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

The Best Luck

Charles W. Thomas, photographer

The best luck I’ve ever experienced in life is my beautiful mother. Continue having a Happy Birthday Week, Momma! 

“I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.” — Abraham Lincoln


51 months and counting

51 months in the making

392 manuscript pages

8000 social media connections…and growing

76 wise and revealing 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

33 photo shoot locations

999,999 reasons to give

1 book to reframe portraits of philanthropy

It’s been a long journey, covering a lot ground. But it wasn’t traveled alone…and it ain’t over yet. Every day on the way to the October release of Giving Back presents a rugged trail of things to do—marked by steep learning curves, nerve-wracking ledges, inevitable road blocks and surprise mountaintop highs.

Stretches traveled with companions bring welcomed relief. Joining my sometimes lonesome walk are my family and friends and unexpected folks who brighten my spirits and share the load. Encounters with kind encouragers replenish my often-dry canteen with optimism. “Seizing the day” the other night with Michelle, Kathryn and Katie…and Emeril…did just that!

Pushing through the longest hauls, like now for instance, are a little less daunting when I recognize I’m not alone. It’s a comfort knowing at arm’s reach are circle members from New Generation of African American Philanthropists, the project’s photographer Charles Thomas and Dimeji Onafuwa and India Simpson of Casajulie. Without them, this trekker would have headed home 40-some months ago.

— VF

A Good Man in Asheboro

Charles W. Thomas Jr., photographer

A year ago today, my grandfather James Mitchell departed this earth after eighty-six years of a beautiful life. I had the fortune of being with him in Asheboro when he passed on and, earlier, to have collected his story and portrait for the book Giving Back.

To commemorate his passing, today I’m sharing the tribute that I prepared with my sister and presented at his funeral.

Below is the tribute:

I’ve read ‘a good man is not a perfect man…but rather a good man is an honest man, and one who is faithful to God and doesn’t hesitate in responding to the voice of God in his life.’

And my grandfather, James Mitchell, was a good man. When I was a little girl I was convinced he was a rich man…in fact, the richest man around. Whenever I got a glimpse of him peeling off bills from a wad of money to pay for gas or groceries or candy for Diatra and me. I was convinced he was a millionaire. Who knows, looking back it could have been wads of one-dollar bills.

In any case, the good man that he was, he left us millions of beautiful memories and lessons about living a good life.

Diatra and I were talking the other night and we were flooded with the sweetest memories of Granddaddy. They ranged from the BB Walker shoes he bought us when we were little girls and that we proudly sported at church and school to the BB King concerts we attended together because he was Granddaddy’s favorite musician.

Our memories are plentiful and include…

The smell of Cashmere Bouquet soap in motel rooms on our family vacations to Atlantic Beach, where Granddaddy would swing us into the ocean waves,

The sense of adventure in riding shotgun in H-5—the big transfer truck he drove for decades at Harrelson Tire Company,

The charmed life we lived during our summers in Asheboro with Granddaddy chauffeuring us around town in one of his many faithful and well-waxed Oldsmobiles or in the back of his Ford pick-up truck. Diatra was particularly fond of stops at the Quik Pik convenience store where he bought her stashes of assorted Now & Later candies.

We remember…

Playing in the front yard, and in yards up and down Franks Street, in the summertime while Granddaddy sat watch from the front porch with a Mason jar of ice-cold water nearby.

We remember…

Music filling our grandparents’ house as he played his jams from his beloved record collection.

And when we were really little, his teaching each of us to dance while standing on the tops of his gigantic shoes.

We remember…

Sitting at the kitchen table studying maps and atlases as we “helped” Granddaddy prepare to hit the road for Harrelson. We were really good students too and years later flipped the script and had him getting out maps to find where in the world we were flying off to next.

We remember a really good man who shaped so much about who are today.

A passage from Ralph Waldo Emerson expresses what Granddaddy’s legacy embodies:

‘To laugh often and much. To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of one’s critics and endure the betrayal of false friends.

‘To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether a healthy child, a redeemed social condition, or a job well done. To know even one other life has breathed easier because you live. This is to have succeeded.’

James Mitchell, we will forever love and remember you well.

— VF


Rich Aunt

An excerpted vignette story from the forthcoming book Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists

A soup kitchen?  The morning my mother called with news that a great-aunt had begun organizing free daily meals in a fragile part of town is as vivid to me today as it was nearly twenty years ago.

Expectations of service are handed down like heirlooms in my family, and Aunt Dora figured prominently in a long line of givers. Even so, I had never imagined such a bold move or demanding commitment from my grandmother’s reserved younger sister. Widowed and seventy-something at the time, Aunt Dora had selflessly looked after people her entire life as a mother, grandmother, foster mother, den mother and church pastor. I was at a loss as to why she was launching a community food program on the heels of her retirement from the church. Hadn’t she given enough? Wasn’t it time to pull back?  To the contrary: It was precisely at this point she sought to commit herself anew.

I later learned it was in meditation during a silent spiritual retreat that Aunt Dora received the answer to her quest. “Feed the hungry” was her directive, and she founded Our Daily Bread Kitchen Inc. Since that day the kitchen has flourished and now serves free meals to over ten thousand people a year. Aunt Dora’s ongoing, obedient responses—constructing a larger, new facility and preparing meals, still, as she nears ninety—have removed any of my questions about the ceaseless bounty of service for fortunate heirs.

— VF

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” —  Mother Teresa