From ‘Insights on Faith and Giving’

After a quick search of this blog, I’ve just realized that I failed to mention, here, an honor received months ago yet due to take effect in 2014. About six or seven months ago, the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving at Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy named me its 2014 Distinguished Visitor.

Pruitt prayer hands

Photograph by Charles W. Thomas Jr. featured in ‘Giving Back’

Selection as a Lake Distinguished Visitor is an honor of the highest order and I am thrilled. Leaders and associates of a prestigious program of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy recognized the work poured into the Giving Back Project, its uses to spark constructive community conversations and the threads of faith and religion that bind the book. As the Distinguished Visitor for 2014, I will have an opportunity to travel to Indianapolis and the Indiana University-Purdue University campus in fall 2014 to lead seminars, give lectures, share Giving Back and engage faculty and students from the various university disciplines in conversation on issues related to religion and philanthropy.

I hadn’t blogged about this honor earlier, perhaps, because 2014 seemed so far off. (Lately though, next year seems to be barreling toward me faster than ever.) Even with fall 2014 more than a year away, Lake Institute staff has begun building our relationship. Case in point, they recently invited me to be a guest blogger.

Below is more about the Lake Institute. And further below is a link to my guest post.

Lake Institute was created from the legacy gift of Tom and Marjorie Lake, their daughter Karen Lake Buttrey and the Lilly Endowment. Lake Institute exists to honor the philanthropic values of the Lake family and blesses the community with a space for public inquiry and hands on training in the service and study of faith and generosity.

Lake Institute exists to explore the relationship between faith and giving in various religious traditions. We honor the philanthropic values of the Lake family through strategic priorities that continually examine how faith inspires and informs giving. Through years of intentional community building, we have nurtured an environment for public inquiry and crafted hands on training that assists faith communities and donors in the pursuit of their philanthropic passions. 

My Aunt Dora |  Photography by Charles W. Thomas Jr.

My Aunt Dora, the face that launched 1000 days and more! | Photography by Charles W. Thomas Jr. featured in ‘Giving Back’

Insights is the e-newsletter distributed by Lake Institute. The April 2013, Issue #2 features a short piece about my great-aunt Dora who, as a retired pastor and generous woman of faith, inspired Giving Back as well as my recent TEDx Talk. The post is titled “The Face That Launched a Thousand Days.” You can read it here.

Oh and…you can follow @LakeInstitute on Twitter and Facebook, too.

A special note of thanks to Aimee Laramore, Associate Director of the Lake Institute, for her generosity of spirit.

— VF

Mr. and Mrs. Jones

“Light glorifies everything. It transforms and ennobles the most commonplace and ordinary subjects.” — Leonard Misonne, photographer

One of the stories featured in Giving Back pays tribute to Carlotta and Johnnie Jones—ordinary people with an extraordinary philanthropic spirit. Faith and long family traditions provide light for their path of generous giving. The Jones’s firm beliefs and lifelong example inspired their daughter Melandee to share her story for the book.

Their enlightened family legacy lives on. Melandee serves on the boards of Arts For Life, BDPA and Citizen Schools. She also is member of New Generation of African American Philanthropists, a giving circle that gives back. — VF

MISTER JONES | Charles W. Thomas Jr., photographer

Sunshine Amidst Clouds

Admittedly, I’ve got a thing for word clouds. ( has altered my life!) Loving words and artful images, I can’t help but be enthralled when the two are combined—hence my book. Anyway, here is this week’s word cloud using the latest commentary from advance readers of Giving Back. A reminder that good things can shine through the cloudiest of days and moments. — VF

‘Poor Human Stuff’

“Religion without humanity is poor human stuff.” — Sojourner Truth

Charles W. Thomas Jr., photographer

A Thousand Words Spoken

“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.” — Henry Ward Beecher

Today is the birthday of Charles W. Thomas, Jr., the photographer for Giving Back. I’m taking the occasion to publicly thank Charles for collaborating with me on this project. Our dispositions and skill-sets proved a good match; however, it was a shared pride in our cultural heritage and love of our community’s stories that defined our work together. (Though, my loyalties as a Tarheel might rightfully be questioned for working so well with a Duke grad! Sorry about that.)

Still an amazingly vivid memory, my initial conversation with Charles happened almost four years ago. We had crossed paths professionally, but neither of us truly knew the other or had never even had a one-on-one conversation. Months earlier, I had conceived of and mapped out the book project and was now in search of a photographer.

I wanted to find someone who would approach the project with an artist’s eye and could capture the striking beauty of our people and our stories. Knowing of his affiliation with The Light Factory Contemporary Museum of Photography and Film, Charles had been on my list of prospective photographers, and several people in Charlotte’s arts community also had suggested I meet with him.

During our meeting, I unfolded my vision of the book and shared notes from a concept paper. Charles held an amused look as I rambled on about what I envisioned and the timeline and the resources and the logistics for making it happen. He expressed his past desire to pursue a similar concept. As we talked further, there was clear alignment of our values and artistic aspirations.

A crucial move, choosing Charles as my photography partner on the project was no doubt divinely inspired. His collaboration has been a God-sent steadying force—from his initial blind faith in my vision to his level-headedness, patience, professionalism and generosity. During the photo shoots, he established a trusting rapport with each person and thus captured telling images. He also was easy about the unexpected twists and turns of the project and the constant stream of ideas coming from me.

You will soon see, in each of the 180 photographs featured in Giving Back, a thousand words spoken not only about every subject but also about the wide soul and genius nature of Charles Thomas.

Thank you and have a happy birthday Charles!

— VF

Over the Moon

Over the past week, I’ve begun receiving “advance commentary” on Giving Back. Selected readers of prominence, from across the country, have been more than generous with praise of the book’s stories and photography, and their affirmation means the world to me.

For more than four years, I was burrowed deeply in a writer’s hole and afflicted with a brutal case of tunnel vision in order to make this book happen. Making it happen meant not only generating the book’s content but also raising considerable funds and navigating the publishing industry, all of which were foreign to me.

Nevertheless, nothing could keep me from where my sights were cast. With remarkable clarity from the start, my mind’s eye held tight a vision that only sharpened over time. Though the vision was clear, the path was uncertain…really uncertain and seemingly treacherous at times. Trusting a gut sense while feeling my way through the dark and benefiting from gracious gestures made by Charles, family, friends and giving circle members helped move the book project forward.

After following a path that has tested every ounce of my soul and being, I’m sent higher than the sky to find that Giving Back can withstand the brightness outside the burrow and, in fact, shows best in the light of the wider world. When readers tell me they’ve seen, felt, thought and learned the things I long hoped someone…anyone…would, then it seems the years, the sacrifices and the times being misunderstood have been worth it.

Here’s one of the submissions from an advance reader that sent me flying over the moon:

“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!”

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

Rich Aunt

An excerpted vignette story from the forthcoming book Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists

A soup kitchen?  The morning my mother called with news that a great-aunt had begun organizing free daily meals in a fragile part of town is as vivid to me today as it was nearly twenty years ago.

Expectations of service are handed down like heirlooms in my family, and Aunt Dora figured prominently in a long line of givers. Even so, I had never imagined such a bold move or demanding commitment from my grandmother’s reserved younger sister. Widowed and seventy-something at the time, Aunt Dora had selflessly looked after people her entire life as a mother, grandmother, foster mother, den mother and church pastor. I was at a loss as to why she was launching a community food program on the heels of her retirement from the church. Hadn’t she given enough? Wasn’t it time to pull back?  To the contrary: It was precisely at this point she sought to commit herself anew.

I later learned it was in meditation during a silent spiritual retreat that Aunt Dora received the answer to her quest. “Feed the hungry” was her directive, and she founded Our Daily Bread Kitchen Inc. Since that day the kitchen has flourished and now serves free meals to over ten thousand people a year. Aunt Dora’s ongoing, obedient responses—constructing a larger, new facility and preparing meals, still, as she nears ninety—have removed any of my questions about the ceaseless bounty of service for fortunate heirs.

— VF

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” —  Mother Teresa

Prayer for the day . . . and week ahead

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is doubt, faith.

Where there is despair, hope.

Where there is darkness, light.

Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.


— Prayer of Saint Francis