Linda Shoemaker is a progressive activist-philanthropist who lives in Boulder, Colorado. She runs a foundation she and her husband established in 2000, owns a small building dedicated to expanding philanthropy and has founded three new social justice organizations. She is a former newspaper publisher, business attorney, and elected public official.
An Interview with Linda Shoemaker
Dave: So what do you do exactly?
Linda: I do social justice work. By that I mean I support organizations that work for structural change in order to increase the opportunity of those who are the least well off politically, economically and socially.
Dave: How do you support them?
Linda: By being what I call an activist-philanthropist. I do give away money, but more importantly, I give my time. I sit on boards and help found new organizations. I study infrastructure needs and I work with people at the national level in order to help move social change in Colorado and other Southwestern states.
Dave: What are these organizations?
Linda: In Boulder County, I partner with the Community
Foundation Serving Boulder County on many projects and sponsor
a group of underprivileged students through I
Have A Dream. I'm the Founding Board Chair of the
Bell Policy Center, a think tank working for social justice
in Colorado. I've started a new national on-line community of
progressive donors called State of Change.
And I'm working with other progressives in the Southwestern
states to start a new regional support center that we're calling
SW Action. I'm very proud of my work with each of these groups.
Dave: Wait a minute. If you have a foundation, you must have money. How do you know anything about social justice?
Linda: I first became interested in social justice when I volunteered
my time with nonprofits serving youth at risk, such as Voices
for Children and I Have A Dream. I learned more about public
policy practicing law and serving as an elected public official.
In 2000, when my husband and I started our own foundation, it
was natural to concentrate on social justice philanthropy. I
have to say that I do enjoy being a person of privilege. But
with privilege comes responsibility. I believe that having privilege
requires me to spend some of my time and some of my money working
on behalf of those who are less fortunate. For many people,
that means spending money on direct services that alleviate
the suffering of the less fortunate. But for me, that means
trying to change society so that everyone--regardless of their
race, economic or social status--can build better lives for
themselves and their families. I want Colorado, and every other
state, to be a state of opportunity for all people.
Dave Questions the Website
Dave: Why would you have your own website; it seems pretty presumptuous.
Linda: Well, it's one of those things I never imagined I'd do in my life, like getting married three times. But, here's my rationale: I have lots of people asking me for information about the projects I am working on and the organizations I support, so it just seemed like the easiest way to get the information out.
Dave: What does that mean?
Linda: I'm not much of a techie. People would ask me for a copy of a paper I'd written and I'd be in trouble. I'd try to email it, but invariably I'd forget to attach it or find that AOL had zipped it up so tight that it couldn't be opened. So now, I just tell them to find it on my website. Lazy; but effective.
Dave: Don't you have a private foundation? Why don't you use that website?
Linda: Yes, I'm President of the Brett Family Foundation and am actively involved with the grantmaking activities. But much of what I do does not fall within our foundation's funding guidelines and is not considered foundation business. For example, I personally own the Spruce Street Mansion and I'm involved in some political work that must be kept strictly separate from the foundation.
Dave Gets Personal
Dave: Where did you grow up?
Linda: My father was a Navy meteorologist so we moved around
a lot when I was a kid. But I lived in some interesting places
- Kodiak Island in Alaska, Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, Washington,
D.C. and London in addition to other more mundane locales. My
mother was a homemaker and I have one younger sister.
Dave: How'd you get to Boulder?
Linda: My father retired here and went to work at NCAR, the
National Center for Atmospheric Research. By the time I got
to Boulder, I was in high school. I'd already been in 10 different
schools, so I was eager to let my roots grow down deep. I have
moved away for only brief periods since then and always return
as soon as possible. I love Boulder.
Linda: It's one of the most beautiful places in the world, sitting right at the base of the Rocky Mountains. More importantly, it's a wonderful community with a great downtown, a world-class university and fascinating people. It's large enough to have lots going on, but small enough to know your neighbors.
Dave: Tell me about your family?
Linda: I have a wonderful husband, Steve Brett and a daughter, Emily, who's in college on the East Coast. In addition, I have two older step-children, Claudia and Matt, who live nearby, giving us regular access to our four amazing grandchildren. And we have an Alaskan Malamute named Kodiak; he's still a puppy, but weighs almost 100 pounds.
Dave: So, what do you do when you aren't being an activist-philanthropist?
Linda: I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I
love to hike and explore Boulder's open space trails. I sometimes
bike and ski, used to Roller Blade, but have never been on a
snowboard. I enjoy traveling, reading and relaxing. My big goal
is to learn how to play the piano.