THE BLOG

A Letter to Donald Sterling, the Loneliest Man in L.A. (And Why We Can No Longer Accept His Money)

04/29/2014 05:31 pm ET | Updated Jun 29, 2014

Yikes. Donald Sterling. V. Stiviano. TMZ. It's all so...

Sordid? This TMI session between Sterling and Stiviano is super creepy and we can't unhear it or unimagine everything that led to this moment.

Pathetic? The illogic and internal conflict in Sterling's argument is palpable -- he sounds like he's propping up an old script and playing a role that even he doesn't understand or believe anymore. Who is this man?

Old news? Because anyone who is half awake already knows that the concept of a "post-racial" society in the United States in 2014 is a wishful fairytale, and there is a long way to go before we even reach sight of a happy ending.

Profound? Because it pulls back the covers on the one-eye-closed, strange bedfellow, back room and back-psyche transactions that are happening all the time all around us.

Ugly? Because racism and bigotry is disgusting, and no frailty, ignorance, good intention, confusion or anything else can diminish its stench.

In this TMZ world, bad behavior has become a spectator sport, and millions of people would normally just sigh, shake their heads and move on, but this is sad and nasty and it touches a deep collective nerve and our collective aspirations about change. I definitely can't walk away from this one, and here's why:

You see, in addition to owning a lot of real estate and the Clippers, Donald Sterling is a philanthropist, and I am the executive director at A Place Called Home, one of the not-for-profit organizations his foundation gives to. For the past four years, on nearly every Sunday, my picture and organization's name have been in the L.A. Times alongside photos of several dozen other L.A. nonprofit executives, all arranged under a large photo of Mr. Sterling and a banner proclaiming his generosity to the schools, hospitals, and community organizations we lead. Most of the millions of constituents all of our agencies serve are people of color, and every day our organizations make a meaningful difference in the arenas of health, wellbeing, education, spirit, economic opportunity, and social justice in Los Angeles.

Clippers president Andy Roeser issued a statement that: "Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings. It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life. He feels terrible that such sentiments are being attributed to him and apologizes to anyone who might have been hurt by them."

But, wait... didn't Mr. Sterling say those things that he's now saying don't reflect his views, beliefs or feelings...?

Dear Mr. Sterling,

As someone who has accepted your funding in good faith, I want you to know that I find your remarks to be utterly repugnant and I denounce them. I'm doing so publicly because you have been publishing my photo under yours for several years, and I'd like you to stop. My ethos and values and those of A Place Called Home are contrary in every respect to the sentiments you expressed on that audio clip I heard, and unless there is an immediate, clear and convincing admission and change of heart on your part, then on behalf of the young people and families we serve, I must decline further funding from your foundation and ask you to immediately remove A Place Called Home and my photo and name from your ads.

But, Mr. Sterling, I'm an unabashed idealist. I believe people can change -- I've seen it, and my earnest hope is that this moment of shame on the world stage can morph into a personal opportunity for you to unburden yourself from the ignorance and racism you've been dragging around your whole life; an opportunity for you to make a sea change in your thinking and turn your energies toward doing something of broad and lasting good to counteract the hurt and damage you've caused. I'd like to invite you to visit A Place Called Home and some of the other organizations you've been supporting, to see firsthand what your funds have been going to, which includes a world view very different from the one represented by you in that piece of audio.

Mr. Sterling, please come to South Central and meet the children and families and staff here. Sit with our teens and dialogue about race and acceptance and human and social equality. Arrive with an open heart and mind to hear the stories underneath the skin -- and for others in the circle be open to hearing your story, so you can reconsider your concepts about race and people who are different from you; come curious and open to the possibility that you can develop respect and appreciation for all people. Come to learn from the kids and work alongside them to create a new full-page ad -- one that trades self-aggrandizement for a story about how lonely it is to hate and judge other people on the basis of their skin color, and how rich and wonderful life can be when we embrace each other with all of our differences.

Mr. Sterling, imagine creating dedicated spaces where Angelenos of all ages and from all backgrounds and neighborhoods could meet regularly to tackle the difficult task of unraveling and pulling out the threads of racism and prejudice from our individual belief systems and our collective tapestry; where we could devote our energies, instead, to creating a more peaceful and loving community and world. Imagine rededicating your resources to the missions of the nonprofits you support, but in a new spirit of authentically shared values. Then, A Place Called Home and others could accept your generosity as sincere and put it to great use, knowing that it comes from a man who has been humbled and is committed to his own growth and evolution. A man who understands who he is and truly believes in what he is supporting.

Please don't waste this opportunity. Hard as it is, it could be the best, most transformational thing that ever happened to you.

Sincerely yours,

Jonathan Zeichner

YOU MAY LIKE