Something’s Gotta Give

Mounting pressure triggers thoughts like, “something’s gotta give”. That is, a sense kicks in that something needs to shift—recognition that a tipping point is imminent. Intensified moments such as this converged on me too many times to count over the last 10 years, leaving me anxious and wondering, “what next?”

VF hands and laptopTen years ago, on April 27, 2007, while attending a Women’s Funding Network conference in Seattle, an idea came to me with astounding clarity. That moment marked the beginning of the Giving Back Project. Below are  excerpted notes from a decade ago about evocative imagery of the human hand that illustrate the specificity of my initial thoughts.

“The fragrance always remains in the hand that gives the rose.”

“Hands — both the image and the words — are rich with symbolism, particularly in the context of giving. Hand out. Hand up. Hand-me-down. Give a helping hand. Hand in hand. These are just a few of the many common expressions containing the word “hand” that connote philanthropic concepts and stir a broad range of sentiments.

“Images of human hands will feature prominently on the cover and will be a point of detail in the portraits of honorees. Evocative images include: Strong, leathered hands of the aged (envisioned for cover), hand on cane, a handshake, hands serving food, hands knitting, hand holding a photo, hand pressing a Bible, hand writing a check and hands tending to a child.”

After its conception, the book Giving Back took 1621 days to complete and publish. Even with crystal clear vision, a litany of unexpected and sometimes brutal challenges blocked my path—the 2008 economic implosion, fundraising woes, skeptics, critics, distractions—which often left me saying, something’s gotta give. Despite nearing boiling points, I resisted temptations to escape the heat by compromising my vision. The experience was an assault on every front, and yet somehow I pushed through. If something had to give, it wasn’t going to be me. After enduring the breaking points of the 1621 days, I believed I was, at last, free. I was wrong. 

After 10 years, the struggle endures, but I’m now essentially heat resistant. The early years of the project rendered me unbreakable. Like pottery, the fire has continuously strengthened me to carry a God-gifted vision. The Giving Back Project still teaches me daily about faith and purpose, patience and persistence, grace and philanthropy, because  something has got to give, indeed. #getyourgiveon

Below are photos from the past decade. Enjoy! 

— VF

3,650 Days

“If there is a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” — Toni Morrison

VF hands and laptop

Yesterday, April 27, marked the 10th anniversary of the birth of The Giving Back Project, which was sparked the night the idea came to me for Giving Back. To commemorate the conception of my now decade-long labor of love, below is the excerpted Author’s Notes section (p. 338) from the book.

Grace is a gift always welcome. And I was showered with grace while developing Giving Back. When I first conceived of the idea, zeal and naivety blinded me to its magnitude. I thought it would take a year to develop the book; instead it led me on a four-and-a-half-year odyssey that proved torturous and joyous.

At times, doubts would swarm with stinging questions about whether the vision was attainable. I questioned whether I was up to the sacrifices and risks that seeing it through seemed to require of me. People I spoke with believed in the project; they saw the significance of documenting our stories and producing a socially relevant book. This helped fend off some my fears. Even with dispiriting episodes, I could never suppress for long the call of these stories.

Interviewing people was a privilege and extraordinarily gratifying; yet the gravity of the undertaking weighed heavily on me too. Each set of interview notes seemed so delicate. I gained deeper recognition of how precious each story was and how potent it could become if I possessed the wherewithal to craft a compelling body of work and get it in front of readers.

I felt like a surrogate entrusted to carry not one but scores of seeds, each exceptional, fragile and bundling possibilities. Humbled and often daunted I knew I had to take care in crafting each story with due reverence. Demanding equal finesse was clearing an uncertain path to bring the book’s narrative and photographic content out of the obscurity of our families, our communities and my laptop into the light of the wider world. Guidance, often from unexpected people and places, came at each crossroad.

Always brightening the journey were the hopes and confidence expressed by family, friends and giving circle members. I remember the excitement of Ohmar, Renee and Rashad when they first heard my idea while on a road trip to a Black philanthropy conference. I think about Aunt Dora’s smile upon learning she inspired the book. I recall early conversations with Charles about my vision and the alignment of our artistic aspirations. Collaboration with Charles has been a God-sent steadying force, from his initial blind faith in the project to his ease, professionalism and quiet generosity.

The most beautiful gift while writing this book was being immersed in its content. I couldn’t help but become re-inspired when each day required me to delve into literally hundreds of narratives and photographs meant to inspire and motivate. Gratitude bubbles over when I look back on the gracious acts that brought Giving Back into being. Without a doubt God’s grace is greatest, but grace granted by the people around me was wonderfully sweet too. — VF

Additional photos and posts, reflecting on my experiences and learning, will follow over the next few days.

 

Exhibiting Philanthropy

Dora's handsBefore Giving Back was ever published, Charles and I envisioned a touring exhibition of our stories and photography on philanthropy. Now, two and half years after release of our book, we are on the cusp of seeing another dream come to fruition.

Giving Back: The Soul of Philanthropy Reframed and Exhibited takes photography and narratives from our book and introduces new content to presents stories of generosity among Americans of African descent.

Influencing the next generation of givers is a priority, so prospective exhibitors are galleries and libraries on college campuses, particularly Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs), as well as museums, cultural institutions and philanthropic institutions with exhibition space. The exhibition’s programming will reflect innovative approaches that invite and engage K-12 students, college students, alumni, educators, faith-based congregants, neighborhood leaders, staff at nonprofits and foundations and the wider public.

We’re encouraged because The Soul of Philanthropy has attracted some initial financial support and also generated strong interest among a wide range of exhibiting institutions in North Carolina and across the country. A priority now is to pursue additional funding in order to begin rolling out a touring exhibition in fall 2014. Securing funds over this summer is the game plan.

Read more about The Soul of Philanthropy here: http://givingbackproject.org/2014/05/19/the-soul-of-philanthropy-reframed-and-exhibited/

A pop-up mini exhibition of The Soul of Philanthropy is set for June 8, and you’re invited to the world premiere: http://www.paperlesspost.com/events/7715089-a8031295/replies/preview#paper/front/0

— VF

CLT Chapter of Fundraising Pros Hosts NGAAP Giving Circle

While it’s not a Justin Timberlake kind of “sexy,” it’s a topic we think is pretty hot. So…We’re Bringing Giving Back!

Join us Wednesday, February 26, when New Generation of African American Philanthropists will present at the February lunch meeting of Association of Fundraising Professional (AFP), Charlotte Chapter.

Find more info here: AFP Charlotte February 2014 Monthly Meeting

Here’s To 2013!

It was a very good year.

And my giving circle, New Generation of African American Philanthropists, had the good fortune of serving up heaps of good stuff. See for yourself here.

NGAAP at Pikes

Circle members at a monthly meeting (with requisite food in abundance). And while not the best photography, one of the greatest pictures ever!

 

Happy New Year! Make 2014 a good year, too.

Related stories
Year-end Message from New Generation of African American Philanthropists, Dec 2012 – valaida.com

 

Much Given, Much Expected

“To whom much is given much is expected. This biblical passage from the Gospel of Luke conveys a belief that I and many of my African American family and friends hold dear. Many of us recall a defining moment or childhood lessons that influence our philanthropic giving.”

I’ve opened with these lines from Giving Back to say thanks to many of the people who gave their time, talent and treasure during the development of the book. The word cloud below is yet another way of giving props….as was done here too.

Watch [Philanthropy Reframed]

Charles W. Thomas Jr., photographer

New voices. New vibe. New video. New view on philanthropy.

Watch our new 2.5-minute video trailer for the Giving Back Project and its centerpiece publication, Giving Back. The project is a civic engagement campaign comprising artful stories and photography that reframe portraits of philanthropy.

For too long, philanthropy has been narrowly defined by great wealth and large monetary gifts. Prevailing stories about giving often exclude generous everyday people and feed false notions about who can give and make a difference. Changing the world requires us to rethink and reframe philanthropy.

The Giving Back Project brings new content and fresh approaches to include a wider slice of society in philanthropy. Through our publications, multimedia presentations and interactive community forums, we lift up inspiring stories of everyday givers.

  • Literary arts
  • Photography
  • Spoken-word poetry
  • Oral history
  • Music
  • Digital media
  • Social networking

No matter the medium, our stories promote the belief that we all can and should give back, no matter our age or our circumstances. We celebrate generous gifts of time, talent and treasure and venture to reclaim the root meaning of philanthropy, love of humanity.

The Giving Back Project aims to ignite a movement of conscientious philanthropy by empowering a generation to recognize its power and responsibility to give back.

Join us…and get your give on!