‘Of Dreams and Mountaintops’ Interview with Men Tchaas Ari

BPM LOGO (FINAL)BPM 2013 | Of Dreams and Mountaintops

In observance of Black Philanthropy Month, interviews in this series feature African Americans engaged in multiple facets of philanthropy and focus on interests and concerns, 50 years after Dr. King’s iconic “I Have A Dream” speech.

MEN TCHAAS ARI
Chief Program Officer, Crisis Assistance Ministry

Men Tchaas Ari | Photography by Charles W. Thomas, Jr.

Men Tchaas Ari | Photography by Charles W. Thomas, Jr.

HOMETOWN: Bloomfield, Ct

YEARS AS A CHARLOTTEAN: 17 years

EDUCATION: BA, Morehouse College

PREVIOUS POSITIONS: Various at Mecklenburg County DSS

PHILANTHROPIC INVOLVEMENT: Currently a Mentor for the Y Achievers Program.

BLACK PHILANTHROPY IS . . . The key to eradicating poverty and all of the other ills plaguing the African American community.

Q&A

What is your first memory of generosity?

When I was a small child, I can remember accompanying my mother, once a week to visit Ms. Shepard.  Ms. Shepard was an elderly blind woman, who had no family in the area.  My mom made it a priority to look after her and to get her out of the house.  During these weekly visits we’d often venture to the local grocery store.  As I grew older, and got used to accompanying my mom on these visits, it became my responsibility to navigate Ms. Shepard through the aisles of the grocery store.

How does that memory influence your philanthropy and your work in the field of philanthropy?

It instilled in me the commitment to help those less fortunate than me.  It also taught me to value the gift of time.  When people think of philanthropy, they often think of making a financial contribution.  Observing my mother’s gift of time to Ms. Shepard, long ago, reminds me of how precious the gift of time really is.

What can you share about the history, mission and services of Crisis Assistance Ministry? 

Crisis Assistance Ministry was created in 1975 as a place of financial recovery for families in urgent financial crisis.  Its mission is to provide assistance and advocacy for people in financial crisis, helping them move toward self-sufficiency.

Tell us about your work and responsibilities at Crisis Assistance Ministry.

As the Chief Program Officer, I am responsible for developing, planning and directing the operations of all client programs.  It is my responsibility to ensure that the provision of services is done in a manner that is dignified and in accordance with our goal of helping customers reach financial stability.

Why and how did you become involved in this field of work?

Sixteen years ago I started working at DSS as a bilingual Case Manager.  It was through that role that I learned the importance of having a safety net in the community.  I also learned first hand how systems could help or hinder someone getting back on their feet.  Some sixteen years later I am still committed to building systems that will help people become self-sufficient.

What are some of the issues and challenges that Crisis Assistance Ministry is focused on addressing in 2013? Are there trends or patterns that you’ve observed of late?

The customers that we serve were the first to feel the effects of the Great Recession and they will probably be the last to feel the recovery.  It doesn’t help that our state has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and has just made significant cuts to unemployment benefits. Two years ago Crisis Assistance Ministry underwent a strategic planning process to ensure that its services focused on helping people reach financial stability.  A direct result of that planning has caused us to focus on building strategic partnerships with other organizations working to  help customers become stable.  Through these partnerships we are able to expand our reach into the community and help more persons become financially stable.

What are some of your thoughts on where America stands 50 years after Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech? 

It seems that the racial barriers that divided  our country 50 years ago have been replaced with socio-economic/class barriers.

When it comes to society or our community, what is your “dream” or aspiration? 

According to a 2012 Nielsen study, African American’s annual buying power will reach one trillion dollars in 2015.  My dream is for that money to circulate in the African American community a few times.  This would stimulate the economy in our community and improve its infrastructure.  My ultimate goal would be for African Americans to collectively invest a mere 1 percent of that (i.e. $10B) annually.  From this collective pool we would be able to address many of the ills in our community and, ultimately, the ills of the world at large.

In terms of your philanthropic endeavors, what’s your “mountaintop” or highest achievement to date?

I would have to say that it is giving of my time to teens in the Y Achievers mentoring program.  This program focuses on curtailing the drop out rate at three local high schools.  This year, all of the high school seniors that participated in the program graduated from high school.

Name a book that has shaped your philanthropy?

Negro with a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey, by Colin Grant (2010)

How can readers play a part in addressing the critical needs of people struggling with limited resources? 

I encourage them to find a cause that is dear to them and make a contribution of their time, talent and treasure.  I would also encourage them to find opportunities to formally and/or informally mentor someone less fortunate than them.  Studies have shown that the key to getting out of poverty, is to have significant interactions with someone who is not living in poverty.

Please leave us with a favorite quote that characterizes an aspect of your philanthropy. 

Charity is no substitute for justice withheld. — St. Augustine

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BPM SPACE 1Nearly a dozen interviews compose the series “Of Dreams and Mountaintops” and are slated for multiple media outlets including: Charlotte Viewpoint, Collective Influence, Mosaic Magazine, QCityMetro.com, The Charlotte Post (print version) and thecharlottepost.com. To get connected and involved in BPM 2013 during August and beyond, visit BlackPhilanthropyMonth.com and follow the hashtag #BPM2013 on social media. 

About Valaida Fullwood

Described an “idea whisperer,” Valaida brings unbridled imagination and a gift for harnessing wild ideas to her work as a writer and project strategist. She is author of Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists. Follow at valaida.com, @ValaidaF and @BlkGivesBackCLT.

On The Horizon: An August of Dreams and Mountaintops

Black Philanthropy Month 2013 begins this week, and it’s “An August of Dreams and Mountaintops.” Below is content from the media release about BPM 2013.

BPM LOGO (FINAL)Remembering 50 years of historic achievements with calls for greater African-descent giving and community-led change

The month of August has become a momentous time in the global history of the Black giving movement. Entering its third year of observance, Black Philanthropy Month 2013 (BPM 2013) is an unprecedented coordinated initiative to strengthen African-American and African-descent giving in all its forms. High-impact events, media stories, service projects and giving opportunities compose the campaign, which kicks off in August 2013 and continues through February 2014.

BPM SPACE 2“Black Philanthropy Month gives our diverse communities an opportunity to celebrate and renew their rich, shared traditions of giving, self-help and innovation throughout the US and the world,” says Dr. Jackie Copeland-Carson, Executive Director, African Women’s Development Fund USA (AWDF USA).

Coinciding with commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and Dr. King’s unforgettable “I Have a Dream” speech, BPM 2013 provides both time for reflection on the state of the “dream” a half-century later and calls for action to address the most pressing challenges of the 21st century. With a base of activities in place, the primary goals of the campaign are to inspire people to improve their communities locally and globally, give back in smarter and more strategic ways and transform people’s lives for the better. Self-organized events, community conversations and charitable fundraising in recognition of BPM 2013 are encouraged.

Events across the country start in August 2013. Special gatherings taking place in cities nationwide include: a summit on Black philanthropy on Martha’s Vineyard; a Northern California benefit in support of improving maternal health in Africa; and a moderated panel discussion in Charlotte commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington while examining the history and possibilities of African-American giving and civic engagement. A regularly updated calendar of events can be found at BlackPhilanthropyMonth.com.

According to Tracey Webb, founder of BlackGivesBack.com, BPM 2013’s media hub, “Combining the power of print, broadcast and digital media will strengthen Black philanthropy’s voice and increase its impact for new times.”

BPM also aims to expand the ways that people give. Fund-raising efforts and community drives to be mounted and publicized in August and beyond include Black Gives Back to SchoolTM (school supplies and clothes); Community Investment Network 2013 National Conference (giving circles and collective giving); and AWDF USA’s Mother Africa Campaign (maternal health).

“We expect to see more people giving in strategic, new ways as well as groups investing in Black philanthropic know-how and leadership, across generations,” says Valaida Fullwood of the Giving Back Project.

“Empowering communities to be the change they wish to see will help shape the philanthropic landscape of the 21st century,” says Chad Jones, Executive Director, Community Investment Network.

Beginning this August, help us renew the commitment of time, voice or money to be a part of Black Philanthropy’s future. Join the campaign to create a diverse global community that Dr. King spoke of, thousands marched for and you can participate in.

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African Women’s Development Fund USA (AWDF USA) provides a vehicle for effective American philanthropy to Africa and builds the capacity of the continent’s women for social change and sustainable development.  Through its research, public information and convening initiatives, it also seeks to highlight the tremendous impact that African women-led philanthropy and nonprofits are having on the lives of their families and communities across the continent and Diaspora.

BlackGivesBack.com (BGB) informs as the premier website on Black philanthropy since 2007, reaching readers in the U.S. and abroad and attracting major media attention. BGB uses original, in-depth and engaging philanthropy-themed story angles, vibrant imagery, features including “The Insider” that profiles African American donors and nonprofit and foundation executives, event coverage, celebrity philanthropy and more.

Community Investment Network (CIN), formed in 2003, invests in cultivating donors of color and giving circles and has emerged a leading national resource that bridges institutional philanthropy and diverse, everyday givers. From developing a new cadre of philanthropic leaders to facilitating learning-centered approaches, CIN empowers its members to give their time, talent, treasure and testimonials to be the change they wish to see.

The Giving Back Project (GBP) inspires by reframing portraits of philanthropy with stories, photography and community conversations. GBP emerged from the work of New Generation of African American Philanthropists (NGAAP-Charlotte) and led to the publication of Giving Back, the award-winning book by Valaida Fullwood that profiles African American giving. GBP ventures to ignite a movement of conscientious philanthropy by empowering a generation to recognize its power and responsibility to give back.

‘Power Without Love’

Mr. Wallace Pruitt of Seversville | Photography by Charles W. Thomas Jr.

“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Another exquisite truth from yesterday’s NCNG luncheon keynote by Martin Eakes of Self-Help, paired with a portrait from Giving Back. — VF