Wondrous Women

I paid tribute to the women of my family tree who sprouted me and help keep me rooted, nourished and strong. I cherish and love them everyday!

Wonder Woman

Happy Women’s History Month! 

To celebrate, women from Giving Back, from my giving circle and from my life will feature here throughout March. The month’s first post is excerpted from Giving Back and spotlights my cousin Britt and my great aunt Annie. Read it below.

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Britt Brewer Loudd and her grandmother Annie. Photograph by Charles W. Thomas

ANNIE BREWER  |  W o n d e r   W o m a n

Growing up I honestly believed my grandmother was a superhero. She has long been known both for model good looks and model goodness and she is more wondrous than ever well into her eighties.

Granny’s house was just doors from ours during my childhood so I saw her every day. Awestruck by her ability to handle just about everything, I was her shadow and saw up close how she was always going and doing for others. The little things she did are what I remember most. So many times I watched curiously as she reached into her bottomless basket of greeting cards when somebody needed lifting up and for folks to know they were not forgotten.

My fondest memories are of how she would cook and bake for everyone. Since Granny didn’t drive, Papa would load up the car with pots and dishes and then my grandparents with me in tow would deliver food to people who were sick or going through something. Even through a child’s eyes, I could see the impact of her generosity in each person’s face. Though she was not a wealthy woman in terms of finances, Granny was doing what she knew to do best. Fixing a home-cooked meal or whipping up a cake was my grandmother’s way of sharing her riches.

I still walk in her shadow today. Sometimes between picking up kids at school, assembling prizes for the youth choir raffle, hauling Girl Scout cookies across town and organizing my precinct meeting I pause and think, just like Annie Brewer, and a little smile comes over my face.

BRITT BREWER LOUDD   Connection: Granddaughter • Channel: Member, Greenville Memorial AME Zion Church • Cause: Social justice

Day 8

My momma worries.

I keep telling her I’m good.

She can’t help it though.
Poem, Day 8
Out late on Day 8, so this is one, in barely by the skin of my teeth. I’m keeping it super simple yet true.
DF VF and Mom

Rose Gardener: Maldonia’s Story

“The fragrance always remains in the hand that gives the rose.” — Chinese proverb

With the John and Maldonia Fullwood Family Reunion coming up this summer and my dad’s birthday this week, sentimentality and family pride have been stirred. The portrait below is of Mary Maldonia McGimpsey Fullwood, my great-grandmother who was born 132 years ago. She died before I was born, yet I have always felt a deep connection to her because of my father’s profound affection and memories of his grandmother, as revealed in the story that follows. Maldonia was a mother of 10 children and I recently posted stories about some of them here, as well as a story about her dad here.

Mary Maldonia McGimpsey Fullwood, circa 1945

Mary Maldonia McGimpsey Fullwood, circa 1945

ROSE GARDENER
by Allen Fullwood
A story from Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists

Cherished times grew plentiful on the front porch of my grandmother’s home. My sister, cousins and I spent a large share of our childhood playing up and down Bouchelle Street and around Mama’s house. Mama Fullwood is what the other grandchildren called her, but to me she was always just Mama.

Mama’s porch was a beloved gathering spot for extended family while I was coming up. During the long stretch of summer in the South, you could find Mama sitting in her favorite chair, uncles and aunts perched on the banister and visitors often overflowing to the lawn. One too many cousins and I usually pressed our luck to sit snugly together in the porch swing that hung by a slim chain. As passersby neared the house, Mama would invite them to come up and sit a spell. Unless something was pressing, refusals were few.

At the corner of the porch sprung a beautiful rosebush that bloomed bountifully around Mother’s Day. It was sort of a tradition for neighbors along Bouchelle to stop by Mama’s house Sunday morning or the day before for a red blossom clipped from her rosebush. This simple gift was emblematic of her generosity, and I can picture her smile as she graciously gave each rose.

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. Her manner of treating people provided lessons everyday about giving of yourself, your time, your energy and a kind word. When called to give material objects including money, she taught us to give ungrudgingly.

Mama cared for her family like she tended her rosebush. She exposed each of us to the light of church and faith, rooted us in tradition, nurtured us with encouragement and was prompt to prune us when we grew unwieldy and wild. Her good deeds were a trellis during our upbringing. She likely smiles among the clouds as she watches the seeds of her generosity blossoming today.

Seven Generations and One Hundred, Ten Years Ago

Christian and Riley McGimpsey with family and friends, 1903

Christian and Riley McGimpsey with family and friends, 1903

This is a story about Riley R. McGimpsey (28 Mar 1845 – 20 Apr 1934), my great-great-grandfather, as told to me by my elder cousin Nettie McGimpsey McIntosh for my book Giving Back:

Despite common perceptions, Black men have long been industrious. And evidently my grandfather Riley was as hardworking as men of any race come. I call him a Black entrepreneur, but back then industrious is the word people used.

I archive and keep our family’s history. I have scoured over family artifacts and Census data. Some time in the mid-1800s on the McGimpsey farm in Burke County, North Carolina, a slave named Clarissa gave birth to a son she named Riley. While born into slavery, Riley eventually became a sharecropper who sold his part of the produce—corn, wheat, molasses and such. Documents I have come across show his products sold as far away as Mullins, South Carolina, which was hundreds of miles from the farmland of Fonta Flora. He even owned one of the county’s few reaper-binders and loaned it out to others.

Fondly remembered and respected by people all over the county, my grandfather prospered in farming and with various small enterprises. He grew well known for giving away fresh produce and all kinds of things to community people, regardless of color. Riley was born a slave, but died an entrepreneur and philanthropist. Don’t let a meager start or scant resources limit what you do in life.

The portrait above is on display at the History Museum of Burke County. Riley is seated on the far right and his wife Christian V. Moore McGimpsey is seated next to him. Their daughter Mary Maldonia, who is my great-grandmother is seated on the far left.

Fast forward one hundred and ten years: There will be a family reunion this summer, kicking off at the History Museum of Burke County, with five more generations—the far-flung descendants of Maldonia McGimpsey and the man she would later marry John Wesley Fullwood. Cannot wait!

— VF

What They Prize Most

“Children must early learn the beauty of generosity. They are taught to give what they prize most that they may taste the happiness of giving.” — Ohiyesa, Native American physician, writer and change agent

Photograph, from the 1980s, of my late grandmother and her sisters featured in the Morganton New Herald

Photograph, from the 1980s, of my late grandmother and her sisters featured in a Morganton News Herald story on giving.

My cousin Britt recently shared this photo as our family prepares for a reunion this summer. The original photograph was taken in May 1983 at my great-aunt Annie’s wedding anniversary party. It features my grandmother and four of her sisters: (l-r) Annie, Esther, Laura, Goldie and Evelyn, known to me at Nanny Evelyn.

In 2007, the Morganton News Herald ran an article in its Faith and Values section about the Fullwood sisters’ “old-fashioned kindness of yesteryear.” At the time this piece ran, they all had passed on except Aunt Annie, who is still with us and is profiled through portraiture and storytelling in Giving Back. The article laments how “communities are losing a generation of good citizens.”

Referencing my great-grandparents, the writer observes:

“John and Maldonia Fullwood aspired to teach their children the goodness of serving and sharing with others. Having parents that believed in family and putting into practice the old mission of being good to and helping your fellowman was just natural.”

I am a fortunate heir to a prized legacy of giving. And I believe that a spirit of generosity prevails in my generation and in younger ones. Generosity does, however, need nurturing in children, and oftentimes adults too, through example, expectation and opportunity. The book Giving Back stands as a centerpiece of the Giving Back Project, which ventures to ignite a movement of conscientious philanthropy by empowering a generation of Americans to recognize their power and responsibility to give back. Along with others igniting this movement, I want to fan the flames—with my writing, my public speaking, my creative and artistic endeavors, my social media interactions, my giving and my life.

So grateful that Fullwood family members, generation after generation, showed me their values and told me clearly through their deeds, girl #getyourgiveon

— VF

Much Given, Much Expected

“To whom much is given much is expected. This biblical passage from the Gospel of Luke conveys a belief that I and many of my African American family and friends hold dear. Many of us recall a defining moment or childhood lessons that influence our philanthropic giving.”

I’ve opened with these lines from Giving Back to say thanks to many of the people who gave their time, talent and treasure during the development of the book. The word cloud below is yet another way of giving props….as was done here too.

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

Home Again

Earlier this month, I was a guest blogger on The Blair Essentials, the indie book blog of John F. Blair, Publisher. Blair is a publishing house in Winston-Salem, NC that distributes Giving Back to the book trade.

The blog piece was a joy to write and share, and as I prepare to return to my beloved hometown for the holidays, I thought I’d share it again.

So much about Giving Back is rooted in Morganton, North Carolina. Though a large share of the book’s stories and photography feature people and places in Charlotte, the city where I now reside, my hometown is without a doubt the book’s epicenter.

Morganton, a hilly prelude to North Carolina’s western mountains, is where I grew up and…read the entire blog post.

Mr. and Mrs. Jones

“Light glorifies everything. It transforms and ennobles the most commonplace and ordinary subjects.” — Leonard Misonne, photographer

One of the stories featured in Giving Back pays tribute to Carlotta and Johnnie Jones—ordinary people with an extraordinary philanthropic spirit. Faith and long family traditions provide light for their path of generous giving. The Jones’s firm beliefs and lifelong example inspired their daughter Melandee to share her story for the book.

Their enlightened family legacy lives on. Melandee serves on the boards of Arts For Life, BDPA and Citizen Schools. She also is member of New Generation of African American Philanthropists, a giving circle that gives back. — VF

MISTER JONES | Charles W. Thomas Jr., photographer