20th Anniversary Gala: Pass it On

Last week my blog post reproduced the talk I gave at the RFC’s 20th Anniversary Gala event on October 17th. This week I’m turning this space over to my daughter, Jenn Meeropol, the RFC’s Grantmaking Coordinator, so that those of you who could not attend can learn what she had to say as well. I’m scheduled for jury duty next week, but for some reason the system has never selected me to sit on a jury. If I am not selected, I’ll be back in the office and post my next blog in a week.

-Robert Meeropol

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[Note: visit our Gala page for videos of all the presentations.]

Thank you, Ray, for being with us this evening and sharing your experience and thoughts with us. And thank you for helping inspire my dad to start the RFC.

You mentioned in your closing the “family values” of the prison industrial complex and the way that the system continuously sought to place barriers—both physical and emotional—between you and your family. It was striking to me not only for the obvious irony but also because it made me think about the multiple meanings of “family” and “family values” in my life.

The RFC is part of my family in many significant ways. The first is the most obvious—it’s an organization started by my dad with an enormous amount of support from my mother in honor of both his sets of parents. Both the ones who gave birth to him and the ones who adopted him and his brother. Both these families helped my dad and his brother to grow up feeling loved and safe. My father’s connection to all four of his parents—to the extent that I need the context to know who he means when he says “my mother” or “my father”— taught me that family is about much more than biology.

The RFC has also been a sort of second, late-in-life younger sibling. And a sometimes annoying one at that. My first volunteer work for the RFC—hand addressing envelopes for fundraising mailings—was not my favorite way to spend my college breaks. Fortunately, the RFC is also a family member who has brought enormous joy and pride to my life. I’m proud of the incredible organization my father has created from the pain he experienced as a small child. And I’m grateful to be a part of a community of people committed to supporting today’s progressive activists and their children in the same way previous generations supported my father and uncle.

Perhaps the best evidence that the RFC is part of the family is the fact that it’s the source of an embarrassing family story—I don’t remember this (maybe deliberately). I’m told that when my parents explained, during my senior year of high school, that my dad was leaving private legal practice to start a foundation, my first question was “Can I still go to college?”

The foundation is also composed of people who are a part of my extended family. I grew up with a number of the Board members who are close family friends. Many of the RFC’s supporters are also long time friends of my parents and part of my extended family. My sister, uncle and I all serve on the Advisory Board. One of my best friends from high school was our first grant making coordinator. Jane Miller, the woman I consider a second mom, has been our Financial Coordinator since the start 20 years ago. The RFC is the nexus of all these and more interconnections that you expect among extended families in a small community.

The RFC is also committed to the often unrealized familial ideal of love and support even when there are major disagreements. My father likes to say that he takes pride in the fact that almost none of our supporters would agree with the choices made by every one of our beneficiary’s parents. He thinks that’s a sign of the breadth and strength of our program. We try to be as broad as possible in the movements and individuals we support; recognizing that even if we don’t always agree with the particular choices, we stand with these men and women in their fight for a more just world and we embrace their children.

And we value each other. While repressive forces continue to separate families by forcing political prisoners to serve time in facilities across the country from their loved ones, or denying them contact visits with their children and grandchildren, we tell these families we value you. We value your commitment to the larger human family and we will do everything in our power to stand with you and help make the separation from your loved ones a little easier to bear. Whether it’s violin lessons for the 5-year-old daughter of an environmentalist sentenced to 6 yrs in prison for non-violent protest or sending Leonard Peltier’s great grandchildren to meet him for the first time… these grants illustrate our family values.

As I look to my future with the RFC, I am excited to meet our long-term contributors and engage a new generation of supporters, many of whom--like my sister and me--grew up within progressive communities and are committed to giving back and carrying on the social justice efforts of our grandparents and parents.

The RFC family, our beloved community, includes EVERYONE in the room this evening. You are our incredible local support system. You have helped sustain and grow the RFC over these twenty years. You’ve contributed as donors, served as Board and Advisory Board members. You have volunteered your time and talents as artists and performers at events and Gatherings and been enthusiastic audiences at our events, as you are this afternoon.

I’m thrilled to have joined “the family business.” I am grateful to be a part of this amazing legacy. And I look forward to continuing to “pass it on” to a new generation of RFC supporters, targeted activists, and their children. Thank you – all of you – for helping make that possible.

It’s my pleasure to welcome back to the stage Evelyn Harris.

[See a slide show of the Gala by clicking here.]

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