Robert Bray, NEO Philanthropy’s Director of Communications, discusses his role in moving NEO’s mission forward, the most influential hero in his life and more in this Q&A.
Q: How do you see your role pushing NEO’s mission forward?
I focus on finding ways to tell the many stories of a multi-faceted philanthropic intermediary organization that works mostly behind the scenes, has multiple audiences and clients including donors, grantees and staff, and has a clearly articulated set of social justice values that inform our work. NEO works on so many different issues and serves many different donors and foundations, from immigrant rights to reproductive freedom to anti-human trafficking to LGBTQ and many more. Lifting up those stories and aligning them with our values then communicating them across our web and other platforms is rich work. I also make grants and provide training that build communications capacity of immigrant rights organizations as part of NEO’s Four Freedoms FundTM and other projects, which keeps me grounded in the front-line work of our advocate grantees.
Q: What is the most challenging part of working in social justice?
Not taking political losses and setbacks personally even though they directly affect people I care about, including sometimes in my own life and family and among my friends and colleagues.Right now, there are many challenges especially for the undocumented in this country. I come from the LGBT rights and AIDS movement and learned early on in that struggle that you have to be in this for the long haul. Progress will be made and ultimately justice and equality will prevail but getting there will take time.
Q: Give us a peek of Robert outside of the office. What are your favorite things to do when you aren’t at work?
I’m a big fan of wilderness hiking, especially in the High Sierras and particularly above 10,000 feet altitude. Something about the thin air and reach-and-touch-it sky up there activates me. I’m also a firm believer in work-life balance, and that’s where my regular yoga practice comes in. On occasion, I’ve been known to lead yoga breaks at activist trainings.
Q: Who has been the most influential role model/hero in your life thus far?
I wouldn’t say there’s been one person, but a source of inspiration were the activists I knew and worked beside who took the fight to the streets, the media, medical institutions and the courts as part of the LGBT and AIDS struggle in the 80’s and 90’s. I was honored to be part of that struggle from the perspective of working for gay civil rights in Washington, DC at the time. There was enormous courage; people were coming out, even in the face of, literally, death, discrimination and violence. When you go through an experience like that you can’t help but be permanently moved, and to witness its place in the long tradition of the struggle for civil rights, equality and basic human dignity for all. I see similar courage in the immigrant rights movement, where activists must come out of the shadows and the closet if they are LGBT.
Q: What might someone be surprised to know about you?
My photograph is on the moon. Seriously, my father worked in the U.S. space agency in the 60’s when we lived in Cape Canaveral, Fl, and I was a teenager. He staffed the Apollo 11 mission, the first manned spacecraft to land on the moon on July 20, 1969. His job as an engineer was quality control and safety inspection, and in performing that job before the rocket launched he hid a photo of me and my siblings and mom underneath the cockpit. It stayed behind on the surface of the moon when the astronauts returned to Earth. It’s still there, an eternally younger version of myself existing in very low gravity and utter silence, on the moon’s Sea of Tranquility, looking back this way toward Earth.