Praise for Giving Back

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“This is the most powerful representation of philanthropy that I have seen in more than a decade in this field. The stories, the quotes, the voices and the photographs are uniformly vivid and extraordinary….A reminder that, in its roots, philanthropy should be felt, not thought.”

— Robert K. Ross, M.D., president and CEO, The California Endowment

“Giving Back shines a long overdue spotlight on the legacy of giving which is so much a part of the African American community’s DNA and spirit. Writer Valaida Fullwood and photographer Charles Thomas Jr. have beautifully captured both in words and pictures untold stories of generosity which move and inspire. Giving Back should be positioned in a place of honor on the bookshelf and coffee table of every black family in America.”
— Judy Belk, senior vice president, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors

“Through a rich tapestry of voices and images, including inspirational interviews, stunning photographs, thoughtful commentary, and wide-ranging quotations, Giving Back captures the essence and generosity of African American donors as never before.  No one—including the leaders of non-profit organizations—could fail to be moved and enlightened by these vivid reminders of the potential of African American philanthropy.

“The book is beautiful and so inspirational, I now know what I will be getting everyone as a Christmas present!”

Michele Minter, vice president for development, The College Board

“Astonishing . . . so beautiful, so deep and yet so inviting.

Giving Back belongs in every American home, not just every home of Americans of African descent. Each page connects the readers and the children they love to generosity that God, the Declaration of Independence and our awe-inspiring Black forebears taught us all.

“A visual triumph. A story that has not been told!”

Claire Gaudiani, Ph.D., author of The Greater Good, Generosity Unbound and Daughters of the Democracy  

“Indescribably powerful presentation in images and words of philanthropists who understood their actions of ‘just trying to lend a hand.’ Engagingly spiritual which will energize readers yet unborn.

“A must have.”

The Reverend Clifford A. Jones, Sr., senior pastor, Friendship Missionary Baptist Church

“Weaving photographs, testimonials and personal stories of Black people from all walks of life, Valaida Fullwood has created a work of art that reveals the essence of philanthropy—which is giving. For centuries, Black women, men and children have been giving in ways that defy traditional definitions of philanthropy.

“Giving Back is a revelation. Readers will be astounded by the breadth and depth of Black philanthropy.”

Deborah Holmes, vice president for communications, Global Fund for Women

Philanthropy. Does that word make you think of some 19th century captain-of-industry sitting in his office, doling out bits of his fortune? This marvelous book will give you a fresh perspective. ‘Giving back’ is rooted deep in African American history. And it’s often done with a community approach, rather than by a lone individual. Charles Thomas’s artful photographs and the inspiring words by Valaida Fullwood and her community of collaborators carry a powerful message:  Philanthropy is something that we all can do.”

Tom Hanchett, Ph.D., staff historian, Levine Museum of the New South and author of Sorting Out The New South

“It’s difficult to capture into words all the emotions I felt as I read through this book.

“Giving Back is simply beautiful. Beautiful through its stories. Beautiful through its photography. Beautiful through the real narratives of generosity and philanthropy. Beautiful through spirituality. Beautiful because of the hope it inspires from our past, for our present and the future.”

Eugene Cho, co-founder and executive director, One Day’s Wages

“You just never know what will generate the spark that transforms a life, a community or a people.  It might be that kind, encouraging word; or maybe ‘a couple of bucks to help you get by;’ how about the time that you spent with me sharing the secrets to your success; or, the scholarship that you gave privately so I could attend summer camp.  You just never know what little thing (or great thing) will provide that inspiration for another to soar to higher heights.

“That message is loud and clear within Giving Back.  It leaps out at you when you read the individual profiles that are provided by sons, daughters, mentees and admirers.  It is prevalent in the responses to the book’s probing questions. Giving Back will be a great read for anyone who has an interest in making a difference!”

Richard “Stick” Williams, president, Duke Energy Foundation

“This book shares the stories of men and women whose philanthropy, big or small, is an indelible part of American history. Through their individual and collective generosity, children were educated, families were strengthened, communities were built and their legacy is a bridge for the next generation. On each page, I recognized—if not by name—the spirit of someone I know and respect. These lessons on the ‘love of humankind’ are universal.”

Deborah J. Richardson, executive vice president, National Center for Civil and Human Rights

Giving Back is a must have book for all!  It brings to life African American giving and highlights philanthropic acts that many of us perform daily without naming it ‘philanthropy.’ The combination of photographs and narrative effectively reframes the dialogue on philanthropy, particularly among the unsung heroes and heroines contributing to daily growth and prosperity in our communities.

“A must have book of our history and a great teaching toolkit!”

Ivye L. Allen, Ph.D., president and CEO, Foundation for the Mid South

“Never again will I frame my conversation on how African Americans give under the guise of ‘Black people give differently—our philanthropy is different because we primarily see giving through our faith.’ We give holistically!

“Valaida Fullwood’s Giving Back captivated me from the cover photo where I connected with the hands—memories of my grandmother’s skin—lined with dreams deferred and the promise of aspirations and achievement. Giving Back is indeed a form of personal engagement as well as deep conversational sharing. It is undeniably the missing formula to the roots of African American philanthropy. Simply stated: Giving Back, through stories of everyday people aided with photography of the moment, is poignant and more of a revelation than any article or research publication on the topic of African American giving.

“Since reading Giving Back, from now on, I will tell my philanthropy story with pride and without excuses or apologies.”

Ruby Bright, executive director, Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis

“Giving Back looks poignantly at the notion of giving. The meticulously edited narrative enlightens us about the idea of caring and sharing communities. From this book, one sees through Thomas’s photographs relationships marked by respect and honor. The text and photographs inform the reader about strength, in multiple perspectives.

“Through the rich photographs—which are full of spirit and beauty both enhanced by the framing of the subjects—we see Thomas’s respectful eye. The book simply tells us that Black people care which is evidenced in the photographs and the narratives. This book is useful for anyone who is interested in philanthropy but also will be appreciated by people who have a love for portrait photography.

“Giving Back is a valuable resource and, in my view, will encourage others to reconsider what it means to give. 

It is a welcomed addition to books promoting this field. I found the idea of the book stimulating, as it is a much overlooked discussion. Fullwood and Thomas assembled a remarkable book that informs and honors. It enables us to imagine through the quotes, as the photographs illuminate and engage us about the pleasure of giving.”

Deborah Willis, Ph.D., NYU professor, author, historian, photographer and 

2000 MacArthur genius award recipient

“Beautiful. Powerful. Poignant. Giving Back is more than a book: It is a gift to each of us given the opportunity to walk this journey through each page, each voice, each story and each photograph. Philanthropy is practiced in many different ways around the world. Giving Back teaches us that philanthropy is practiced in many different ways right here at home—in our history, our present and our future.”

Steve Gunderson, former president and CEO, Council on Foundations

“This book is a must read for all who want a truer and deeper understanding of American philanthropy in particular philanthropy in the Black community. Historical analysis and rich personal stories…it’s all here.”

 Wenda Weekes Moore, trustee, W.K. Kellogg Foundation

“In 2011, The Links, Incorporated celebrates 65 years of giving back to communities across the nation. Our founders believed that as educated and successful African American women, we should do whatever is necessary to serve those of African descent and assist in closing gaps in education and providing support for the underserved. We do this still today, through philanthropic as well as humanitarian services. As authors Fullwood and Thomas expressed in Giving Back, philanthropy has been the thread that held and continues to hold our communities together. The Links, Incorporated strives to become an even greater force, known everywhere for our philanthropic support. Our hope is by giving back, we will play an intricate role in enabling and influencing a positive future for an infinite number of generations.

— Margot James Copeland
, National President
, The Links, Incorporated
 and The Links Foundation, Incorporated

Giving Back is a beautiful book that masterfully demonstrates the power of African American giving.  Through riveting photography and engaging vignettes, Valaida Fullwood tells the story of philanthropy at its purest.  Giving Back showcases the diversity in giving that has taken place for centuries and continues to thrive in Black communities.  Anyone interested in philanthropy, Black giving, and African American history and culture will enjoy reading this wonderful new book.”

— Marybeth Gasman, Ph.D., professor, University of Pennsylvania and author of Uplifting a People: African American Philanthropy and Education

“Valaida Fullwood’s Giving Back provides full exposure to the philanthropic treasures we as African Americans have always shared but are rarely credited with in discussions of African American philanthropy. This photographic masterpiece, which certainly tells a story, gives viewers an opportunity to develop their own story as well. What a way to learn!”

— Nelson Bowman, III, director of development, Prairie View A&M University

“Individual giving, organized giving and planned giving are important conversations that need to be elevated in the African-American community like never before and Giving Back is a powerful and beautiful conversation starter.”

— Pat Macdonald, executive director, Black Community Fund, Kansas City, MO

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OPINION | What If We Decolonized Charlotte?

This piece was published by on Nov 20, 2019 to mark National Native American Heritage Month and Charlotte’s observance of National Philanthropy Day.

Imagine a new age of ideas, leadership and people

Queen Charlotte statue at Charlotte Douglas airport | Photographer: Michael Dantzler

If we’re going to heal, let it be glorious.– Beyoncé

Just before Independence Day this summer, Edgar Villanueva, author of the bestselling book “Decolonizing Wealth,” engaged in a series of talks in Charlotte. In his book, Edgar, a foundation executive and member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, poses the question: What if we used wealth to heal, rather than harm?

“Decolonizing Wealth” analyzes dysfunctional racial and colonial dynamics at play in philanthropy. Drawing on personal experiences as a Native American and professional in the philanthropic sector, Edgar offers a prescription for restoring balance and healing divides.

To decolonize, as Edgar describes it, is to reckon with and reconcile wrongs—historical and contemporary—from which a large share of today’s wealth and privilege is derived. It is a process that entails admission and accounting of the exploitation of indigenous and enslaved people during the colonial era and the compounded trauma and impacts on Brown, Black and White people today. Central to decolonizing is a commitment to disclosure, contrition and amends as a means to heal and repair, all of us.

Listening to Edgar made me ponder, what if our community dedicated itself to healing? What if we decolonized Charlotte?

At first blush, the idea might seem improbable for a city built on a proud colonial history. Heck, Charlotte is named for King George’s wife herself. And our city’s symbol is a crown!

Cynics might exploit our standing as the nation’s third largest financial hub as a barrier to change. The mere phrase, decolonizing wealth,would seem antithetical to a bank town. 

Then too there is our reputation as a vibrant “New South City,” which would seem to provide sufficient, albeit thin, cover. The implication being we have already grappled with and successfully overcome an unjust past.

Contrary to what these characterizations might suggest, I believe therein lies Charlotte’s big opportunity.Our Southern heritage, our colonial history, and our prominence in the financial sector make an altogether compelling case to decolonize—systematically purge relic ways and mindsets that betray our grasps for racial equity and economic mobility.

Decolonizing Charlotte is not that far-fetched. The city has long boasted vanguard status with the 1775 “Meck Dec.” With that civic DNA, why couldn’t Charlotteans lead again as revolutionaries? This time though, in lieu of ousting Brits, let’s end colonial reign by repudiating economic exploitation, cultural dominance, forced assimilation and other precepts of colonists. 

Imagine, the symbolism and the substance of our history and status as driving forces to shake free of colonialism. We are a city that emerged from Native American trading paths and that recently celebrated its 250th anniversary. We, along with the nation, just marked 400 years of documented Black life in America.

We are a Southern metropolis that was once part of the original 13 American colonies and, too, the 14 Confederate states. While our storied past holds many points of pride, it also mires us in contradictions and complicates our lives, relationships and philanthropy.

Like an ancestral brownfield site, our civic landscape holds contaminating elements that have not been washed away and cannot be wished away. Yes, the Queen City is on the rise and a newcomer magnet, yet the “Chetty study” sniffed the toxicity. 

Dysfunctional relationships and toxic power dynamics introduced generations ago still haunt our civic life. Even with all the lip service about equity, funding decisions lay bare leaders’ priorities and beliefs. Vestiges of colonial mindsets and the ideology of white supremacy linger. 

It is evident in the fact that a third of Brown and Black children here live in poverty, seen in schools that are the most segregated in the state, and obvious in how we live and do things. Troubling patterns are especially stark in our nonprofit and philanthropic sphere.

When “the Charlotte way“ is perceived a term of endearment by some and an indictment by others, you could say, Charlotte’s got a lot to heal.

While many cling to fiction, the truth remains. But wonder if we dropped the façade. Masking how race, wealth and power play out in Charlotte only exacerbates issues. Suppose instead we scrutinized the problematic history of philanthropy and studied today’s data on where the money goes to inform more equitable approaches.

In lieu of assembling another task force, let’s use“money as medicine,” as Edgar puts it. Let’s direct resources to excavate the roots of injustice and examine its messy fruit. In addition to the litany of pre-K, literacy, mentoring and scholarship programs, let’s also invest in disrupting systems and institutions that perpetually feed the disparities that make such programs necessary. We need to be courageous enough and forward thinking enough to undertake that work, both internally and externally.

The great news! We need not wait for citywide buy-in or a large-scale initiative to begin. One foundation, one organization, one family or one person can choose to decolonize and start the journey. One by one, we each can become decolonizers and transform this city.

How you ask? Debunk the myth of meritocracy. Focus unblinkingly on power and race dynamics. Demonstrate an intolerance of injustice. Interrogate presumptive gatekeepers. Set new expectations for leaders. Listen and learn to sit with discomfort. Expose fake equity and keep pushing for the real thing. Read Decolonizing Wealth.

Glory exists in the work, even when it is inconvenient and uncomfortable and overdue. Decolonizing holds the power to forge our center, to heal, and to reveal at long last our civic soul. Charlotte’s elusive identity found. A so-called identity-crisis averted. You’re welcome.


Valaida Fullwood is author of Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists, creator of The Soul of Philanthropy exhibit, and a founder of New Generation of African American Philanthropists, a giving circle in Charlotte, NC.

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