‘The Face That Launched a Thousand Days’

On the last day of Women’s History Month, it’s fitting to pay tribute here to the magnanimous muse of Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists, my great aunt Dora—now 96 years old and as vibrant as ever. The piece below, The Face That Launched a Thousand Days, is about Aunt Dora and was first published by Indiana University the year I was named “Lake Distinguished Visitor.”

♦♦♦

25,000 words

392 manuscript pages

76 quotes from the ages

200 narratives on what it means to give back

180 portraits of everyday Black philanthropists

4 centuries of an American legacy rooted in Africa

999,999 reasons to give

1 book that reframes portraits of philanthropy

Dors Atlas

Great aunt Dora (maternal)

Muse seems a fitting description for Aunt Dora. Hers is the face that launched a thousand-day odyssey and twenty-five thousand words. The generosity of my 92-year-old great-aunt inspired me to embark on developing the book Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists. Giving Back is a 400-page hardcover publication filled with revealing stories and artful photography about traditions of giving within Black communities. In prose, poetry and portraiture, my great-aunt’s philanthropy and that of 199 other benefactors of African descent fill every page.

When the idea for the book took hold of me, little did I know that seeing it through and publishing it would require a high-wire walk of faith, spanning four-and-half years or one thousand days—well, 1621 days to be exact. With each day that passed, the vision for Giving Back grew so clear it haunted me. The pathway, however, grew obscured by episodes of frustration and weariness from setbacks.

On those clouded, dark days, brightening my steps like bursts of light from a beacon were the narratives and biographies of the people I was chronicling. In a twist, the volume of stories that I was inspired to start writing had come to speak volumes to me and thus supplied inspiration to complete the book. Being immersed in accounts of “lovers of humankind”—their aspirations, motivations and tribulations—compelled me to push on.

Fittingly, the story of my original source of inspiration and great-aunt, Rev. Dora Atlas, opens Giving Back. After reading “Rich Aunt,” indeed, you will see that she is a great aunt in deed. The book’s collection of stories and photographs forever altered my thinking and my work in philanthropy, and I expect it could have the same effect on you.

Shared here is a TEDx video of my faith-fueled story of philanthropy, identity and epiphany that produced Giving Back.

VIDEO: A Picture Reframed | http://youtu.be/CZ9k18BzDV8

Roses For The Living

 

15385464_10153986999206857_777408623341259544_o

My sister Diatra and me miraculously still standing and smiling after 72 hours of nonstop event prep, heavy lifting and rose wall creation for the Gantt Center’s 2016 Jazzy Holiday Gala.

This year the Jazzy Holiday Gala was organized around the idea of art & soul, conveying the unique and vital role the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture plays in Charlotte’s artistic and cultural scene and in the lives of youth, artists, educators, families and others, in communities near and far. Together at The Center was the evening’s mantra.

Jazzy is an elegant black-tie gala and major fundraiser of the Gantt Center. After three decades, it’s become a holiday tradition in Charlotte. For the past five years, I’ve been the creative strategist/event consultant for Jazzy. Photos from past events can be seen here and here and here. As with each year, I approached the event as a large-scale art project, beginning with an organizing concept through which an important narrative from the Gantt Center can be told. Then I built out the concept from the color palette to visual design to key messages and scripting to art forms and media to the presenters to the flow of the evening.

This year, art & soul emerged as perfect because the Gantt Center is a state-of-the-art building located in the heart of Charlotte, and it carries a mission to preserve African American culture and to present art in all its forms. Its location holds particular significance because it stands in what was once the thriving, predominately Black neighborhood of Brooklyn. In innumerable ways, the Gantt Center embodies Charlotte’s heart, art and soul.

On Saturday, December 3, more than 700 guests gathered at the Charlotte Convention Center and helped raise $300,000 to advance the Gantt Center’s mission, which keeps art & soul alive and thriving in Charlotte. The event’s Presenting Sponsor was Bank of America. Gala Co-Chairs were Dr. Tiffani Jones & Thaddeus Jones and Allison & Tim Atwell, who led a Host Committee that included: Ned Austin, Victor Fields, Joan Higginbotham, Charles Horton, Michelle Horton, Jerri Irby, Alene Paraison, Yandrick Paraison and Natalie Pittman.

2016 Spirit of the Center Award recipients were: PNC (corporate citizenship and partnership); Richard J. Powell, Ph.D. of Duke University (art and culture); and Mrs. Sarah Stevenson, a founding board member of the Gantt Center (philanthropy and community).

The gala opened at 6:00 pm with an hour-long cocktail reception and was followed by dinner, award presentations, art & soul impact stories, an appeal for membership, music by Al Jasper & Friends and dancing. Membership was the focus of the evening’s fundraising appeal. Throughout the evening, gala attendees were urged to becoming a new member,  renew a membership, upgrade a membership and “gift” membership for others. The aim was for every guest to purchase a membership.

A live rose wall served as the event’s focal centerpiece. Guests posed in front of a backdrop of 1,000s of red rose blossoms as photographer Jon Strayhorn took beautiful portraits (see some of Jon’s photos below). A wall of windows outside the ballroom were transformed into a photography exhibition with artful images by Ortega Gaines. A sleek program booklet comprised colorful photographs, indicative of the Gantt Center’s art & soul.

But one glorious night, Jazzy celebrates what the Gantt Center carries out nearly 365 days a year, why it has garnered community support for 42 years, and how it works to shape the future by engaging generation after generation. Whether it’s art and soul, young and old, global and local, or black, white and brown, we come together at The Center.

View the photo slideshow by clicking an image.

 

Inside Philanthropy Reblog :: Meet the Top 20 Philanthropists of Color

 

The new national museum of African American History and Culture

The nation’s ethnic landscape is changing, and by 2050, America will be majority non-white. These demographic shifts have implications for a wide variety of sectors, including philanthropy.

Continue reading

AAWGT Presents: The Emerging Face of 21st Century Philanthropy

Looking forward to this community forum coming up in Annapolis!AAWGT FINAL Invite jpg

From BGB :: Ivye L. Allen, President, Foundation for the Mid South

In observance of Community Foundation Week (#CFWeek), November 12-18, 2015, I’m delighted to share a BlackGivesBack.com profile on Dr. Ivye L. Allen, President of the Foundation for the Mid South, located in Jackson, Mississippi.

While we’ve yet to meet in person, Dr. Allen has been a tremendous supporter of The Giving Back Project and source of encouragement for me. She reviewed a galley version of Giving Back and provided advance praise. Most recently, her foundation awarded major grant funds to bring The Soul of Philanthropy to three Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the mid-South region.

Community philanthropy is crucial for vibrant local communities. It’s fulfilling to highlight the staff, board members and donors at community foundations that are demonstrating strong commitment to informing, inspiring, investing in and involving Black philanthropic leadership.

READ MORE: Community Foundation Week Profile: Dr. Ivye L. Allen, President of Foundation for the Mid South

Ivye_Allen

Dr. Ivye L. Allen, President, Foundation For The Mid South

Love. Give. Go. Do.

Three stories have come my way the last week or two, revealing how the video introducing Giving Back, titled [ philanthropy reframed ], is being used as a tool with a range of groups and in a variety of settings. Immense satisfaction fills me when I hear these stories. With a running time of a whopping 2.5 minutes, the book trailer took nearly as long to produce as the book and required eking out every ounce of my perseverance and resourcefulness.

So here’s one example of how and why the video is being shared with youth:

“Our Jack and Jill teens group is comprised of five young people in high school. …They are committed to philanthropy and giving back—a characteristic that will distinguish them as a small but mighty set of young people, and we are using ‘philanthropy reframed’ as an orientation to owning the language.”

Then there’s this example:

“I shared ‘philanthropy reframed‘ in a [church] seminar just this past week. Your personal advice about connection, audience and your speaking engagements touched me…a wonderful reminder of God’s grace, and how He works through people too.”

And then there’s this piece that was sent to a friend and then forwarded to me:

“… I was recently in a leadership training workshop and we viewed a short video that YOU were in!!! It was about the changing face of philanthropy. Basically African Americans’ increasing role in philanthropy…Many people from my leadership class (including myself) wanted a copy of that video! If you have it, can you forward me a link or URL to that video? It was super impact-ful!”

So if you’ve never seen it or it’s been a while, here it is . . .

philanthropy reframed vid screenshot

Related articles

‘Philanthropy is the soul revealed’

Photography by Charles W. Thomas Jr.

Photography by Charles W. Thomas Jr.

“Although I’ve previously browsed through your book, I now have a copy and began to read through each page. I am still only at the beginning, but I have to tell you that it is so very moving and inspiring.

You ask how we define philanthropy? I think philanthropy is the soul revealed—and that’s what makes your book so powerful. And, you have such a beautiful way of writing. So, I just had to tell you this and to thank you for your beautiful book.” 

— Pat

 

License…Poetic, Philanthropic and Otherwise

hands2dora_val

Gave away my soul.
Giving back to get it back.
Given what I know.

Ava Wood

Today is the last day of National Poetry Month and year-round I love sharing bits of poetry that were inked for Giving Back, hence the haiku above. After considerable consternation, I granted myself license while writing Giving Back to begin exploring and eventually exhibiting my poetic sensibilities. The experience has been liberating and, at times, disorienting. Stepping out of your comfort zone and eschewing safety nets can be just as scary as it sounds. Nevertheless, I have chosen the high-wire act of expressing myself more freely as a writer, as a poet, as a public speaker and in various facets of my life. Some might call these acts, self-determination.

I have learned that setting inflexible frames about how things are “supposed to be” based on others’ rules and measures is limiting. As is clutching too tight to the unessential. These and a string of other epiphanies are revealed in my recent TEDx Talk, A Picture Reframed.license 

One week ago, a story on Ebony.com—the online version of EBONY Magazine—re-stirred my thinking about the concept of self-determination and the word license.

‘Young Black Philanthropist’ Is Not an Oxymoron is a piece written by Ebonie Johnson Cooper, a thought leader on African American millennial giving and civic engagement. In her Ebony.com story, Ebonie recounts an unexpected conversation that left her troubled, momentarily. It was one in which a woman questioned broad application of the word philanthropist and chastised use of the term for givers deemed of average or modest means. Philanthropy as exclusive domain for the wealthy is, alas, a still widely held belief.

Etymologically, philanthropy is about love. Ironically, most folks believe it’s only about money. The word is derived from philos, Greek for “loving” in the sense of benefiting, caring for, nourishing. So rather than bastardizing a word, as suggested by Ebonie’s inquisitor, we are in fact reclaiming the word and returning it to its root meaning—love. Philanthropy literally means “love of humanity,” as in caring about what it is to be human.

As Ebonie found out, work in the field of philanthropy often brings one in proximity to a preponderance of people who exhibit a pronounced preoccupation with all things pecuniary and of position, power and privilege. Peculiar perhaps, but in the realm of endowments and grantmaking there are those who behave as if endowed with super-human power and thus proceed passionately as grantors of status, licensors of labels, keepers of community gates and authorizers of civic value.

Convoluted social constructs and hierarchies, in the name of philanthropy, do not warrant investment. For me, philanthropy encompasses simpler kinds of kindness, generic acts of generosity and humility amidst concern for humanity—all the while being no less thoughtful, strategic or transformative. Love is plain, yet potent that way.

Ebonie and I and others are part of a new generation of philanthropists that spans generations, race, class, position, income and wealth. It includes members of Community Investment Network who are giving, collectively, through giving circles. It includes Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, author of Giving 2.0, a book that makes a case about the future of philanthropy and how “individuals of every age and income level can harness the power of technology, collaboration, innovation, advocacy, and social entrepreneurship to take their giving to the next level and beyond.” It includes Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP) which is “building democratic philanthropy.” And it can include you.

Ebonie made the case this way in her story:

“The more mirrors we see of ourselves as grassroots organizers, board members, and financial donors, the more we will be able to accept our place as modern-day philanthropists who look into our own communities and define for ourselves who we are and what needs to be done. If we don’t, someone else certainly will.”

True. Case in point, absent from tables in U.S. philanthropy are a representative share of African Americans, because we co-sign and are thus co-opted by a corrupted translation of philanthropist. As a community, African Americans have yet to tap our fullest power by determining ourselves assets within our communities, vital players in ending inequities and, yes, philanthropists. While we are free to claim ourselves philanthropists, ultimately the label is unimportant. It is care-full work, sustained generosity and a love of people that characterize a philanthropist.

Haiku introduces this piece and the poet shares what she’s come to know, the hard way. I am hopeful that we all will soon come to know the power of loving, understanding and respecting what it means to be human. At its essence, philanthropy requires no license, labels or limits.

— VF

Our TEDx Talk on Identity, Epiphany and Philanthropy

This piece and this piece tell the story behind the speech about the stories behind the stories of Giving Back (yes, very meta).

You can finally see it for yourself as I am delighTED to share this TEDx video with you today! Oh and…you can read further about A Picture Reframed, my co-presentation at TEDxCharlotte 2013, here and here. Enjoy!

 

‘Root Meaning’ Grasped

L-O-V-E | Charles W. Thomas Jr., photographer

Recent media coverage of my op-ed delights me. While the piece was written for black media to mark National Philanthropy Day (November 15), its message holds relevance for everyone, any time.

Individuals, networks and media groups amplified the commentary by publishing and sharing it widely. My thanks to all who ran or read it. Below is a list of places where I’m aware it appeared. If you saw the piece elsewhere, please let me know. Now, go get your give on!