To Cap It All

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A recent visit to our capital city served to cap off the 10-year milestone of the Giving Back Project, which produced the book Giving Back and The Soul of Philanthropy exhibit.

The 2017 National Conference of the Association of African American Museums, hosted by the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, took place last week in Washington, DC. And the conference opening coincided with the start of Black Philanthropy Month.  I’m still recovering from the road trip, digesting the experience, and following up with the wonderful historians, artists, writers, curators, researchers and educators I met from across the U.S. and Caribbean.

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Stimulating every sense and emotion, the AAAM conference is an experience I will always remember, feel grateful for, and share more about later. In the meantime, below are some photos and a public expression of gratitude to Diatra Fullwood, Vonda Kaye and Sino Chum—their presence, power and persistence in DC embodied The Soul of Philanthropy.

Photos by Sino Chum.

 

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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

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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.

 

Tenacity.

Leap day—which also marks the final day of Black History Month 2016—seems an ideal date for bringing a spotlight to the 10th anniversary year of New Generation of African American Philanthropists. Poet and social critic Henry David Thoreau wrote, “We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success.” That quote sums up our circle’s auspicious start, our decade of conscious giving, and our tenacious push to reframe philanthropy.

Founded in 2006, New Generation of African American Philanthropists is a giving circle with members who share values around philanthropy and pool charitable dollars to give back to the community. Our members walk consciously together toward common goals, and when compelled we leap boldly. In 10 years, we have leveraged over a million dollars in fulfilling our mission.

Mission: Promoting philanthropy—the giving of time, talent and treasure—among African Americans in the Charlotte region, with the goal of  enhancing thequality of life within our communities.

Vision: Healthy, safe and prosperous community for  African American families to live, work and flourish.

A decade ago on June 8, a committee of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg African American Community Foundation hosted a gathering at The Wadsworth Estate. That evening a room of 60 people forged bonds, generated ideas, stirred momentum and embarked on what would become the founding of New Generation of African American Philanthropists.

Through collective giving, grantmaking, collaboration and civic engagement, we explore new as well as time-honored ways of giving and embrace a definition of philanthropy that encompasses gifts of not only money, but also time, talent and truth of our testimonies.

Our flagship initiative is the Giving Back Project, which emerged from our development and publishing of the book Giving Back. Creative approaches, artful photography, storytelling, digital tools and social media characterize the Giving Back Project, which has evolved into a vehicle for presenting new narratives about who gives, who can make a difference and who matters. Changing the world requires us to reframe portraits of philanthropy and to learn from new lines of sight on social justice issues.

Today, The Soul of Philanthropy is the newest dimension of the Giving Back Project and is touring college campuses and museums across the country. Further, our circle has strengthened connections with the African American Community Foundation through our members’ leadership, community connections, strategic thinking and hands-on involvement and service. Our evolution and accomplishments over the past 10 years are chronicled, in writing and photos, at New-Philanthropists.org.

In observance of our decennial, an array of community-centered events, forums, grant awards, partnerships and celebrations are planned throughout 2016. Stay tuned via our websiteFacebook page and hashtag #NGAAPChar10tte.

READ MORE for a recap of what we’ve already taken on this year, and so much more is on the horizon. We are TENacious!

Source: Tenacity. We Walk Consciously, Leap Boldly

Watch: On The Road With ‘Soul’

After fielding a variety of questions about The Soul of Philanthropy from inquiring museums, colleges, community-based nonprofits and funders, instead of a FAQ sheet, I decided to compile images from exhibitions and programs, to date.

Since pictures speak a thousand words (at least), photographs provide institutions that are interested in hosting the exhibit a window for visualizing their possibilities. My hope is that the compilation of photos—from the multimedia, comprehensive exhibit and the pop-up, abridged edition—allow people to observe variations and options for installation, based on a venue’s gallery space and the imagination of the exhibition designer. Set to classic soul music, the video speaks volumes about the multimedia exhibit and its public programs that reframe portraits of philanthropy.

Please watch, enjoy and share!

Note, you can follow my work on The Soul of Philanthropy via Facebook.

Seeing Through An Altered Lens

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We not only alter the lens on philanthropy, we also amplify Black voices in a myriad of ways. Here’s a link to the latest Giving Back Project (GBP) e-blast, with highlights, pics and video on our new touring exhibit: Watch Us Amplify The Soul of Philanthropy

Almost three years ago, we produced our first GBP video [ philanthropy reframed ] to alter and amplify voices, views and vibes. Happy to see that video surpass 3000 views this week!

GBP is based on the premise that the people comprising our communities and philanthropic institutions would benefit, immensely, by changing the scope of how we all see ourselves and by listening to understand, more often and far better.

— VF

2014 . . . Another Very GOOD Year

meka dawn charles at #CIN2014

Top 10 :: Year in Review from New Generation of African American Philanthropists: http://www.icontact-archive.com/jp_xUj0qFyktMLO8BwbS6bPR8EdwvIs9?w=1

Here’s to 2014, gone but not forgotten!

— VF

Shifting from ‘Me’ to Movement of Conscientious Philanthropy

Listen to my recent conversation with Tavis Smiley about Black philanthropy and Giving Back on his nationally syndicated radio program, The Tavis Smiley Show.

During the interview, Tavis questions whether any hope remains in rekindling a spirit of compassion and generosity in a culture that seems to be degenerating and glorifying a me-and-mine mentality. Hear my response . . . and then share yours here.

The book Giving Back is a centerpiece of the Giving Back Project, which aims to ignite a movement of conscientious philanthropy by empowering a generation to recognize their power and responsibility to give back.

The interview airs on The Tavis Smiley Show through Friday, May 25. Tune in and then share the link and your thoughts. — VF

Charles W. Thomas Jr., photographer