The DNA of black philanthropy

Black philanthropy is ancestral. Prioritizing community well-being and collective progress is the backbone of what it means to be Black in America.

It’s epigenetic, or hard-wired into our DNA, given the experiences of our ancestors. When we lacked outside support during our time of bondage and had no lasting remedy for post-Reconstruction slavery, we met.

Considering all that we have been through, combined with our country’s penchant for capitalism, a complex philanthropic identity begins to emerge.

Historically, black philanthropic identity has been nuanced because mainstream culture viewed black people as the beneficiaries of philanthropy, not its supporters. This definition is exclusive at best, since black philanthropy cannot be limited to the donation of treasures.

Black Philanthropy Month celebrates our identity as community donors.

Black Philanthropy Month (BPM), founded by Dr Jackie Bouvier Copeland and the Pan-African Women’s Philanthropy Network, celebrates our identity as community donors. This gift should be branded as the most altruistic version of philanthropy since black Americans, regardless of their personal resources, gave of what they had to support one another.

Economic opportunity cannot be divorced from public policy in America.

As BPM is observed every August, there are events that demonstrate the need to include political and collective action in our definitions such as:

  • Washington March for Freedom and Jobs (08/28/1965)
  • The anniversary of the murder of Emmett Till (08/28/1955)

And while these events are national, there is significant relevance to the month of August for the liberation struggle in Philadelphia:

  • On August 1, 1944, after the Philadelphia Wagon Company (PTC) hired 8 black forklift workers, 4,500 white cart workers began to strike by refusing to work in an integrated company.
    • the War Labor Commission orders their return to work but the men ignore the demand, causing a 70% drop in the production of war material in Philadelphia.
    • Before August 3, President Roosevelt finally intervenes by sending a Army general to take control of the Philadelphia transit system
    • Racial violence was happening all over town, but it peaked when 13-year-old black boy shot dead by white vigilantes in support of strike action.
    • On August 5, 5,000 soldiers arrive in Philadelphia and are given an ultimatum: workers refusing to work would be deregistered, not receive the work permits necessary to find another job, and if they were between the ages of 18 and 37, the strikers would also lose their postponement plans.
    • In a gesture that evokes what happened last January with the taking of the United States Capitol, the leaders of the strike are arrested and accused of having violated the Smith Connally Act.
    • On August 6, workers signed written agreements stating that they would return to work the next day.
    • On Tuesday, August 9, 1944, the Philadelphia Trolley Company again welcomed 7 of the 8 black workers hired, marking the integration of the public transport system.
    • In October 1944, the number of black drivers doubled to 15.
  • August 3, 1965 Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. stood alongside black people in Philadelphia as they protested for the integration of Girard College by delivering a speech at events planned by local activists, including the deceased Cecil B. Moore (yes, THAT Cecil B. Moore). Martin Luther King marched and demonstrated at the corner of 39th Street and Lancaster Avenue – where his “Now is the time” speech remains commemorated in a statue today.
    • Thanks to the Civil Rights in a City in the North of Temple University, you can see him calling for school integration here.

These events of political and collective action have led to the economic mobility of black children and families within the city.

As we celebrate the 77th anniversary of the integration of Philadelphia’s transit systems, SEPTA continues to be a major supportive wage employer for Blacks in Philadelphia. And some of the leaders of our city, like Omar Woodard, benefit from the life-changing educational opportunities offered by Girard College.

Contributing to the economic growth of the community is a by-product of political action and a direct goal of most philanthropists. The rulers of the day did not physically dig in their pockets and hand out dollars to black people in Philadelphia, but they did remove political and bureaucratic barriers to economic self-sufficiency for thousands of people.

Reflecting on my own professional background, I am more aligned with the non-monetary indicators of the black philanthropic spirit.

Remember how I said black philanthropy is ancestral?

Last February, I had the great joy of seeing my very distant cousin, the director Kasi lemons (especially, The Bayou of Eve) discover the history of our family on Find your roots with Dr. Henry Louis Gates.

I learned that my great-great-grandfather, Lemon Primus was offered release after fighting in the Civil War and chose to return to bondage so he could understand what freedom meant to his entire family (including my great-grandfather, First). This dedication to collective progress earned Primus the respect of black and white Alabamans.

During the Reconstruction Era, the Lemon family owned large plots of land (gifts of gratitude from former Primus owners) and provided food and sharecropping opportunities to the black community around Bessemer, Alabama, without the same restrictive conditions as white owners. My great-grandfather, Prime, was a preacher and community leader who continued to own and share the land his father made possible.

Collective progress and community well-being are responsibilities that I cannot shake even if I wanted to.

It is in my DNA to view my personal growth as inextricably linked to the progress of my people. Politics and bureaucracy often create boundaries that limit the potential of historically excluded communities. This forces a marriage between political action and direct aid within the Black Philanthropic tradition.

In my work, this means considering the political implications of every funding decision I make and directly citing the policies that guide my investments.

Since I have been at TD it meant:

  • manager the Housing for All competition Thus, individuals and families who rent would have access to $ 4.9 million in rent relief and support services without the procedural hurdles required by government relief. This strategy was especially important to me since black women and families continue to face the greatest threat of eviction.
  • Execute a $ 2 million donation strategy to enable CDFI to extend dollars and technical assistance to black and brown business owners left out of federal relief opportunities during the height of the pandemic.
  • first a relationship between TD and Gramein America donate capital to over 500 black and Latin women business leaders who were not eligible for SBA loans linked to the pandemic in cities on the east coast.
  • fight the digital divide in 2021 by launch a partnership with First book as the main sponsor of the Black children matter June 17 campaign of the Stories for all project to ensure that 13,000 children from Maine to Florida have access to the technological materials and books necessary to promote positive attitudes towards literacy.

Ongoing accountability to the community is the essence of Black Philanthropy Month. We should not limit our identity as a philanthropist to the dollars we spend. The truth of our reality as black philanthropists is more than that.

In August, consider how you are presenting yourself fully to uplift and activate your philanthropy. Are these gifts of time and treasures? Is it your advocacy and sponsorship? Let me know in the comments, join some BPM events, and discover the playlist Benevolent Bars: Black Philanthropy Month 2021 on Tide.


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