Celebrating Black Philanthropy Month

by Laura Savage

March-on-Washington-aerial-view-200000-people-082863-by-Getty, Celebrating Black Philanthropy Month, Local News & Views
An aerial view of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom Aug. 28, 1963 – Photo: Getty

This August marks a special month for many reasons to the Black community. Black Philanthropy Month 2013 is being celebrated nationwide this month and it is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs, where Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Although 50 years have passed, recent happenings around racial inequality, economic injustice, an inherently racist and prejudiced judicial system that targets people of color and blatant attacks on civil rights laws passed to level the playing field for people of color remind us that the need for realization of Dr. King’s dream is more than alive. It’s expanding!

The dream that King voiced has been stifled by what some would call a post-racial society. This post-racial society doesn’t actually exist in the weaving of society, only in the minds of those who wish to use it as a way to dismantle the foundation of equality and equity laid generations ago.

It is with these realities that Black people live every day. What should be a huge milestone for Black people and civil rights enthusiasts is a harsh reckoning that there is much work to be done in order for freedom and equality to be a reality and not just a dream.

Black Philanthropy Month, founded by the African Women’s Development Fund USA in 2011, seeks to highlight the common history and challenges of African people in the diaspora. It is intended to be a global celebration of self-help, giving and volunteerism for social change, according to Dr. Jackie Copeland-Carson, executive director of AWDF USA.

Ebusua-Summer-Ball-2011-1, Celebrating Black Philanthropy Month, Local News & Views
Guests arrive for the Ebusua Summer Ball in 2011. The 2013 Ball is coming up this Saturday. Tickets must be purchased in advance from Eventbrite.

This year, Black Gives Back, Community Investment Network, the Giving Back Project and the African Women’s Development Fund USA are co-leading Black Philanthropy Month 2013.

A highlight is the African Dream Summer Ball on Saturday, Aug. 17, hosted by the Bay Area organization Ebusua to benefit AWDF USA’s African Maternal Mortality Crisis campaign. Read the details below and visit BlackGivesBack.com/p/events.html for more information.

“What’s happening this year is a coordinated effort to do a very high profile global public information campaign tied to the 50th anniversary,” says Copeland-Carson. “We’re really excited about the possibility of more people of African descent worldwide recognizing the giving (people of African descent) do, really on an everyday basis, as part of the fabric of social change and sustainability worldwide.”

Philanthropy and the Black community

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on Aug. 28, 1963, had multiple goals: the passage of meaningful civil rights legislation, the elimination of racial segregation in public schools, protection for demonstrators against police brutality, a public works program to provide jobs, a law prohibiting racial discrimination in public and private hiring, a minimum wage of $2 per hour and a self-governing District of Columbia, which had a Black majority then.

Some of these were accomplished, but others weren’t. What is still true is the need for the Black community to do grassroots organizing to improve the community and make it self-sustainable. Through all the tribulations, Blacks still find ways to help others.

Cultures of Giving,” a study released by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in 2012, found that Blacks donate $11 billion per year, giving away 25 percent more of their incomes than white donors do. The study also found that 66 percent of Blacks donate money, regardless of income and economic status. And that is only the monetary calculations.

Valaida Fullwood, self-proclaimed community philanthropist and author of “Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists,” works with the Giving Back Project and feels that philanthropy is alive and well in the Black community.

Fullwood thinks the biggest misconception about Black philanthropy is that it doesn’t exist. “There is this stereotype, both in the Black community and in the broader community, that people of African descent are the world’s supplicants,” meaning we ask for money, not give it, says Fullwood. “Nothing could be further from the truth. All of the studies back to the ‘80s have documented that Blacks give the highest proportion of their income.”

If time were calculated, that number would be much greater.

African-Womens-Development-Fund-works-with-Liberian-women, Celebrating Black Philanthropy Month, Local News & Views
The work of the African Women’s Development Fund with Liberian women has been praised by Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

“For me, I go back to the root meaning (of philanthropy),” says Fullwood: “Love of humanity, love of humankind, love of what it means to be human. So born out of love, born out of humanity, born out of generosity, it includes time, talent and treasure. It’s not a focus on monetary but a recognition of the power of gifts.”

The idea for Fullwood’s book was born out of her giving circle’s members’ common stories and experiences of philanthropy and giving back. The Giving Back Project emerged from that. Money raised from book sales goes back to the giving circle to help fund grant making.

A giving circle is a group or club “much like a book club or an investment club that is a loosely formed group of people with shared interests,” according to Fullwood. “There are different size giving circles ranging from a handful to hundreds. Each is different in their goals and priorities. Some meet monthly.”

Fullwood’s giving circle is part of the Community Investment Network, which has group members nationwide.

“In writing the book,” she said she found “there is a huge disconnect in Black communities. For many, philanthropy suggests giving everything – like rich old white guys – but that’s not what is given in Black communities.

“So part of writing the book is bridging that gap and raising greater awareness of the underlying social fabric in Black communities and how we give is indeed philanthropy. I want to impart a sense of pride and hopefully more mindfulness about how we do give and not be so dismissive and so quick to attribute the word philanthropy to everyone but African Americans, in particular African Americans of modest means.”

Those gifts have been sustaining the Black community and greater diaspora for centuries.

Philanthropy and the African Diaspora

In addition to the billions in philanthropic giving that African Americans do, African immigrants send an additional $40 billion to their home countries in Africa every year.

“What I like about this coalition is that it represents pan-African giving practices,” says Copeland-Carson of the Black Philanthropy Month 2013 coalition leaders. It recognizes “primarily the diversity of Africans worldwide, including African immigrants and African Americans, recognizing Africa as the cradle of mankind.”

Ebusua-Summer-Ball-2011-3, Celebrating Black Philanthropy Month, Local News & Views
Ebusua 2011 Summer Ball: The African diaspora is a dancing diaspora.

The pan-African community is at the heart of one of the Bay Area’s Black Philanthropy Month events this year. A Bay Area organization, Ebusua, is hosting the African Dream Summer Ball this month on Saturday, Aug. 17. The funds raised from the ball will benefit AWDF USA’s African Maternal Mortality Crisis campaign.

Ebusua, which means family in the Akon language in Ghana – not just the nuclear family but the extended family – truly incorporates the idea behind “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Augusta Graves, president of Ebusua, says her father, Dr. Alfred LeGrand Sawyer, started the club in 1997 to create a support system away from home. The mission of the club has evolved to philanthropic efforts in Africa and the Bay Area.

“Philanthropy is giving back,” says Graves. “It’s about giving back and sharing, whether it’s money or time. Whatever it is that we have to give and share, that’s what (philanthropy) is.”

According to Graves, most African immigrants in America budget money to send back to their home countries. It is ingrained in who they are. The World Bank reports that in 2010 African immigrants to the U.S. sent over $40 billion to their home countries.

The African Dream Summer Ball is a red-carpet event featuring a musical performance by singer Jens Ibsen, a keynote address by Dr. Jackie Copeland-Carson, African drumming and a silent auction. The ball will take place Saturday, Aug. 17, 5:30-9:30 p.m., at the South San Francisco Conference Center, 255 South Airport Blvd, South San Francisco. Tickets are $65 and must be bought prior to the event from Eventbrite, at http://awdfusa-ebusua2013summerball.eventbrite.com/. Go to http://www.blackgivesback.com/p/events.html for more information.

“The whole idea of the ball is to raise funds for a charity that actually does work in Africa,” says Graves. “Giving is very important; giving is very healthy.”

This benefit enables African women, who have the world’s highest maternal mortality rates, with 500 women dying every day in childbirth, to achieve the dream of healthy mothers and children through the AWDF USA’s Mother Africa Campaign.

A press release for AWDF USA says: “This benefit enables African women, who have the world’s highest maternal mortality rates, with 500 women dying every day in childbirth, to achieve the dream of healthy mothers and children. AWDF USA’s Mother Africa Campaign, focused on supporting effective maternal health organizations on the continent, also includes an American public awareness initiative to increase understanding of the global women’s health crisis.”

The importance of Black Philanthropy Month

“I think Black Philanthropy Month helps people become aware as to what they do and the opportunities out there for them to do even more,” says Graves. “The awareness is a good thing. Black people do give a lot, but they probably are not aware of it.”

Ebusua-Summer-Ball-2011-4, Celebrating Black Philanthropy Month, Local News & Views
Ebusua 2011 Summer Ball: Music is the universal language.

“Philanthropy is giving back. It’s about giving back and sharing. Whether its money or time, whatever it is that we have to give and share … that’s what it is.”

Graves says, “The Black community does do a lot of philanthropy, like through the churches. The younger generation is a little bit more removed, but they have their own ways,” like mentoring, volunteering or helping others.

Black Philanthropy Month 2013 is a way to highlight the philanthropic efforts of the greater African diaspora community in America and abroad and to encourage more giving in the future.

“Philanthropy was attributed to people outside the Black community and of greater wealth,” says Fullwood. “In my experience, philanthropy encompasses it all.”

The Black community has long incorporated care for others in daily life. Blacks show their philanthropic efforts when they visit sick and shut in community members, when they care for community members’ children, when they cook for others, when they give money to special causes in their spiritual homes and other places, and when they volunteer or mentor. They may not get a tax write-off, but it still counts.

Black Philanthropy Month 2013 and every year shows appreciation for those deeds and encourages the community to do more. It does, as our inherent African roots teach us, take a village.

For more information on Black Philanthropy Month or the African Dream Summer Ball, visit BlackPhilanthropyMonth.com, Ebusua.com, usawdf.org or DonorsChoose.org. For a calendar of events, visit BlackGivesBack.com/p/events.html.

Laura Savage is a Bay Area-based freelance writer. She can be reached at lsavage26@gmail.com.