This piece was published by QCityMetro.com 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 power
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.
Back around 2006 and 2007, before New Generation of African American Philanthropists was fully formed or even had a name, we held monthly gatherings around town to decide who and how we wanted to be. Various people flowed in and out of the process and contributed seeds of ideas that eventually blossomed into our giving circle. Along the way, some folks opted out of becoming formal circle members because they had other commitments and priorities. Even so, bonds—tight ones and tenuous ones—made in the early days remained intact.
One such friend to the circle was Kelly Harris, PhD who was on faculty at JCSU. Often traveling internationally with student groups, Kelly tried to stay engaged and on occasion managed to attend meetings and provide input. Then we lost contact when his a new job took him out of Charlotte about 10 years ago. So, I was pleasantly surprised when Kelly, seemingly out of the blue, reached out to me at the start of last year.
From afar and unbeknown to me, he had continued to follow our circle’s evolution and work, and he inquired about The Soul of Philanthropy Reframed and Exhibited. Now a dean at Chicago State U, Kelly was interested in bringing the exhibit to his HBCU campus to teach philanthropy and benefit his students.
Representative of a solid (even magical) bond and a full yet never-ending circle, below is a photo from Kelly’s pop-up exhibition. It was mounted at CSU’s Gwendolyn Brooks Center in October. Quoted here, Ms. Brooks’ poetical pronouncement is truth.
“We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.” — Gwendolyn Brooks
The arrival of August kicks off Black Philanthropy Month (BPM). Established by Dr. Jackie Copeland-Carson in 2011, BPM is a campaign to strengthen African-descent giving in all its forms.
“I hope people use BPM 2018 and this Wakanda moment to create a better future together,” says Copeland-Carson, a Bay Area social entrepreneur and researcher. “With all the stereotypes and negative news about our community, Black Philanthropy Month offers tools to envision a positive Black future, now. Every August activates a cultural revival helping African-descent communities everywhere be the change we want to see.”
Global in scope, the annual campaign invites everyday people and a myriad of organizations to engage with self-organized events, charitable giving, targeted fundraising and voluntarism, educational programs, and community conversations. Among BPM 2018 happenings in the U.S. and abroad are a series of forums with philanthropic advisors and consultants from the African diaspora. Organized by Moore Philanthropy, the series launches in New York on August 7, followed by forums in Lagos and Nairobi.
In Norfolk, Hampton Roads Community Foundation is leading a panel discussion on August 16, in conjunction with an exhibition of The Soul of Philanthropy. In Columbia, SC, Central Carolina Community Foundation is sharing local stories of Black philanthropy throughout the month and hosting a celebratory event on August 19. Other observances are planned in cities from San Jose to Chicago and from Phoenix to Chattanooga.
On August 28—a date steeped in historical significance, particularly for Black Americans—the Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization Young Black & Giving Back (YBGB) Institute is building on BPM’s momentum with Giving Black Day. It’s one day for concentrated giving to Black-led nonprofits that leverages online fundraising tools to tap into new generations of donors.
BPM architect and founder of Black Benefactors, Tracey Webb states, “Our collective action during August illuminates a culture of philanthropy and possibilities of a greater future, for us and by us.”
“It’s the best of times and also worrisome times for Black people,” asserts BPM architect Valaida Fullwood of the Giving Back Project. “There is no going back; instead, as somebody put it to me, it’s Black to the future!”
BPM Architects | Principal partners on the campaign are Dr. Jackie Copeland-Carson of Pan African Women’s Philanthropy Network, Tracey Webb of Black Benefactors and Valaida Fullwood of Giving Back Project.
2018 Campaign | BPM 2018 is a multimedia campaign to inform, involve, inspire and invest in Black philanthropic leadership. This year’s focal concept is “For The Culture, For The Future”.
Background | Founded by Dr. Jackie Copeland-Carson of the Pan African Women’s Philanthropy Network and recognized by the United Nations and Congress in August 2011, Black Philanthropy Month was created as an annual celebration of African-descent giving in the United States and worldwide.
The Giving Back Project was conceived of 11 years ago for the express purpose of “reframing portraits of philanthropy”. Today both the pop-up edition and the comprehensive version of The Soul of Philanthropy are traveling the country and stimulating new conversations and collaboration among wide-ranging groups.
Our latest short film Deeper Than Your Pockets features foundation heads and community leaders who have hosted past exhibitions. It helps make the case for the exhibit and affirms its value to philanthropy, community building and Black culture.
After a spectacular, three-month run, the Columbia, SC exhibition came to a close on May 6. Thank you Richland Library, Women Engaged (W.E.) Giving Circle, and Central Carolina Community Foundation for your visionary leadership and thoughtful approaches as co-presenters of the exhibition.
Announcements of new exhibitions in the South, along the Mid-Atlantic and across the Midwest are coming soon. These exhibitions and related public programs promote understanding and inclusion and are working to reshape 21st-century philanthropy.
The Atlanta exhibition earlier this year provided an extraordinary opportunity to feel the potency of his legacy and our collective responsibility to carry the torch forward. Watch the short film below from the exhibit opening at Atlanta’s Auburn Avenue Research Library.
The 2017 National Conference of the Association of African American Museums, hosted by the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, took place last week in Washington, DC. And the conference opening coincided with the start of Black Philanthropy Month. I’m still recovering from the road trip, digesting the experience, and following up with the wonderful historians, artists, writers, curators, researchers and educators I met from across the U.S. and Caribbean.
Stimulating every sense and emotion, the AAAM conference is an experience I will always remember, feel grateful for, and share more about later. In the meantime, below are some photos and a public expression of gratitude to Diatra Fullwood, Vonda Kaye and Sino Chum—their presence, power and persistence in DC embodied The Soul of Philanthropy.
“Invest in the human soul. Who knows. It might be a diamond in the rough.” — Mary McLeod Bethune, educator and philanthropist
2017, the tenth summer
The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture(NMAAHC) has invited The Soul of Philanthropy to be the featured exhibition and Cultural Resource Sponsor when it hosts the 2017National Conference of the Association of African American Museums (AAAM) in Washington, DC, July 31 – August 4.
NMAAHC Founding Director Lonnie Bunch is honorary chair of this year’s AAAM conference, where the theme, PRESENCE, POWER, PERSISTENCE, focuses on Black social change movements. It’s a one-of-a-kind conference that, in 2017, is expected to bring together 600-800 attendees from over 200 museums, libraries, HBCUs, historic sites and cultural centers in the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America.
To mount this special exhibition of The Soul of Philanthropy, a small team and I are headed to DC later this month. We’ll install the exhibit at The Capital Hilton, where conference attendees will be immersed in the exhibit’s themes and imagery of radical generosity and conscious giving for social change. This exhibition will also help kick off Black Philanthropy Month 2017.
During the inaugural year of the high-profile NMAAHC, this exhibition at the AAAM conference is a notable milestone in the 10-year history of The Giving Back Project. At the outset in 2007, we had high aspirations for the project, as shown in this excerpt from an early document:
An artistic expression of our cultural heritage, the Giving Back Project is a vehicle for sharing our collective stories and promoting inclusive and responsive philanthropy. We want it to become a springboard for deeper conversations and more mindful giving.
The ever-evolving project now comprises the civic engagement work of New Generation of African American Philanthropists, the book Giving Back, both the comprehensive and the pop-up edition of “The Soul of Philanthropy,” and anchor involvement in annual Black Philanthropy Month celebrations.
The AAAM conference brings an uncommon opportunity to reach beyond the usual audiences of institutional philanthropy and into the expansive world of cultural and educational institutions, where a broad cross-section people can come to see philanthropy differently.
2013, the fourth summer
Coincidentally, it was during Black Philanthropy Month, August 2013, at the AAAM conference in Charlotte that Charles Thomas and I, along with Darryl Lester, served on a panel about African American giving and first announced plans to create and launch a touring exhibition. Reimagining our book as a multimedia exhibit was a vision we’d held since before the book was published in 2011.
Participation on the AAAM pre-conference panel ushered in a slew opportunities by introducing us to museum professionals from around the country and to funders such as the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).
We couldn’t have predicted that four fruitful summers later, we’d be circling back to the AAAM conference as a proud sponsor and with our long-envisioned exhibit realized—thanks to a major grant from IMLS and a partnership with Johnson C. Smith University.
2007, the first summer
On a roadtrip to Washington, DC to attend my first national conference on Black philanthropy, I revealed my concept for The Giving Back Project with three members of New Generation of African American Philanthropists in July 2007. Since April, when the idea for a book first came to me, I had held it tightly, disclosing it to no one. Renee Bradford, Rashad Davis and Ohmar Land were the first to hear my idea for Giving Back, and they were instantly enthusiastic and encouraging when I shared my plan. Laughter and animated chatter about wildest-dream possibilities for the yet-to-be-published (and still to be written) book fueled the drive and before we knew it the long drive from Charlotte to Washington, DC was too soon over.
Returning to our nation’s capital a decade later with both an award-winning book and a groundbreaking exhibit for the AAAM conference—hosted by NMAAHC, no less—feels marvelously perfect.
all the summers in between
The three summers shared here punctuate a decade of summers that felt more like hell than heaven. Hot days filled with tedium, sweat and hope. For folks who have a wild idea, passion project, labor of love or a seed for something big in your head or heart, know that your best hopes can come through, despite inevitable struggles and setbacks. My 10-year experience has been a sweaty, bloody, teary mix of anxiety and courage, patience and persistence, bewilderment and wonder, sorrow and satisfaction.
A full circle etched with an idea.
To make a tax-deductible contribution in support of the special AAAM exhibition:
Or, mail a check to our fiscal agent: Social Good Fund, Attn: Giving Back Project, P.O. Box 5473, Richmond, CA 94805 (be sure to write on the memo line: Giving Back Project)
Financial gifts in any amount are welcome and needed. Every contributor will be acknowledged in print and online stories that we produce. Contributors donating $500 or more will be listed by name on a panel composing the DC exhibition.
If you have questions, feel free to call or email me. Thank you.
Black Philanthropy Month is a multimedia campaign to inform, involve, inspire and invest in Black philanthropic leadership. This year’s focal concept is Giving Voice to Fuel Change.
FROM THE BPM 2017 MEDIA RELEASE
Moderator at a BPM 2016 event in NYC
Entering its seventh year of observance, Black Philanthropy Month (BPM 2017) is an unprecedented campaign during August to strengthen African-descent giving in all its forms.
Dr. Jackie Copeland-Carson, founder of Black Philanthropy Month and Pan African Women’s Philanthropy Network (PAWPNet) offers a litany of unjust events around the world and contends, “Black people are at a crossroads.” She further asserts, “This year we’ll celebrate our giving past while reviving Black giving as a collective movement for social change. Look for opportunities to join PAWPNet and support high-impact projects that, with your support, can build a better future in this new period of injustice and struggle for our communities everywhere. Black giving matters!”
Host of a BPM 2016 event in NYC
Attacks on our nation’s progress in areas of voting rights, LGBTQ equality, women’s health, criminal justice, educational opportunity, economic power and more are emblematic of what’s occurring around the globe. These assaults demand we give voice to injustice and, collectively, dedicate resources to turn the tide and assert our rights, interests and humanity.
As a campaign, BPM 2017 comprises activities—online and in communities—to inspire people to advocate and to give in strategic ways that transform policies, systems and lives for the better. The public is encouraged to participate by hosting self-organized events, charitable fundraising activities and community conversations. To spark ideas on how you can participate, visit BlackPhilanthropyMonth.com.
Presenter at exhibit opening in Portland
BPM 2017 happenings that promote philanthropic investments and conscious giving in our communities are planned in cities, coast to coast. Included among these are a special exhibition of The Soul of Philanthropywith the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture at the 2017 Association of African American Museums conference in Washington, DC, plus a pop-up exhibition at the University of Kentucky. Slated to spotlight philanthropy across the African Diaspora are gatherings in such communities as New York City, the Bay Area, Chicago, Atlanta and Columbia, SC. These and other observances led by foundations, nonprofit agencies, cultural institutions, giving circles, media and individuals will be featured on BlackPhilanthropyMonth.com.
Tracey Webb, founder of Black Benefactors and an architect of the annual campaign, says, “This year’s Black Philanthropy Month will inspire givers to ignite change at the local level, in addition to supporting initiatives nationally and internationally. Powerful shifts happen with collective action, and BPM 2017 is set to fuel connections and amplify voices that will shape our future.”
Founded by Dr. Jackie Copeland-Carson of the Pan African Women’s Philanthropy Network and recognized by the United Nations and Congress in August 2011, Black Philanthropy Month was created as an annual, global celebration of African-descent giving in the United States and worldwide. Principal partners on the campaign are Jackie Copeland-Carson, Tracey Webb and Valaida Fullwood. For a full listing of sponsors, visit BlackPhilanthropyMonth.com.
To stay connected, like the BPM Facebook page and follow these hashtags on social media: #BPM2017 #givingvoice