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!

Reclaiming The Root Meaning of Philanthropy

  Radical simply means ‘grasping things at the root.’ — Angela Davis

Let’s engage in the radical work of reclaiming the root meaning of philanthropy: love of humanity. Philanthropy, a curious word to many, evokes a range of images, beliefs and emotions. To contemplate its semantics and evolution and then to initiate anew our collective philanthropic practice could prove a seminal undertaking for black America.

This moment hangs ripe. The “season of giving” is near and clears the way to a new year of possibilities. The election of President Barack H. Obama has substantiated, again, the might of black unity. And yet, between the hopes and history making and the thanks and gifts giving are uncharitable acts and vitriol that signal a shift back in time, not forward. Indignities, inequities and injustices do not simply dissipate; instead, we must come together in systematically uprooting them.

With community needs great and the need for unity greater, the times beckon a new era of conscientious philanthropy rooted in a love for community and expectations of social change. Let this generation, both young and old, embody a social transformation with bold recognition of our power and responsibility to give back.

Philanthropy is a gateway to power. It is a chief means to acquiring, sustaining and strengthening our status—economically, politically, socially and spiritually. Our ancestors knew this. They originated and supported systems for giving and assisted members of the community, whether neighbor, stranger or kin. Remarkably, a fundamental source of our progress at times seems forgotten.

Remembering our long and prolific history of philanthropy is crucial. Historical accounts of black largesse and examples of culturally significant vehicles of giving abound. Look up the Free African Society, an 18th century mutual aid organization established by Richard Allen and Absalom Jones. Study the social justice philanthropy of the legendary Madam CJ Walker. Before the Civil War, up through the Civil Rights struggle and after, our forebears charted paths and lay blueprints for progress. While the impulse to “give back” lives on in the community and opportunities exist to bring new twists to old traditions, this work must be encouraged and nurtured.

In the starkest of ironies, black Americans give the highest percentage of discretionary income to charitable causes when compared to other racial groups in America; and yet our philanthropy is discounted and overlooked by mainstream society. Indeed, within the black community, our traditions of giving are seldom acknowledged or celebrated, or even described as philanthropy. Absurd as it is, this cultural disconnect persists for many reasons and shortchanges us all.

Ideas and images of present-day philanthropy frequently fail to resonate and, worse yet, serve to alienate black Americans. Particularly unsettling is the stunning absence of black people in representations of philanthropists—a few select luminaries notwithstanding. A point of view endures that renders black donors and benefactors, in effect, invisible. The familiar picture of philanthropy is narrowly framed and thus gives a false impression that the only giving that matters is beyond the average person’s means.

On the demand side of philanthropy—as beneficiaries and “the needy”—is a common context for depictions of black children, families and communities. While but one facet of philanthropy, imagery around whites as the benefactors and blacks as those in need has devolved into a stubborn stereotype and produced a picture that distorts and is incomplete.

A richer picture exists. Widening the lens to include our customs and stories of giving yields a different view. Vibrant philanthropy is occurring in black communities, whether labeled as such or not. Even so, great promise rests in sharpening our focus to affect social change. Collectively, black America possesses the assets—heart, head, heritage and dollars—to eradicate a host of social ills. With our legacy of generosity, our shared stake in change and our capacity to leverage centuries-long gains in wealth, education and access, how could we not?

Exercising this power first requires a shift in thinking and wider recognition of the power of black philanthropy. Strategic alliances among black donors, across black communities and with institutional partners also are vital.

Significant in seizing the moment and sustaining the effort is love. Love of family. Love of culture. Love for thy neighbor as thyself. In its truest sense, philanthropy is rooted in love. Advancing social change with that spirit opens opportunities for everyone to participate and fixes the focus on liberating people not elevating oneself.

Putting our money where our heart lies. That is the charge. Begin doing your part today by deepening your knowledge of philanthropy, by examining your motivations for giving and by joining with others to grasp at the root causes of our collective concerns—for love.

Valaida

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!

Of Fathers and Philanthropy

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Creativity swirling around in my mind definitely comes from my dad. He’s imaginative, hilarious, an unconventional thinker and a constant writer. Even though our being too much alike predictably results in occasional friction, our conflicts never eclipse our respect, pride and love for each other.

My father’s philanthropic spirit has been a substantial force in my life, too. For as long as I can remember, he has shown profound compassion for people experiencing struggles. I suppose then it makes perfect sense that his background is in social work and that much of his employment and community service have focused on enhancing the lives of the mentally ill, the developmentally challenged and the marginalized.

During the entirety of his life and mine as well, Daddy has served in the church and for community causes. He was active in the Jaycees before I entered kindergarten, and some of my earliest memories are of the family taking part in his community service projects and fundraising events. Throughout my school days, he served on the school board and even led it as board chair. As little kids, Diatra and I helped with his campaigns each time an election rolled around. Daddy later became a trustee at the community college and eventually president of the National Association of Community College Trustees. He has always loved community service and in each instance poured himself and his resources into it and brought along his family on every pursuit into philanthropy.

In his retirement, Daddy remains active on nonprofit committees and still supports education by leading his local NC Central University alumni chapter. He volunteers so frequently, it’s often hard for me to keep up.

Daddy’s imprint on me is undeniable and quite obvious to people who know us both. My book Giving Back reflects the creativity he passed on and then nurtured within me. The book’s focus on philanthropy is the result of beliefs bequeathed to him and then handed down to his daughters. In recognition of philanthropic fathers everywhere and the power they possess to change the world through their children and generations yet unborn, below are excerpts from Giving Back about or from fathers and grandfathers. — VF

“Treat giving like tithes and getting your hair done.”

Daryl Parham (portrait with one of his three daughters shown right)

“I never consciously associated Granddaddy’s life with one of a philanthropist…I just thought that was who Granddaddy was. But, now I get it.”

Marcus Littles

“I have always admired how he overcame obstacles to blaze trails in business and eventually become the Raleigh region’s first African American owner and operator of McDonald’s franchises. While my father made an indelible mark in business, his servant spirit in giving defines his legacy.”

Reggie Pretty (shown left)

“My father is a deacon and he believes in taking care of the elderly and the widows. My father did shift work. I can remember him getting off graveyard, coming home to eat breakfast, and then, he and I would go out into the community.”

Lyord Watson, Jr.

“I feel obligated to give regularly like I am paying my monthly bills.”

James Mitchell (my late grandfather, shown right)

“My father modeled giving. His generous spirit touched everyone he met. And I came to realize that giving begins with belief – belief that the smallest gift can make a difference; believe that everyone is worthy of a chance and that each of us can provide that opportunity.”

Ruthye Cureton Cooley

“‘Give a youth a chance’ is almost a cliché, but as Dad’s mantra it is so much more than that.”

Lisa Crawford (her father John Crawford is shown left)

“Monetary wealth was not found in our family, yet Mama earned a reputation for being a generous woman who loved her family deeply, served her church devoutly and gave to all freely.”

Allen Fullwood

Shifting from ‘Me’ to Movement of Conscious Philanthropy

Listen to my recent conversation with Tavis Smiley about Black philanthropy and Giving Back on his nationally syndicated radio program, The Tavis Smiley Show.

During the interview, Tavis questions whether any hope remains in rekindling a spirit of compassion and generosity in a culture that seems to be degenerating and glorifying a me-and-mine mentality. Hear my response . . . and then share yours here.

The book Giving Back is a centerpiece of the Giving Back Project, which aims to ignite a movement of conscientious philanthropy by empowering a generation to recognize their power and responsibility to give back.

The interview airs on The Tavis Smiley Show through Friday, May 25. Tune in and then share the link and your thoughts. — VF

Charles W. Thomas Jr., photographer

Soul. Oh!

Portrait from "Giving Back" | Charles W. Thomas Jr., photographer

Dreams are illustrations from the book your soul is writing about you.” ― Marsha Norman

Through the book Giving Back, we venture to dream a bigger dream and to ignite a movement of conscientious philanthropy by empowering a generation of Americans to recognize their power and responsibility to give back. ― VF

Keen Line of Sight on Philanthropy

Photograph from "Giving Back" | Charles W. Thomas Jr., photographer

Everyday givers from African American communities have an acute line of vision and insightful stories to tell; yet these perspectives are often absent from dialogue and decisions in philanthropy.

Narratives about community and mutuality are woven into Black culture and influence how many people see the world, choose to give and define success.

Through storytelling and photography, Giving Back reveals motivations, reflects proud traditions and relays a wisdom about giving and generosity that has newfound relevance today.

Giving Back gives glimpses of the change we wish to see in the world and provides a springboard for deeper conversations on inclusive and responsive philanthropy. — VF

 

‘Stunning example of populist philanthropy’


Photograph from "Giving Bsck" |Charles W. Thomas Jr., photographer

“African American philanthropy is a stunning example of ‘populist philanthropy.’ We as a people have been able to demonstrate how philanthropy is a form of relationship with others that everyone can practice. Children to seniors in our community have a long history of giving selflessly to those we know intimately as well as to total strangers. I am very proud of our cultural history as philanthropists!”

 Jennifer Henderson, a kind contributor of narratives for Giving Back