‘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.”

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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

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!

 

Ninety-two Years

Aunt Dora, a great aunt, indeed. Photography by Charles W. Thomas Jr.

Aunt Dora, a great aunt, indeed. Photography by Charles W. Thomas Jr.

Since her life inspired Giving Back…and her hands grace the book’s cover…and Feb 2 is her 92nd birthday, today (the 2nd day of Black History Month) we’re honoring Dora Atlas.

My great-aunt Dora is founder of Our Daily Bread of Asheboro, NC. Her story, “Rich Aunt,” opens Giving Back, and you can read it here.

Happy Birthday Aunt Dora! 

— VF (#BHM Day Two)

Ninety-One Years

Aunt Dora, a great aunt, indeed. Photography by Charles W. Thomas Jr.

My muse and great-aunt, Dora—whose hands provide evocative imagery for the cover of my book Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists—celebrated her 91st birthday last week. What a blessing!

When I called Aunt Dora with birthday well-wishes that night, she told me about her day. She began with a swim and water aerobics class. Then she had lunch with the friendly faces at Our Daily Bread, the soup kitchen she founded over 20 years ago. She delighted in the steady inflow of birthday calls and cards from folks around the country. And she wrapped up her special day with a family dinner at her favorite seafood restaurant.

If I’m granted 91 years on earth (or anywhere near that many), I hope each one is filled, like Aunt Dora’s, with a fair share of faith, health, family, friends, passions and purpose. May your year and every one to come be filled with the same. — VF