‘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.”

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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

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