Coming Full Circle

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Happy to share a new poetical video from The Soul of Philanthropy!

Grateful to my friend, the poet Quentin “Q” Talley, who wrote “Full Circle” nearly 11 years ago. I commissioned the poem, initially, for a special event in 2008. Since then Q has breathed new life into it again and again. A print version was featured in my book Giving Back. He has performed it live at my book talks and various events. He recorded it for kinetic typography that is featured in The Soul of Philanthropy exhibit. And he worked with me to create this video.

I am equally grateful to my friend, the videographer Sino Chum, who filmed this piece. As with Q, Sino and I have collaborated numerous times over the years, like here and here and here. This project includes footage shot in Atlanta, Columbia, SC and Denver. It took more than a year to complete. A year that included Sino returning to his ancestral homeland, Cambodia, and getting married. Mazel tov! 💖

Steve Jobs once said the most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. Though it doesn’t always start out that way, somewhere in the process of writing a story I do feel powerful. It is a satisfying (and rather magical) process that brings me immense joy. With film, poetry and theater, respectively, Sino and Q are great storytellers and work hard at their crafts. That’s why I relish opportunities to collaborate and thus unite and activate our super powers.

Long time coming, Full Circle, the video. Enjoy

I Am A Philanthropist

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“Black Americans have exercised collective giving to finance social resistance in serial struggles for liberation.” That line is from my recent essay, The Sweetness of Circles. In those struggles, the questions Am I Not a Man? and Ain’t I a Woman? and the assertion I Am a Man have been used and adapted over history to proclaim dignity, declare independence against oppression, and push for equality. 

Fifty-one years ago this week, “I AM A MAN” was the slogan of the Memphis Sanitation Strike. The strike brought Dr. Martin Luther King Jr to Memphis (instead of Charlotte, as originally planned) on April 4, 1968 — the fateful day of his assassination. MLK’s death in Memphis intensified the strike and eventually led to its end on April 16.

Today, people on the margins of mainstream institutional philanthropy are borrowing from the past to proclaim: I Am a Philanthropist. It is an assertion of our presence and power in shifting narratives, values, priorities, ways of giving and measures of impact.

In Atlanta, hosts of The Soul of Philanthropy (TSOP) exhibit created buttons in a style harkening back to the picket signs in Memphis. Exhibition hosts in Columbia, SC followed suit, and hosts in Cleveland plan to do the same, as these communities elevate stories that reframe philanthropy. The photo collage above features historic and contemporary images.

#IAmAPhilanthropist

The Sweetest Thing

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I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver. — Maya Angelou

April 4th is Maya Angelou’s birthday. Values espoused in her writing inspired me to join with Tracey Webb and Akira Barclay to write The Sweetness of Circles. Like me, Tracey and Akira are chroniclers and members of giving circles. Our collaborative piece was initially posted on Medium and then later picked up by The Charlotte Post and The Nonprofit Quarterly.

I also was motivated to write a parallel and more personal piece, titled The Blacker The Circle, which ran on Qcitymetro.com last week. It is an op-ed about my giving circle, New Generation of African American Philanthropists. Today, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) posted the op-ed on its blog.

Members of Charlotte’s New Generation of African American Philanthropists over the years.

[Free Webinar] Engaging Black Philanthropists

Sign up for my upcoming webinar presented by Sanford Institute of Philanthropy on Thursday, February 20. It’s free!

GAIN A TRADITIONAL OUTLOOK

Hear principles and traditions of philanthropy in Black communities

EXPLORE NEW INSIGHTS

Gain insight on why Black giving matters and how to engage, beyond transactions, to build meaningful relationships with Black donors and communities

IMPLEMENT YOUR LEARNING

Take away ideas for your organization to implement this August in observance of Black Philanthropy Month

Moves, Minds & Money

In October 2018, my giving circle New Generation of African American Philanthropists hosted “Making Change,” a reception and forum with ABFE President Susan Taylor Batten. The event drew 50 attendees, stirred powerful discussions and seeded ideas about our work ahead.

Watch the event’s highlight film short: Moves, Minds & Money.

Legacy, Longing and The Lake

Image from a letter written to Riley R. McGimpsey, my great-great grandfather, 119 years ago

Ancestors and family are subjects I often write about. Like here and here. So I was excited when a reporter from The Charlotte Observer reached out last week for my input on a piece about Fonta Flora, the storied community of my paternal great-great grandparents.

“There once was a vale of peace and beauty in the NC foothills, the story goes, where crops grew tall and neighbors both black and white lived in harmony. Even its name sounded lush: Fonta Flora.”

The newspaper article includes an account from my family’s oral history that I shared. Below is an excerpt.

“Just the connection to the land and what’s under that lake is strong and really powerful for all of us,” (Valaida) said. “There’s also the sense of loss, in my mind. After the Civil War, for families that had been enslaved people, even though we didn’t have grand plantations like in other parts of the South, people still struggled to make lives for themselves in a new place, and work for decades. And then to be uprooted.”

The full Observer article by Bruce Henderson is found here, and it features a beloved family portrait from around 1903.


Magnitude and Bond

Back around 2006 and 2007, before New Generation of African American Philanthropists was fully formed or even had a name, we held monthly gatherings around town to decide who and how we wanted to be. Various people flowed in and out of the process and contributed seeds of ideas that eventually blossomed into our giving circle. Along the way, some folks opted out of becoming formal circle members because they had other commitments and priorities. Even so, bonds—tight ones and tenuous ones—made in the early days remained intact.

One such friend to the circle was Kelly Harris, PhD who was on faculty at JCSU. Often traveling internationally with student groups, Kelly tried to stay engaged and on occasion managed to attend meetings and provide input. Then we lost contact when his a new job took him out of Charlotte about 10 years ago. So, I was pleasantly surprised when Kelly, seemingly out of the blue, reached out to me at the start of last year.

From afar and unbeknown to me, he had continued to follow our circle’s evolution and work, and he inquired about The Soul of Philanthropy Reframed and Exhibited. Now a dean at Chicago State U, Kelly was interested in bringing the exhibit to his HBCU campus to teach philanthropy and benefit his students.

Representative of a solid (even magical) bond and a full yet never-ending circle, below is a photo from Kelly’s pop-up exhibition. It was mounted at CSU’s Gwendolyn Brooks Center in October. Quoted here, Ms. Brooks’ poetical pronouncement is truth.

“We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.” — Gwendolyn Brooks

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The Thing About Philanthropy

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From an exhibition of The Soul of Philanthropy, a text vinyl on gallery window that overlooks a neighborhood streetscape. Photo credit: Valaida Fullwood

Reframing portraits of philanthropy. Surprising to many, seemingly heretical to some, this idea fuels my imagination and writing. Over a decade ago, I began exploring multiple facets of philanthropy, particularly traditions of giving among African Americans. Struck by what seemed a whitewashing of mainstream philanthropy, which too often centers on financial wealth and whiteness, I was compelled to write about and lift up the unsung generosity of people of color as well as folks of modest means and all socioeconomic levels. This requires a modern reclamation of philanthropy—in meaning, in imagery and in practice.

Examining the root meaning of a word unlocks understanding. Greek in origin, philanthropy translates as “love of humanity.” Over centuries, the word has evolved in connotation and, today, is applied to activity ranging from individual and family practices to institutional grant-making to corporate social responsibility to global impact investing. Philanthropy, when interpreted broadly, can encompass a wide scope of beliefs and take many forms. Even so, most Americans point to only a sliver of this activity, largely because the quantity of dollars has come to eclipse the love of humanity as a defining feature of philanthropy.

The decades around the turn of the 20th century saw the rise of industrial magnates such as Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller, whose exploits and enterprises amassed great fortunes. Their extraordinary financial donations to myriad causes and institutions contributed to the whittling down of ideas about philanthropy. Today, for many, philanthropy is synonymous with immense financial wealth. While but one facet, philanthropy centered on an abundance of money distorts the full picture.

Writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has a much-viewed TED Talk about “the danger of a single story” and the destructive nature of stereotypes when only one story is told and re-told. Troubling to me is philanthropy’s single story, patterned from wealthy white men of a bygone era. It is the story that has dominated the field for over a century and one that too often places Black people solely on the demand side of communal assistance—as only beneficiaries and “those in need.”

And that’s the thing about philanthropy. A far richer picture exists. In fact, studies reveal a striking irony. Black Americans give the highest percentage of discretionary income to philanthropic causes when compared to other racial groups, as reported by W.K. Kellogg Foundation and research of the Urban Institute. Stunningly, Blacks not only fail to receive due recognition, we also are frequently cut from conventional depictions of philanthropists. To add insult to injury, the script is flipped and dishonestly says, “Blacks don’t give” and “they’re looking for handouts.”

This knowledge gave birth to the Giving Back Project, which aims to tell a broader range of American philanthropy stories to restore “love” as the defining force in philanthropy. Expounding on an MLK quote, Bishop Michael Curry said in this now-famous royal wedding sermon: There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even over-sentimentalize it. There’s power, power in love.

Sharing this belief, I choose to frame philanthropy around the human factor and the powerful force of love, instead of money alone. In deconstructing the Greek translation, my re-interpretation is “love of what it means to be human.” Broad and inclusive, this frame applies to the writing and photography of the Giving Back Project, which includes my book Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists and the multimedia exhibit The Soul of Philanthropy.

Reclaiming the root meaning increases the breadth of philanthropic possibilities and expands whose stories can be told, celebrated and praised as exemplary. It’s a matter of training our eyes on the humanity of the beneficiary and the benefactor, too. To imply dollars are unimportant is not the point. This mind shift instead relegates the gift (whether money, time or talent) in elevation of the human spirit and human impulse to love.

Re-centering love reveals the essence of philanthropy. Without genuine concern, deep understanding and profound empathy for people, what’s in a check alone? In telling stories of African American philanthropy, this lens is particularly incisive. That’s because many of our philanthropic traditions were forged during times of scarcity and our motivations borne of oppression. The atrocity of slavery and unjust vestiges, like an endemic wealth gap, have failed to diminish our instinct to give. It is instead enlivened. Our stories of philanthropy remind all Americans that philanthropy is deeper than your pockets.

Black giving matters. Counter-narratives to American philanthropy’s single story are crucial for several reasons. First, it’s hard to be what you can’t see, as Marian Wright Edelman puts it. Without authentic representation and abounding stories of Black philanthropists in mainstream media and the public sphere, younger generations are susceptible to stale narratives. They may never come to know the proud traditions that have shaped our communities and country. Second, because the humanity of Black people is routinely challenged—in media portrayals, daily interactions and episodes throughout history—when reframed, philanthropy affirms it. A final point: For Black people, nurturing and strengthening philanthropy, for us and by us, is an imperative because our liberation cannot rest merely on the philanthropy of others. Emboldened by the single story, generosity flowing from unchecked bias, misguided ideas and momentary interest wields little power to affect meaningful social change.

To say the American philanthropy scene has a racial diversity problem is to assert a fact so conspicuous it would seem a waste of breath to voice it. Despite studies, diversity and inclusion initiatives and more studies, too many charitable institutions cling to the values and imagery of the single story. This at a time when the country is growing visibly more racially and ethnically diverse. The resistance to change results in a string of unsurprising headlines. Below are but a few recent ones.

Cropping out a wide spectrum of donors, volunteers and leaders because they don’t fit a narrow narrative is, indeed, dangerous and also telling. Curious, that a sector built on ideals of “love of humanity” struggles to acknowledge the value and humanity of people of color.

Blacks are the most philanthropic racial group in America, and yet most leaders and institutions in the field find the inclusion and engagement of Black people optional or, sadly, debatable. Contemporary issues and communities are too complex to dismiss swaths of givers, seasoned activists and prospective allies. Re-imagining American philanthropy and bringing about change in today’s world requires shifts in perspective, motivation and approach. To fail to do so is to squander an opportunity to bridge historical gaps and transform lives and communities for the duration of the 21st century.

In the same vein as the Movement for Black Lives, Black Philanthropy Month is an assertion that Black giving matters amid a preponderance of messages attempting, and too often succeeding, to convince us otherwise. A campaign established in 2011 and observed every August, Black Philanthropy Month promotes “informing, inspiring, involving and investing in Black philanthropic leadership.”

Disrupting philanthropy’s single story extends beyond August. Global in scope, a movement is underway to acknowledge, study, celebrate and strengthen African-descent giving in all its forms. In addition to the Giving Back Project and Black Philanthropy Month, a myriad of start-up and long-running organizations and initiatives are advancing the movement. These include the newly launched Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy at Indiana University, Young Black and Giving Back Institute, African Diaspora Philanthropy Advisor Network, Pan African Women’s Philanthropy Network, ABFE, blogs and social media platforms like the groundbreaking BlackGivesBack.com, and scores of Black giving circles and collective giving groups.

While slow on matters of race, American philanthropy has begun to reflect some insight on the plurality of giving cultures, as recognized with Jewish philanthropy and women’s philanthropy. The Black philanthropy movement is pressing for accelerated progress from inside and outside mainstream structures. My aspiration in this work is specifically to illuminate the vastness of beliefs, values, histories and mindsets that shape how and why people give. Consciously, re-centering philanthropy on love provides space for all of our stories and inspiration for everyone.

No matter your background or race, take a deep look at what motivates your giving. August observances of Black Philanthropy Month offer opportunities to learn, connect and engage with a cross-section of people. Seeing your community with fresh eyes, and then contributing to it with new understanding and in ways centered on love is work you can actually initiate at any time.

Come to see philanthropy differently. That’s the tagline for The Soul of Philanthropy exhibit, and it precisely expresses the thing I hope for you.

— VF


Described an “idea whisperer,” Valaida Fullwood brings unbridled imagination and a gift for harnessing wild ideas to her work as a writer and project strategist. She is a founding member of Charlotte’s New Generation of African American Philanthropists giving circle, author of Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists and innovator for The Soul of Philanthropy exhibit, which is traveling the country. You can follow her writing and pursuits via @ValaidaF and valaida.com.

 

Black Philanthropy Month 2018 | ‘For The Culture, For The Future’

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BPM 2018 Bounds Forward

The arrival of August kicks off Black Philanthropy Month (BPM). Established by Dr. Jackie Copeland-Carson in 2011, BPM is a campaign to strengthen African-descent giving in all its forms.

“I hope people use BPM 2018 and this Wakanda moment to create a better future together,” says Copeland-Carson, a Bay Area social entrepreneur and researcher. “With all the stereotypes and negative news about our community, Black Philanthropy Month offers tools to envision a positive Black future, now.  Every August activates a cultural revival helping African-descent communities everywhere be the change we want to see.”

IMG_7426Global in scope, the annual campaign invites everyday people and a myriad of organizations to engage with self-organized events, charitable giving, targeted fundraising and voluntarism, educational programs, and community conversations. Among BPM 2018 happenings in the U.S. and abroad are a series of forums with philanthropic advisors and consultants from the African diaspora. Organized by Moore Philanthropy, the series launches in New York on August 7, followed by forums in Lagos and Nairobi.

In Norfolk, Hampton Roads Community Foundation is leading a panel discussion on August 16, in conjunction with an exhibition of The Soul of Philanthropy. In Columbia, SC, Central Carolina Community Foundation is sharing local stories of Black philanthropy throughout the month and hosting a celebratory event on August 19. Other observances are planned in cities from San Jose to Chicago and from Phoenix to Chattanooga.

On August 28—a date steeped in historical significance, particularly for Black Americans—the Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization Young Black & Giving Back (YBGB) Institute is building on BPM’s momentum with Giving Black Day. It’s one day for concentrated giving to Black-led nonprofits that leverages online fundraising tools to tap into new generations of donors.

BPM architect and founder of Black Benefactors, Tracey Webb states, “Our collective action during August illuminates a culture of philanthropy and possibilities of a greater future, for us and by us.”

“It’s the best of times and also worrisome times for Black people,” asserts BPM architect Valaida Fullwood of the Giving Back Project. “There is no going back; instead, as somebody put it to me, it’s Black to the future!

Want to know how you can participate? Go to BlackPhilanthropyMonth.com.


BPM Architects | Principal partners on the campaign are Dr. Jackie Copeland-Carson of Pan African Women’s Philanthropy Network, Tracey Webb of Black Benefactors and Valaida Fullwood of Giving Back Project.

2018 Campaign | BPM 2018 is a multimedia campaign to inform, involve, inspire and invest in Black philanthropic leadership. This year’s focal concept is “For The Culture, For The Future”.

Background | Founded by Dr. Jackie Copeland-Carson of the Pan African Women’s Philanthropy Network and recognized by the United Nations and Congress in August 2011, Black Philanthropy Month was created as an annual celebration of African-descent giving in the United States and worldwide.

Perennial Tagline | Giving augustly, year-round

Connect | Facebook.com/BlackPhilanthropyMonth

Hashtags| #BPM2018 #4culture4future

 

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Seeing Differently

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The Giving Back Project was conceived of 11 years ago for the express purpose of “reframing portraits of philanthropy”. Today both the pop-up edition and the comprehensive version of The Soul of Philanthropy are traveling the country and stimulating new conversations and collaboration among wide-ranging groups.

Our latest short film Deeper Than Your Pockets features foundation heads and community leaders who have hosted past exhibitions. It helps make the case for the exhibit and affirms its value to philanthropy, community building and Black culture.

Watch to hear their stories!

Three weeks ago, The Soul of Philanthropy, Pop-Up, Abridged Edition was featured at Durham’s Carolina Theatre during Black Communities: A Conference for Collaboration, which was convened by UNC-Chapel Hill.

After a spectacular, three-month run, the Columbia, SC exhibition came to a close on May 6.  Thank you Richland Library, Women Engaged (W.E.) Giving Circle, and Central Carolina Community Foundation for your visionary leadership and thoughtful approaches as co-presenters of the exhibition.

Announcements of new exhibitions in the South, along the Mid-Atlantic and across the Midwest are coming soon. These exhibitions and related public programs promote understanding and inclusion and are working to reshape 21st-century philanthropy.

 Come to see philanthropy differently.