February 21, 2022

The Values of Black Philanthropy

Philanthropy, by definition, is “the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.” Another definition reads: “Philanthropy means generosity in all its forms and is often defined as giving gifts of “time, talent and treasure.” Tyrone Freeman, the author of Madam C.J. Walker’s Gospel of Giving: Black Women’s Philanthropy, writes, “African American giving is grounded in a collective sense of responsibility and obligation towards the community and the continuing larger struggle for liberation. It is based on a generosity of spirit as an expression of dignity, humanity and identity. Whatever one has that may be helpful to others can and should be shared for collective benefit and communal uplift.” Regardless of where one’s comfort lies with a definition, as in most things, the history of Philanthropy slants a bit differently when it comes to Black communities.

If we take “wealth” in terms of actual cash out of the picture and think of it in terms of humble giving, then we can try to understand Philanthropy from an 18th and 19th century perspective. If we take modest checks and dollar bills ($5’s, $10’s, and maybe a $20), and converge that with rent and potluck parties, then we can envision how communities stayed intact. If we replace telethons and massive food drives with special church offerings and donations that paid for that monstrously expensive surgical procedure, then we can potentially understand how health miracles unfolded. With Black Philanthropy, wealth often looks, feels, and is regarded differently on behalf of families and communities who tend to for their very survival. Historically, Black Philanthropy was built on giving what you got, sharing what you can, and making the impossible work. This brand of Philanthropy was quiet and insular. It was humble and nimble, extremely kind. It addressed needs, created projects, resolved issues, proactively engaged, and fueled movements, stealthily – with dignity and respect. It was, and still is, the epitome of love and care.

Many of the historical legacies of Black Philanthropy are still evident and operational. They include institutions such as:

  • Black Businesses and the Black Press
  • Churches and Faith-Based Organizations
  • Fraternal and Sororal Organizations
  • HBCUs (Historical Black Colleges and Universities)
  • Social/Civic Organizations

Black philanthropic tidbits to consider:

  • Generally speaking, we are not always asked to give. We are often excluded or ignored by other philanthropic organizations.
  • When asked, we tend to give what we value, know, and love, and with whom we feel values us and our lives.
  • As diverse as Black people and communities are, so is Black Philanthropy.

I am excited for the future of Black Philanthropy! A study from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors also shows that almost two-thirds of Black families make charitable donations, worth a total of about $11 billion a year. There are numerous spaces for action-oriented, philanthropic responses.

Madam C.J. Walker is known to be the first Black Philanthropist and the first self-made female millionaire. It’s equally important to acknowledge all those soul-affirming Black Women “Philanthropists” – the silent warriors throughout our history – who quietly addressed the need, held the line, fed our communities – over and over and over again. It’s quite lovely and fitting that Black History Month and Women’s History Month are side by side.

Contact: Rada Moss, Resource Development Officer, rada@thegrantplantnm.com



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