‘Philanthropy is the soul revealed’

Photography by Charles W. Thomas Jr.

Photography by Charles W. Thomas Jr.

“Although I’ve previously browsed through your book, I now have a copy and began to read through each page. I am still only at the beginning, but I have to tell you that it is so very moving and inspiring.

You ask how we define philanthropy? I think philanthropy is the soul revealed—and that’s what makes your book so powerful. And, you have such a beautiful way of writing. So, I just had to tell you this and to thank you for your beautiful book.” 

— Pat


‘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.

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


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.


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


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.

Mr. and Mrs. Jones

“Light glorifies everything. It transforms and ennobles the most commonplace and ordinary subjects.” — Leonard Misonne, photographer

One of the stories featured in Giving Back pays tribute to Carlotta and Johnnie Jones—ordinary people with an extraordinary philanthropic spirit. Faith and long family traditions provide light for their path of generous giving. The Jones’s firm beliefs and lifelong example inspired their daughter Melandee to share her story for the book.

Their enlightened family legacy lives on. Melandee serves on the boards of Arts For Life, BDPA and Citizen Schools. She also is member of New Generation of African American Philanthropists, a giving circle that gives back. — VF

MISTER JONES | Charles W. Thomas Jr., photographer

Revealing Meaning

“Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.”  — Hannah Arendt

Charles W. Thomas Jr., photographer

Giving Back: A Tribute to Generation of African American Philanthropistsreframing portraits of philanthropy by telling our stories.

Author Q&A on QCityMetro: Spotlight on ‘Giving Back’

An interview about Giving Back posted on QCityMetro.com today. It’s my interview with Michaela Duckett, who frequently profiles authors on what is one of Charlotte’s most popular blogs. Among other things, Michaela reveals five things about me. Most of them were probably little-known facts and trivia…that is, until today.

AUTHOR’S SPOTLIGHT: Q&A with Valaida Fullwood

by Michaela L. Duckett, 28 September 2011


The Potency in An Array of Stories

“The Danger of A Single Story,” the TED Talk by the writer Chimamanda Adichie, is an enlightening presentation. Chimamanda conveys the power of stories and reaffirms, for me, why Giving Back and its vast array of counter-narratives about African Americans and philanthropy are important.

Please watch.

‘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


Philanthropy Reframed

Once again, I’m expressing gratitude for generous advance commentary on Giving Back. Deborah Holmes is a communications exec at GFW and a leader of the Black Women Donors’ Action Group. Her words affirm the essence of my and others’ intention in telling our stories—to reframe portraits of philanthropy.

“Weaving photographs, testimonials and personal stories of Black people from all walks of life, Valaida Fullwood has created a work of art that reveals the essence of philanthropy—which is giving. For centuries, Black women, men and children have been giving in ways that defy traditional definitions of philanthropy.

“Giving Back is a revelation. Readers will be astounded by the breadth and depth of Black philanthropy.”

— Deborah Holmes, vice president for communications, Global Fund for Women

Charles W. Thomas Jr., photographer

Multi-Generational Stories Unfolded

Charles W. Thomas, Jr. photographer

One surprising aspect of Giving Back that emerged during its development was the telling of multi-generational stories. At the project’s conception, I envisioned a predominance of stories featuring unsung community elders and longtime, yet little-known philanthropists.

Charles W. Thomas, Jr., photographer

I presumed my peers and others would choose retirees, older mentors and family members from earlier generations to honor with a story in Giving Back. While many people chose such honorees, a surprising number instead shared a story about their contemporaries, up-and-coming givers and youth. Some told stories about a spouse, an admired friend, a youthful mentee or a group of young professionals forming a giving circle. Others contributed stories on how their children and concern for younger generations shaped their philanthropy. Even more unexpected, several teenagers and younger children became story contributors.

This refreshing twist in the book’s content added new dimensions and deepened the meaning of its subtitle, “A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists.” Here are a few of the teenagers profiled in Giving Back:

  • Jelani (16 y.o.), a participant of The Males Place, is demonstrating philanthropic leadership through his engagement with peers, volunteerism in the community and giving spirit.
  • Olivia (17 y.o.) founded PEN Pals Book Club and Support Group for children with incarcerated parents.
  • Bailand (17 y.o.), senior class president at Parkland High School, shared how his grandmother encourages his community service through the Boy Scouts and at church and school.

Their stories instill hope for future generations and embody the enduring legacy of Black philanthropy. — VF

“Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, and fulfill it or betray it.” — Frantz Fanon

Charles W. Thomas, Jr., photographer

A Gem Indeed

While previewing the manuscript for Giving Back, Ruby Bright, a foundation executive, told me, “I turn each page being filled with pride, hope, joy and love for my people.” That statement was compliment enough, then she sent the extended commentary below, which left me speechless.

Charles W. Thomas, Jr., photographer

“Never again will I frame my conversation on how African Americans give under the guises of ‘Black people give differently—our philanthropy is different because we primarily see giving through our faith.’ We give holistically!

“Valaida Fullwood’s Giving Back captivated me from the cover photo where I connected with the hands—memories of my grandmother’s skin—lined with dreams deferred and the promise of aspirations and achievement. Giving Back is indeed a form of personal engagement as well as deep conversation sharing. It is undeniably the missing formula to the roots of African American philanthropy.

“Simply stated, “Giving Back, through stories of everyday people aided with photography of the moment, is poignant and more of a revelation than any article or research publication on the topic of African American giving.

“Since reading Giving Back, from now on, I will tell my philanthropy story with pride and without excuses or apologies.”

 Ruby Bright, executive directorWomen’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis