Edgar Villanueva: Things to think about

On June 24, 2022, Ellen Gilligan, president and CEO of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, will converse with Edgar Villanueva, activist and author of “Decolonizing Wealth.” 

In his book, Villanueva explores how systemic racism and colonization shaped the current world, how we can be healers and how to heal. Through personal stories, interviews and history, Villanueva explores how individuals and organizations can heal from their past and move toward a brighter future. Villanueva shares examples and tangible steps on how the philanthropic sector can reshape its approach to wealth distribution by working with the community instead of for the community to create an equitable society. 

As the Foundation makes progress toward its commitment to reimagine philanthropy, it will continue to look at the example set forth by leaders like Villanueva, who offers a blueprint of what the philanthropic sector can be through decolonization. We challenge individuals and organizations to join us and to think critically of their approach to philanthropy and how they might change it.  

Here are some key takeaways from the book as you prepare for the event:

  • Your medicine is your gift for the world.

    Villanueva often describes money as his medicine, the tool he uses to bring balance and healing to the world. Each of us has a medicine that chooses us. What talents or specialties can you bring to the table that contribute toward the healing movements taking place in our homes, workplaces and communities?
  • Philanthropy is about the love of all.

    Villanueva adds that we practice philanthropy through caring actions. How have you or your organization practiced philanthropy beyond monetary ways?
  • Find ways to connect, relate and belong.

    Villanueva notes that colonization focused on dividing, controlling and exploiting, which led to the disenfranchised communities and internalized oppression we see today. He urges individuals and communities to practice ways of connecting, relating and belonging to counteract colonization. What practices can you adopt in your life or workplace to help heal yourself and your community from colonization?
  • There’s power in storytelling.

    Through sharing his story, Villanueva encourages others to do the same. Stories can lead to healing, he says. What is your story and that of your organization? How does it weave into your community’s story? How can you share these stories to invoke change and healing?
  • Shift your mindset.

    To shift our mindset, we must listen to people and trust that those with lived experience know best. Villanueva says a listener should be open, empathetic and holistic. When we take the time to listen, we are given the opportunity to do more meaningful work and establish stronger relationships. Instead of asking what’s broken, Villanueva encourages philanthropists to ask communities what they are proud of or what’s going well and how money can be used to support and uplift this work.
  • Share your truth – even the ugly parts.

    Villanueva talks about the importance of acknowledging one’s past and the harm it may have caused. When we give ourselves the time to grieve and apologize for our past, we give others the space to do the same. From there we can begin to build and strengthen our relationship with the community.

  • Change doesn’t happen overnight, but steps toward change do.

    Decolonizing philanthropy is a big undertaking, and it won’t happen overnight. The size of the change is relative, but it often begins on the individual level. Villanueva shares how he focused on strategic changes during his time at the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, which fostered room for more growth. When each of us strives to create change, we build momentum that encapsulates us all and pushes us to do better.
  • Actionable steps vary in size.

    Actionable measures may look different for everyone – some individuals may take small steps, while institutions and larger organizations may be able to and should take larger steps. For example, Villanueva urges those in philanthropy to move the money where the hurt is the worst. When we each take the steps we are capable of, we meet each other in a place of equity. What are some steps big or small that you and your organization can take? How do your personal steps vary from that of your organization? What do those steps look like?
  • Our differences are key.

    Difference and variation lead to evolution and innovation, Villanueva says. Our backgrounds shape us and offer different perspectives. He notes that behind every organization and institution are people, good people, who want to make changes to make a difference. By celebrating our differences, we give each other space to build upon each of our strengths and rely on the strengths of others when faced with a challenge. 

Building a Milwaukee for all requires all of us. We become the healers we need when we take the time to heal ourselves, acknowledge the past and share our story. In healing ourselves, we encourage others to do the same; and that is how we perpetuate change in the world. During the event, guests will be able to comment and share their stories in the chat. As we explore the ways we can decolonize wealth in our own lives and create a Milwaukee for all, we invite others to do the same. 

Learn more

Visit the A Milwaukee For All resource page for ideas on how you can learn more, invest more and do more to move our community forward.