While many philanthropists – including New York City’s billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg – are cutting back on or redirecting their grants, many black people are doing what they have done since the way back times: helping their families and friends and communities. They may not think of this as such a fancy word as “philanthropy” but rather as the ancient concept of doing for others as you would want others to do for you.
“Mutual aid is as old as humanity itself,” says Erica Hunt, president of the 21st Century Foundation, which promotes black philanthropy.
In Conyers, Ga., there’s the Moral Elevation Society, founded by R. B. Carr at the Shady Grove Baptist Church in 1890. Its goal was what Earl W. Stafford, a self-made millionaire, says today: “Just do a little bit and let it grow from there. ”
Stafford, through his foundation, brought 300 disadvantaged people of all races to Washington last year for a luxury weekend so they could participate in President Obama’s inauguration.
Major money is being given by people whose names are well known, including Bill and Camille Cosby, Tiger Woods, Oprah Winfrey, Magic Johnson, Colin Powell, Susan Taylor, Ludacris, and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith. And then there are people you may never have heard of. Like Oseola McCarty, a laundress in Mississippi who saved her money and gave $150,000 as an endowment for scholarships for minority students at the University of Southern Mississippi. Or Matel Dawson Jr., a forklifter at Ford. His obituary in the New York Times in 2002 says: “Mr. Dawson gave $680,000 to Wayne State University and $300,000 to Louisiana State University at Shreveport, officials at the universities said yesterday. He contributed $240,000 to the United Negro College Fund, the journal Black Issues in Higher Education reported last year. He also gave thousands of dollars to his church, the People’s Community Church in Detroit; other churches; community colleges; and civil rights organizations.”
You may not have heard of people who have set up giving circles through which they pool their money and decide how to distribute it for the good of their communities. Because this is 2010, and the economy is a factor, these giving circles might be on the money.
According to Ms. Hunt: “Giving of all types is down at all levels—mega gifts and small gifts, endowers and tithers, but people are still giving. The economy has definitely affected the amount of money people give, but it has not stopped their giving or their generosity.”
Indeed, the 21st Century Foundation last year raised $600,000 to support 36 organizations through its Gulf Coast Organizing, Advocacy and Leadership Fund and $1.2 million for its Black Men and Boys Fund for groups in six cities: New York, Los Angeles, Oakland, Chicago, New Orleans and Atlanta. That fund, Ms. Hunt says, helps mentor young men as they build – or rebuild – their lives en route to higher education and jobs.
“I think in the black community, we are sharply aware of the impact of the economic recession,” Ms. Hunt says. “We know that our unemployment rate is double the nation’s rate. And that families that were just getting by are facing homelessness. That the foreclosure storm has emptied some neighborhoods of new and first-time homeowners, often people of color. On top of that, the state education and youth support budgets are in line for additional cutting. These factors cause deep harm in our communities. ”
But, she says: “People are giving wisely to the causes they care about, and with an expectation of results. Show me what change looks like! How many and who? And, overall, how are the lives of this family, this community changed for the better because of what I give and how I have organized my network to give?”
Black Enterprise magazine published the results of an extensive survey of black philanthropy five years ago. At that time it estimated that blacks gave $11.4 billion in 2004: $7.2 billion to churches and faith-based organizations; $4.2 billion to charities and specific causes.
The 21st Century Foundation, founded in 1971, focuses specifically on what helps blacks in the U.S. and abroad. The Stafford Foundation, founded in 2002, is faith-based and color-blind and funds projects here and abroad. Both foundations are among those striving to recruit and advise a younger generation of philanthropists. The 21st Century Foundation supports a Wall Street Friends Fund that brings together lawyers, financial whiz kids and interns to raise money for good causes.
Mr. Stafford, the son of a Baptist preacher (who has recently launched the Doing Good Campaign with the support of the Cosbys), says that we, rather than government, are the primary solutions – the bailouts – for struggling communities “We have to be our brothers’ keepers..” And the mantra, he says, should be: “My life might not be perfect, but I can do a little bit for somebody who has less than I do.”