In observance of Black Philanthropy Month, interviews in this series feature African Americans engaged in multiple facets of philanthropy and focus on interests and concerns, 50 years after Dr. King’s iconic “I Have A Dream” speech.
MEN TCHAAS ARI
Chief Program Officer, Crisis Assistance Ministry
HOMETOWN: Bloomfield, Ct
YEARS AS A CHARLOTTEAN: 17 years
EDUCATION: BA, Morehouse College
PREVIOUS POSITIONS: Various at Mecklenburg County DSS
PHILANTHROPIC INVOLVEMENT: Currently a Mentor for the Y Achievers Program.
BLACK PHILANTHROPY IS . . . The key to eradicating poverty and all of the other ills plaguing the African American community.
What is your first memory of generosity?
When I was a small child, I can remember accompanying my mother, once a week to visit Ms. Shepard. Ms. Shepard was an elderly blind woman, who had no family in the area. My mom made it a priority to look after her and to get her out of the house. During these weekly visits we’d often venture to the local grocery store. As I grew older, and got used to accompanying my mom on these visits, it became my responsibility to navigate Ms. Shepard through the aisles of the grocery store.
How does that memory influence your philanthropy and your work in the field of philanthropy?
It instilled in me the commitment to help those less fortunate than me. It also taught me to value the gift of time. When people think of philanthropy, they often think of making a financial contribution. Observing my mother’s gift of time to Ms. Shepard, long ago, reminds me of how precious the gift of time really is.
What can you share about the history, mission and services of Crisis Assistance Ministry?
Crisis Assistance Ministry was created in 1975 as a place of financial recovery for families in urgent financial crisis. Its mission is to provide assistance and advocacy for people in financial crisis, helping them move toward self-sufficiency.
Tell us about your work and responsibilities at Crisis Assistance Ministry.
As the Chief Program Officer, I am responsible for developing, planning and directing the operations of all client programs. It is my responsibility to ensure that the provision of services is done in a manner that is dignified and in accordance with our goal of helping customers reach financial stability.
Why and how did you become involved in this field of work?
Sixteen years ago I started working at DSS as a bilingual Case Manager. It was through that role that I learned the importance of having a safety net in the community. I also learned first hand how systems could help or hinder someone getting back on their feet. Some sixteen years later I am still committed to building systems that will help people become self-sufficient.
What are some of the issues and challenges that Crisis Assistance Ministry is focused on addressing in 2013? Are there trends or patterns that you’ve observed of late?
The customers that we serve were the first to feel the effects of the Great Recession and they will probably be the last to feel the recovery. It doesn’t help that our state has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and has just made significant cuts to unemployment benefits. Two years ago Crisis Assistance Ministry underwent a strategic planning process to ensure that its services focused on helping people reach financial stability. A direct result of that planning has caused us to focus on building strategic partnerships with other organizations working to help customers become stable. Through these partnerships we are able to expand our reach into the community and help more persons become financially stable.
What are some of your thoughts on where America stands 50 years after Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech?
It seems that the racial barriers that divided our country 50 years ago have been replaced with socio-economic/class barriers.
When it comes to society or our community, what is your “dream” or aspiration?
According to a 2012 Nielsen study, African American’s annual buying power will reach one trillion dollars in 2015. My dream is for that money to circulate in the African American community a few times. This would stimulate the economy in our community and improve its infrastructure. My ultimate goal would be for African Americans to collectively invest a mere 1 percent of that (i.e. $10B) annually. From this collective pool we would be able to address many of the ills in our community and, ultimately, the ills of the world at large.
In terms of your philanthropic endeavors, what’s your “mountaintop” or highest achievement to date?
I would have to say that it is giving of my time to teens in the Y Achievers mentoring program. This program focuses on curtailing the drop out rate at three local high schools. This year, all of the high school seniors that participated in the program graduated from high school.
Name a book that has shaped your philanthropy?
Negro with a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey, by Colin Grant (2010)
How can readers play a part in addressing the critical needs of people struggling with limited resources?
I encourage them to find a cause that is dear to them and make a contribution of their time, talent and treasure. I would also encourage them to find opportunities to formally and/or informally mentor someone less fortunate than them. Studies have shown that the key to getting out of poverty, is to have significant interactions with someone who is not living in poverty.
Please leave us with a favorite quote that characterizes an aspect of your philanthropy.
Charity is no substitute for justice withheld. — St. Augustine
Nearly a dozen interviews compose the series “Of Dreams and Mountaintops” and are slated for multiple media outlets including: Charlotte Viewpoint, Collective Influence, Mosaic Magazine, QCityMetro.com, The Charlotte Post (print version) and thecharlottepost.com. To get connected and involved in BPM 2013 during August and beyond, visit BlackPhilanthropyMonth.com and follow the hashtag #BPM2013 on social media.
About Valaida Fullwood
Described an “idea whisperer,” Valaida brings unbridled imagination and a gift for harnessing wild ideas to her work as a writer and project strategist. She is author of Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists. Follow at valaida.com, @ValaidaF and @BlkGivesBackCLT.