Oh Snap!

During our Washington, DC exhibition at the 2017 National Conference of the Association of African American Museums, an intrigued hotel attendant would stroll by regularly and gaze over at our installation. His preoccupation persisted the first few days. Eventually, he ventured into our exhibit space to inquire about the topic and to explore close up and more deeply the displays of photos, stories and interactive elements of The Soul of Philanthropy. And then he shared his story.

Years prior in his native Somalia, he had been on a boat that capsized and sank. While dozens of passengers perished, he was one of only nine survivors rescued by a passing ship. Since that day he said he’s been thankful and always gives back because he was helped once and was saved.

Later, without any our prompting, Nasir wrote his story on the exhibit’s blackboard.

Giving Voice

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Introducing the Black Philanthropy Month 2017 Poster

For the first time, a Black Philanthropy Month poster was commissioned to help inspire Black giving and advance our movement to shape 21st century philanthropy.

This inaugural piece was designed by artist Marcus Kiser and is available here free for downloads. The art poster conveys the BPM 2017 theme: Giving Voice to Fuel Change.

 

Something’s Gotta Give

Mounting pressure triggers thoughts like, “something’s gotta give”. That is, a sense kicks in that something needs to shift—recognition that a tipping point is imminent. Intensified moments such as this converged on me too many times to count over the last 10 years, leaving me anxious and wondering, “what next?”

VF hands and laptopTen years ago, on April 27, 2007, while attending a Women’s Funding Network conference in Seattle, an idea came to me with astounding clarity. That moment marked the beginning of the Giving Back Project. Below are  excerpted notes from a decade ago about evocative imagery of the human hand that illustrate the specificity of my initial thoughts.

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

“Hands — both the image and the words — are rich with symbolism, particularly in the context of giving. Hand out. Hand up. Hand-me-down. Give a helping hand. Hand in hand. These are just a few of the many common expressions containing the word “hand” that connote philanthropic concepts and stir a broad range of sentiments.

“Images of human hands will feature prominently on the cover and will be a point of detail in the portraits of honorees. Evocative images include: Strong, leathered hands of the aged (envisioned for cover), hand on cane, a handshake, hands serving food, hands knitting, hand holding a photo, hand pressing a Bible, hand writing a check and hands tending to a child.”

After its conception, the book Giving Back took 1621 days to complete and publish. Even with crystal clear vision, a litany of unexpected and sometimes brutal challenges blocked my path—the 2008 economic implosion, fundraising woes, skeptics, critics, distractions—which often left me saying, something’s gotta give. Despite nearing boiling points, I resisted temptations to escape the heat by compromising my vision. The experience was an assault on every front, and yet somehow I pushed through. If something had to give, it wasn’t going to be me. After enduring the breaking points of the 1621 days, I believed I was, at last, free. I was wrong. 

After 10 years, the struggle endures, but I’m now essentially heat resistant. The early years of the project rendered me unbreakable. Like pottery, the fire has continuously strengthened me to carry a God-gifted vision. The Giving Back Project still teaches me daily about faith and purpose, patience and persistence, grace and philanthropy, because  something has got to give, indeed. #getyourgiveon

Below are photos from the past decade. Enjoy! 

— VF

3,650 Days

“If there is a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” — Toni Morrison

VF hands and laptop

Yesterday, April 27, marked the 10th anniversary of the birth of The Giving Back Project, which was sparked the night the idea came to me for Giving Back. To commemorate the conception of my now decade-long labor of love, below is the excerpted Author’s Notes section (p. 338) from the book.

Grace is a gift always welcome. And I was showered with grace while developing Giving Back. When I first conceived of the idea, zeal and naivety blinded me to its magnitude. I thought it would take a year to develop the book; instead it led me on a four-and-a-half-year odyssey that proved torturous and joyous.

At times, doubts would swarm with stinging questions about whether the vision was attainable. I questioned whether I was up to the sacrifices and risks that seeing it through seemed to require of me. People I spoke with believed in the project; they saw the significance of documenting our stories and producing a socially relevant book. This helped fend off some my fears. Even with dispiriting episodes, I could never suppress for long the call of these stories.

Interviewing people was a privilege and extraordinarily gratifying; yet the gravity of the undertaking weighed heavily on me too. Each set of interview notes seemed so delicate. I gained deeper recognition of how precious each story was and how potent it could become if I possessed the wherewithal to craft a compelling body of work and get it in front of readers.

I felt like a surrogate entrusted to carry not one but scores of seeds, each exceptional, fragile and bundling possibilities. Humbled and often daunted I knew I had to take care in crafting each story with due reverence. Demanding equal finesse was clearing an uncertain path to bring the book’s narrative and photographic content out of the obscurity of our families, our communities and my laptop into the light of the wider world. Guidance, often from unexpected people and places, came at each crossroad.

Always brightening the journey were the hopes and confidence expressed by family, friends and giving circle members. I remember the excitement of Ohmar, Renee and Rashad when they first heard my idea while on a road trip to a Black philanthropy conference. I think about Aunt Dora’s smile upon learning she inspired the book. I recall early conversations with Charles about my vision and the alignment of our artistic aspirations. Collaboration with Charles has been a God-sent steadying force, from his initial blind faith in the project to his ease, professionalism and quiet generosity.

The most beautiful gift while writing this book was being immersed in its content. I couldn’t help but become re-inspired when each day required me to delve into literally hundreds of narratives and photographs meant to inspire and motivate. Gratitude bubbles over when I look back on the gracious acts that brought Giving Back into being. Without a doubt God’s grace is greatest, but grace granted by the people around me was wonderfully sweet too. — VF

Additional photos and posts, reflecting on my experiences and learning, will follow over the next few days.

 

‘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.”

♦♦♦

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

Philanthropy on Exhibit

Charles Thomas and me signing books at a recent exhibition of The Soul of Philanthropy at Duke University, which is Charles’ alma mater.

Six years ago, Charles and I began exploring the idea of an museum exhibition on philanthropy, based on the yet released stories and photography of Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists. While it took four years more, before we—in collaboration with NGAAP-Charlotte and Johnson C. Smith University—realized that vision with The Soul of Philanthropy Reframed and Exhibited, we’ll claim releasing seeds of this idea into the ethosphere.

Fast forward to a year ago, just after #GivingTuesday, I was reading this story in The Chronicle of Philanthropy about Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and David Rubenstein funding an endowed curatorship at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History (NMAH) to create a series of exhibitions on the history and future of American philanthropy.

Since the article referenced only billionaire white men (and a few women in the context of being their wives), I wondered whether the NMAH exhibitions would be narrowly framed to present only conventional and predictable pictures of “American philanthropy”. Would traditions of philanthropy in communities of color be told? Would the generosity and impact of people of modest means get included? Would stories of philanthropic women and giving circles be shared?

Quick to climb on my bandwagon, I reached out to learn more about NMAH’s “The Philanthropy Initiative” and to ask questions to ensure a vivid and inclusive and soulful account of philanthropy in America was an aim. Thanks to a network of kind connectors—A’Lelia Bundles, Aviva Kempner and Fath Ruffins—I made some gains.

So on this #GivingTuesday (and hopefully many more to come), I’m traveling to Washington, DC for “The Power of Giving: Philanthropy’s Impact on American Life”—an invitation-only symposium with philanthropists, environmentalists, thought leaders and social innovators to discuss the past, present, and future of American giving. Such programs are slated, annually, for decades to come and the focus this year is “Sustainability and The Environment”. Tuesday’s schedule launches with the opening of the Smithsonian’s first-ever, long-term exhibition GIVING IN AMERICA. We’re in the room, and there’s more to come.

“All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.” — Victor Hugo

Below are more photos are from the exhibition of The Soul of Philanthropy Reframed (abridged edition) at Duke University’s Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture. Coincidently, the Duke University exhibition was made possible by support from financier David Rubenstein, who chairs Duke’s Board of Trustees and also is one of the funders of the NMAH exhibition.

 

 

Philanthro-Tee

Today’s Black Friday and with Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday coming up soon, take a look at these HEARTWORK t-shirts, modeled by the lovely Dr. Angela Logan.

You can give a gift with a message that helps give rise to a new generation of conscious givers. Inspired by The Soul of Philanthropy exhibit, HEARTWORK carries socially conscious messages, eco-friendly organic fabrics and artfully designed products.

Angela is the first person to purchase and then post photos of her HEARTWORK apparel via social media. She sported not one but two of my favorite t-shirts—the Giving Back tee and the Truth Be Told tee. Her tweets and pics from an ARNOVA conference in DC were right on time!

#getyourgiveon

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Socially Conscious Messages • Eco-Friendly Organic Fabrics • Artfully Designed Products

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Q: What Gives?

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A: The Soul of Philanthropy! #getyourgiveon

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National Coffee Day is the perfect occasion to share a preview glimpse of another item in the new heARTwork product line, which is inspired by The Soul of Philanthropy exhibit! Plus, I’m thrilled that The Soul of Philanthropy, Pop-Up, Abridged Edition will soon open at Duke University’s Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture.

My cup runneth over.

— VF

 

See The Power of Ten

 

Watch our newest video Power of Ten

 

Original iContact communiqué: See The Power of Ten

June 8 marked the 10th anniversary of New Generation of African American Philanthropists. Celebration of the occasion took place on June 9 with a “White Party” at the Wadsworth Estate, where the giving circle’s initial gathering took place in 2006.

More than 60 circle members and friends attended the event. Tin Kitchen food truck was on site to prepare made-to-order specialty tacos and sliders with fresh gourmet ingredients. A Jazz trio, featuring bass player Tim Singh, performed throughout the evening. Photographers Ebony Stubbs and Michael Dantzler captured moments and scenes from the party, including NGAAP Charlotte’s annual group portrait.

A program with brief remarks from members was followed by a new video, chronicling the circle’s philanthropic work and membership from the past decade.

The celebration continues all year, and you are invited to participate in these ways:

  • Apply for a GRANT thru July 8
  • Become a MEMBER at $365/year—a dollar a day
  • Attend upcoming FORUM w/ NBMBAA on June 23 (see flyer below)
  • Make a gift to the GIVING BACK PROJECT, which produced the book Giving Back, launched the groundbreaking exhibit “The Soul of Philanthropy” and continually promotes conscious giving for social change

Join us in exercising the power of 10!

NBMBAA Leadership Forum 2016 v1[2]

Soul-Full Synchronicity

TSOP exhibit pic at NCSU

Portland, Oregon is a city I’ve yet to visit (with the exception of a airport stop en route to Thailand years ago, but that doesn’t really count and I digress). Until recently it was completely off my radar. But over the last few months it’s been like a magnetic field, pulling me and dynamic, creative minds in proximity.

Last year, while working on a project with artist and designer Dimeji Onafuwa (a longtime collaborator with me AND graphic designer of my book and exhibit), he said his family was relocating to Portland. Surprised, I pressed him to tell me about Portland and its appeal. Dimeji spoke fondly of the civic culture, scenery and opportunities. He offered to host me if I ever found myself in the Northwest. 

digital display_VFThen weeks later, while working on a project with artist and designer Marcus Kiser (also a longtime collaborator), he was excited to share that his exhibit, Intergalactic Soul, might have a showing in Portland. Marcus’s art exhibit brings together science fiction and social awareness—imagination x consciousness. He asked about my experiences with a touring exhibit, and I shared some vendors and wisdom gained from The Soul of Philanthropy Reframed and Exhibited.

Within days of that conversation, an inquiry about “The Soul of Philanthropy” arrived from Portland’s MRG Foundation—a philanthropic institution working for social change in Oregon communities for 40 years. A few days after that, a second Oregon foundation called about hosting my exhibit in Portland. [cue theme music from The Twilight Zone] “Whoa…what’s up with this reoccurring Portland thing,” I mused.

To cut to the chase: It’s now March and last month Marcus, along with artist Jason Woodberry and performer Quentin Talley (who’s another super-longtime collaborator and whose poetry is featured in The Soul of Philanthropy) traveled to Portland for an “Intergalactic Soul” exhibition at Portland Community College, in conjunction with a panel discussion and performance. “The Soul of Philanthropy,” pop-up edition, will be hosted by MRG Foundation and community partners in August—Black Philanthropy Month. Together, MRG Foundation and The Oregon Community Foundation will then host the comprehensive version of “The Soul of Philanthropy” with community-wide programming for three months, starting in January 2017. Whoa, indeed.

We’re picturing social change.

— VF