Bye, 2017: Mmmm… Donuts.


Above the doorway of the Mayflower Coffee Shops in my hometown of Buffalo, New York, this sign was posted:

Here at the Harnisch Foundation, it’s been a big sweet doughnut* of a year, filled with deliciousness, the goodness coming down the conveyor belt so fast we can hardly keep up. Jenny Raymond and I started the year at the Sundance Film Festival, marching with thousands on the streets of Park City, as millions worldwide demonstrated the power of a political force transcending national borders.

Several of our grantees’ films premiered at Sundance, but nobody had a personal triumph like Jennifer Brea, someone we’ve known since she was a TED Fellow. When this vibrant, brilliant woman was suddenly crippled by a disease that mystified doctors, she used her cell phone to record her symptoms. Half a decade later, those first cell phone videos are part of UNREST, currently on the shortlist for the 2018 Oscar for Best Documentary. Thousands of medical professionals and political figures are seeing this movie, learning about Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. Because the film is reaching people who can make a difference, UNREST has already affected the quality of life for specific patients and their caregivers, the policies of governments, and the protocols of health care providers.

We invest in storytelling because stories change the culture. Other films we’ve supported in years past were groundbreaking in advancing the national conversation about sexual assault: the Oscar-nominated The Hunting Ground on campus sexual assault, and Audrie and Daisy, about the assault of high school girls that was recorded and posted on social media. In hundreds of screenings on college campuses, in theaters, and on CNN, women began speaking up about what happened to them, refusing to be shamed or silenced as was the way it used to be.

When good journalism (another area where we’ve invested for decades) produced a long list of women willing to tell what Bill Cosby did to them, when women said what Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes did to them, and finally when Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey, Ronan Farrow, and other reporters got famous, talented women on the record about what they experienced, the #MeToo moment was rebooted. (Tarana Burke created it in 1997.)

It feels as if the work we’ve been doing for decades is culminating at this time in history, giving us all a unique opportunity to redefine social norms for the benefit of everyone of every gender.

Whatever energy was uncorked at the Women’s March, some of it bubbled into women becoming engaged in the political process. Our grants to the Reflective Democracy Campaign have revealed the makeup of the elected class. The shocking over-representation of straight, white men inspired a record number of women to start off on the road to running for something.

We’re especially excited about our partnership with Higher Heights, the preeminent organization devoted to the engagement of Black women in exercising their power through voting, leading in their communities and organizations, running for and winning elective office at every level.

And we couldn’t have higher hopes for the future, because we have met the new leaders and they are Funny Girls! These wonderful young women are taking part in the Harnisch Foundation’s first independently-created program. Executive Director Jenny Raymond and Program Manager Carla Blumenthal created training for facilitators to teach leadership skills through improv and movement using our FunnyGirls™ curriculum. We’ve partnered with five social-justice-focused organizations that help girls create solutions in their communities.  We love seeing these girls discover their natural leadership abilities!

There’s so much more we’ve sparked in 2017 – did we mention Awesome Without Borders? We did not! Look!

You can be part of our 2018 story if you’re up to something awesome that $1000 would make happen. Apply here!

It’s so exciting to be alive at this time in history, when monumental shifts are taking place, when people who have never dared to speak up or to step out are now ready to get involved in creating the world they want to live in, the one they’ll be proud to leave to the next generations.

That’s our work. We’ll be celebrating 20 years of doing that work in 2018, and we’re grateful for your friendship and support. Happy New Year!

Ruth Ann

* P.S. Two of my favorite public thinkers, Maria Popova and Amanda Palmer (I support them both every month and you can too) tell you why YOU SHOULD ALWAYS TAKE THE DOUGHNUTS, or “donuts,” to be accurate.