working in the areas of economic justice, the arts, and sustainable agriculture. The more I am in authentic relationships with people different from me, the more I want to share — not just the money, but also the power to make decisions about where it goes.
For some people, deciding to give a chunk of money means being finally willing to step fully into the role of philanthropist. For me, it’s a chance to finally go beyond that identity, satisfying yet limiting, which has so defined my adult life. It’s time to see who I can be and what I can do without it.
I’ve learned so much by being close to people who are financially low in income but high in humanity. I come from five generations of wealthy, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. I’m relieved to move beyond my history and dedicate my resources to people doing great work in these times of challenge and possibility.