‘When Giving Is All We Have’

Tiffany cropped 9681_2_face0A cascade of gifts has, lately, refreshed me. The most generous of gestures from distant and nearby sources have rushed my heart and whirled inspiration, hinting the end of an exorbitantly long parched season.

I’ll likely share more about these experiences over the coming weeks, but here’s a splash of delight from just yesterday. My friend Manoj passed along something a friend shared with him—a poem! A good poem never ceases giving and, veritably, can replenish at a speed few things do. By Alberto Rios, Arizona’s first ever Poet Laureate, this one ripples and flows to my spring.

When Giving Is All We Have

One river gives
Its journey to the next.

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.

Alberto Ríos

From ‘Insights on Faith and Giving’

After a quick search of this blog, I’ve just realized that I failed to mention, here, an honor received months ago yet due to take effect in 2014. About six or seven months ago, the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving at Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy named me its 2014 Distinguished Visitor.

Pruitt prayer hands

Photograph by Charles W. Thomas Jr. featured in ‘Giving Back’

Selection as a Lake Distinguished Visitor is an honor of the highest order and I am thrilled. Leaders and associates of a prestigious program of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy recognized the work poured into the Giving Back Project, its uses to spark constructive community conversations and the threads of faith and religion that bind the book. As the Distinguished Visitor for 2014, I will have an opportunity to travel to Indianapolis and the Indiana University-Purdue University campus in fall 2014 to lead seminars, give lectures, share Giving Back and engage faculty and students from the various university disciplines in conversation on issues related to religion and philanthropy.

I hadn’t blogged about this honor earlier, perhaps, because 2014 seemed so far off. (Lately though, next year seems to be barreling toward me faster than ever.) Even with fall 2014 more than a year away, Lake Institute staff has begun building our relationship. Case in point, they recently invited me to be a guest blogger.

Below is more about the Lake Institute. And further below is a link to my guest post.

Lake Institute was created from the legacy gift of Tom and Marjorie Lake, their daughter Karen Lake Buttrey and the Lilly Endowment. Lake Institute exists to honor the philanthropic values of the Lake family and blesses the community with a space for public inquiry and hands on training in the service and study of faith and generosity.

Lake Institute exists to explore the relationship between faith and giving in various religious traditions. We honor the philanthropic values of the Lake family through strategic priorities that continually examine how faith inspires and informs giving. Through years of intentional community building, we have nurtured an environment for public inquiry and crafted hands on training that assists faith communities and donors in the pursuit of their philanthropic passions. 

My Aunt Dora |  Photography by Charles W. Thomas Jr.

My Aunt Dora, the face that launched 1000 days and more! | Photography by Charles W. Thomas Jr. featured in ‘Giving Back’

Insights is the e-newsletter distributed by Lake Institute. The April 2013, Issue #2 features a short piece about my great-aunt Dora who, as a retired pastor and generous woman of faith, inspired Giving Back as well as my recent TEDx Talk. The post is titled “The Face That Launched a Thousand Days.” You can read it here.

Oh and…you can follow @LakeInstitute on Twitter and Facebook, too.

A special note of thanks to Aimee Laramore, Associate Director of the Lake Institute, for her generosity of spirit.

— VF

A Gift That Keeps Giving

Photo by Valaida Fullwood

Photo by Valaida Fullwood

A perfect gift book, Giving Back offers wells of inspiration for generous souls and lovers of photography, culture, and humanity. Every book purchased keeps giving, since proceeds benefit the philanthropic causes of NGAAP-Charlotte—and since the stories themselves inspire readers to give.

You can buy it here.

Reclaiming The Root Meaning of Philanthropy

  Radical simply means ‘grasping things at the root.’ — Angela Davis

Let’s engage in the radical work of reclaiming the root meaning of philanthropy: love of humanity. Philanthropy, a curious word to many, evokes a range of images, beliefs and emotions. To contemplate its semantics and evolution and then to initiate anew our collective philanthropic practice could prove a seminal undertaking for black America.

This moment hangs ripe. The “season of giving” is near and clears the way to a new year of possibilities. The election of President Barack H. Obama has substantiated, again, the might of black unity. And yet, between the hopes and history making and the thanks and gifts giving are uncharitable acts and vitriol that signal a shift back in time, not forward. Indignities, inequities and injustices do not simply dissipate; instead, we must come together in systematically uprooting them.

With community needs great and the need for unity greater, the times beckon a new era of conscientious philanthropy rooted in a love for community and expectations of social change. Let this generation, both young and old, embody a social transformation with bold recognition of our power and responsibility to give back.

Philanthropy is a gateway to power. It is a chief means to acquiring, sustaining and strengthening our status—economically, politically, socially and spiritually. Our ancestors knew this. They originated and supported systems for giving and assisted members of the community, whether neighbor, stranger or kin. Remarkably, a fundamental source of our progress at times seems forgotten.

Remembering our long and prolific history of philanthropy is crucial. Historical accounts of black largesse and examples of culturally significant vehicles of giving abound. Look up the Free African Society, an 18th century mutual aid organization established by Richard Allen and Absalom Jones. Study the social justice philanthropy of the legendary Madam CJ Walker. Before the Civil War, up through the Civil Rights struggle and after, our forebears charted paths and lay blueprints for progress. While the impulse to “give back” lives on in the community and opportunities exist to bring new twists to old traditions, this work must be encouraged and nurtured.

In the starkest of ironies, black Americans give the highest percentage of discretionary income to charitable causes when compared to other racial groups in America; and yet our philanthropy is discounted and overlooked by mainstream society. Indeed, within the black community, our traditions of giving are seldom acknowledged or celebrated, or even described as philanthropy. Absurd as it is, this cultural disconnect persists for many reasons and shortchanges us all.

Ideas and images of present-day philanthropy frequently fail to resonate and, worse yet, serve to alienate black Americans. Particularly unsettling is the stunning absence of black people in representations of philanthropists—a few select luminaries notwithstanding. A point of view endures that renders black donors and benefactors, in effect, invisible. The familiar picture of philanthropy is narrowly framed and thus gives a false impression that the only giving that matters is beyond the average person’s means.

On the demand side of philanthropy—as beneficiaries and “the needy”—is a common context for depictions of black children, families and communities. While but one facet of philanthropy, imagery around whites as the benefactors and blacks as those in need has devolved into a stubborn stereotype and produced a picture that distorts and is incomplete.

A richer picture exists. Widening the lens to include our customs and stories of giving yields a different view. Vibrant philanthropy is occurring in black communities, whether labeled as such or not. Even so, great promise rests in sharpening our focus to affect social change. Collectively, black America possesses the assets—heart, head, heritage and dollars—to eradicate a host of social ills. With our legacy of generosity, our shared stake in change and our capacity to leverage centuries-long gains in wealth, education and access, how could we not?

Exercising this power first requires a shift in thinking and wider recognition of the power of black philanthropy. Strategic alliances among black donors, across black communities and with institutional partners also are vital.

Significant in seizing the moment and sustaining the effort is love. Love of family. Love of culture. Love for thy neighbor as thyself. In its truest sense, philanthropy is rooted in love. Advancing social change with that spirit opens opportunities for everyone to participate and fixes the focus on liberating people not elevating oneself.

Putting our money where our heart lies. That is the charge. Begin doing your part today by deepening your knowledge of philanthropy, by examining your motivations for giving and by joining with others to grasp at the root causes of our collective concerns—for love.


‘Stunning example of populist philanthropy’

Photograph from "Giving Bsck" |Charles W. Thomas Jr., photographer

“African American philanthropy is a stunning example of ‘populist philanthropy.’ We as a people have been able to demonstrate how philanthropy is a form of relationship with others that everyone can practice. Children to seniors in our community have a long history of giving selflessly to those we know intimately as well as to total strangers. I am very proud of our cultural history as philanthropists!”

 Jennifer Henderson, a kind contributor of narratives for Giving Back

‘The most powerful representation of philanthropy that I have seen…’

I reach but cannot grasp words to plumb the depth of my gratification and overwhelming joy when previewers of Giving Back share their reactions to its stories and photography. A long hope has been that the book would move readers and perchance enlighten and deepen their thinking and giving, for good. This is commentary received last night . . .

“This is the most powerful representation of philanthropy that I have seen in more than a decade in this field. The stories, the quotes, the voices and the photographs are uniformly vivid and extraordinary….A reminder that, in its roots, philanthropy should be felt, not thought.”

— Robert K. Ross, M.D., president and CEO, The California Endowment


UPenn Scholar Marybeth Gasman: ‘Beautiful book that masterfully demonstrates the power of African American giving’

Our most recent advance commentary comes from Dr. Marybeth Gasman, professor, University of Pennsylvania and author of Uplifting a People: African American Philanthropy and Education and thirteen other books.

Giving Back is a beautiful book that masterfully demonstrates the power of African American giving. Through riveting photography and engaging vignettes, Valaida Fullwood tells the story of philanthropy at its purest. Giving Back showcases the diversity in giving that has taken place for centuries and continues to thrive in Black communities.  Anyone interested in philanthropy, Black giving, and African American history and culture will enjoy reading this wonderful new book.”

(I sense a new word cloud forming. Check in tomorrow.)