In preparing to write this update to you, I spent some time reflecting on the first half of 2020. It has been a challenging year, of course, but within every set of challenges, there are opportunities.
In January, we celebrated the new year with an optimistic outlook for a busy year ahead. On the Bush Institute side of the house, we anticipated the start of new leadership program classes, including Presidential Leadership Scholars, our Stand-To Veteran Leadership program, and our WE Lead program. Our teams planned research and writing projects on issues like tracking how well school districts are serving children across the country, and how we move forward with an increased focus on democratic principles, among many other issues.
On March 5, the Bush Center opened our new special exhibit – Liberty & Laughter: The Lighter Side of the White House. We were excited to hold successful Engage at the Bush Center events, presented by Highland Capital Management, that included evenings with Brian Kilmeade, Jay Leno, and a discussion on the Future of Texas. We were excited for the rest of our Engage events, plus our annual Forum on Leadership, our landmark gathering to develop, recognize, and celebrate leadership.
And then we found ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic.
We’ve all been living life in a time of COVID-19, so I won’t belabor or minimize the loss of life and livelihood, grief, and isolation that many people have experienced – or how we’re settling into our “new normal.” But I do want to take a moment to express how proud I am of our Bush Center team. We began our work-from-home protocol on March 13, the same day that the National Archives and Records Administration closed the museum and library to the public. Because we had moved our office documents platform to the cloud several years ago, and were already using Zoom teleconferencing, the transition to remote working for all was smooth. We took the position that the Bush Center is fully operational, even if our facility was closed. Our teams doubled up on communication and also on content. If you don’t receive our Five for Friday newsletter, you can subscribe to it here.
A month ago, we began a staged pre-opening process. Our staff divided into thirds, and, on a voluntary basis, began to return to the office one week at a time. In recent weeks, we’ve added testing available on-site for employees and their immediate families. We’ll continue to prioritize the health and safety of our team as we inch our way back into the office, and the pace at which we re-open will, of course, depend on a virus over which we have no control. Rest assured, we are availing ourselves of the best medical advice on the topic.
Within the Bush Institute, all of our program areas are advancing their work – writing, researching, and planning, despite the pandemic.
In the second quarter of the year, in addition to the continued work connecting veterans in need to high-quality mental health care, helping school districts hone effective leadership, and advancing Central American economic growth, we released Democracy Talks – a series of discussions exploring the challenges and opportunities of democracies around the world. We’ve also continued virtual programming – for example, we’ve increased the number of Insights calls, governed by Chatham House rules, that we’ve hosted for donors and partners. This spring and summer, we’ve heard from Jonah Goldberg and Steve Hayes, co-founders of The Dispatch, on media in a rapidly changing world; David Winston, a Republican pollster, on COVID-19, emerging issues, and the latest themes in polling; and, Ambassador Nikki Haley on leading the cause of freedom.
We released a new edition of our policy magazine, The Catalyst: A Journal of Ideas. Our Spring 2020 issue focused on America at its best and examined how, amid uncertainty, kindness and courage remind us that better days lie ahead. It was incredibly well received – doubling the number of total views from previous issues. If you don’t subscribe currently, you can do so here.
In recent weeks, we’ve faced an additional national challenge. Unfortunately, it’s not a new one. The death of George Floyd, and the protests and conversations related to it, have us questioning how this country can work better and more nobly for all its citizens – not just some. I’ve been spending time reading, listening, and examining the changes I can make personally and that we can reflect at the Bush Center. And all along the process, I’ve been led by President Bush’s words and the statement he released in June:
"The heroes of America — from Frederick Douglass, to Harriet Tubman, to Abraham Lincoln, to Martin Luther King, Jr. — are heroes of unity. Their calling has never been for the fainthearted. They often revealed the nation’s disturbing bigotry and exploitation — stains on our character sometimes difficult for the American majority to examine. We can only see the reality of America''s need by seeing it through the eyes of the threatened, oppressed, and disenfranchised.
“That is exactly where we now stand. Many doubt the justice of our country, and with good reason. Black people see the repeated violation of their rights without an urgent and adequate response from American institutions. We know that lasting justice will only come by peaceful means. Looting is not liberation, and destruction is not progress. But we also know that lasting peace in our communities requires truly equal justice. The rule of law ultimately depends on the fairness and legitimacy of the legal system. And achieving justice for all is the duty of all."
Given that our mission is to develop leaders, advance policy, and take action to address today’s pressing challenges, we will carefully plan how we engage on this topic as well, in a manner consistent with President Bush’s ideals.
As always, I thank you for your continued support, and for your help as we move forward this year.
Kenneth A. Hersh
President and Chief Executive Officer
George W. Bush Presidential Center