Skip to main content

What Black Philanthropy Can Teach Us

By Ericka Wooten, Director of Culture and Values

If you type “famous American philanthropists” into any online search engine, some familiar names will populate the first page of results: Andrew Carnegie, John Rockefeller, Bill Gates, McKenzie Scott, Melinda Gates, and Jeff Bezos to name a few.  With just a cursory glance at this list, one might be inclined to think that that Philanthropy is for a select few famous, mostly white, high net worth individuals who seek to promote the welfare of others through the donation of large sums of money. But we know that philanthropy is so much more than that! Black Philanthropy Month, celebrated during the month of August, is a perfect time to broaden our collective definition of “philanthropist” and “philanthropy,” exploring not only the ways in which Black Americans have engaged in philanthropy, but also reframing how we think about philanthropy in a more inclusive and accurate way.

erika wooten

The concept of Black Philanthropy is often thought of as new or emerging. However, Black Philanthropy has been in existence for much longer, centuries in fact, than what is accounted for in most canonical timelines of modern philanthropy.

Black Philanthropy’s roots can be traced to West African cultural traditions, that came to America when “Enslaved peoples brought with them a ‘tradition of loosely defined kinship,’ meaning neighbors in need getting help from their neighbors, often informally.” (1)

During enslavement, this tradition of helping each other became a way of surviving the brutality of chattel slavery.  From the very beginning, Black Philanthropy has been about looking after your neighbors and combining resources (often commonly referred to as “mutual aid,” a concept that has gained more traction in recent years but has existed far longer than commonly acknowledged).  The abolitionist movement, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement have all shaped Black Philanthropy.  “In fact, in the most difficult years of discrimination and violence against Blacks in the south, from 1880 – 1920, African Americans turned to themselves to educate the masses of their people, care for the needy, facilitate economic development, and address political concerns largely through their churches.” (2)

Black Americans’ engagement in philanthropy has been and continues to be shaped by the racial history of America.  Madam C. J. Walker an African American entrepreneur, philanthropist, political/ social activist, and first female self-made millionaire in America embodied what it meant to be a Black Philanthropist. Madam Walker believed that philanthropic currency was about more than money, “any resource that has the potential to alleviate suffering or bring about meaningful change…as being useful philanthropic currency – be it time, money, employment, education, beauty, influence, inspiration, or tangible goods” (p.208).  (3)

Along with Madam Walker, there are many incredible Black philanthropists throughout our Nation’s history who have impacted their communities, cities, and country through their unwavering commitment to community.  Black Philanthropy month is a perfect time to learn more about these trailblazers, including  James Forten, Bridget “Biddy” Mason, Colonel John McKee, and Oseola McCarty.

Tyron Freeman, author of Madam C.J. Walker’s Gospel of Giving: Black Women’s Philanthropy, reminds us that each of us can build on the power of Black Philanthropy and calls on us to share our gifts in service of something greater than each of us, “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.  So, anyone can give. One does not have to be rich or be limited to monetary gifts to express this generosity.  Whatever one has that may be helpful to others can and should be shared for collective benefit and communal uplift.” (4)

Black philanthropy is impactful, generous, political, and powerful, but often overlooked.

Black Philanthropy Month not only provides a great opportunity to learn more about Black Americans’ important contribution to the Philanthropic sector, but also calls us to consciously move toward a more inclusive and nuanced understanding of philanthropy that honestly acknowledges the racial disparities that persist within the sector today and thoughtfully examines each of our role in addressing inequities with a renewed sense of urgency.

Sources:

Black Philanthropy Month, created in 2011 by Dr. Jackie Bouvier Copeland and the Pan-African Women’s Philanthropy Network, is an annual, global celebration of African-descent giving.

Sources:

Black Philanthropy Month, created in 2011 by Dr. Jackie Bouvier Copeland and the Pan-African Women’s Philanthropy Network, is an annual, global celebration of African-descent giving.

Leave a Reply

© 2024 Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina. All Rights Reserved.
The Sisters of Charity Foundation is a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System.
DEIB

Read similar articles

Systems Change Journey

21 February, 2024

Facing the Past to Improve the Future: Why Leaning into DEIB Is So Important

Facing the Past to Improve the Future: Why Leaning into DEIB Is So ImportantBy Dr. Tracy Bailey and Ericka Wooten Examining the Foundation’s journey to uplifting diversity, equity, inclusion, and...

Read More

News

25 January, 2024

Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina Announces New Trustees for 2024

Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina Announces New Trustees for 2024 Foundation announces new members and officers to serve on Board of Trustees. SOUTH CAROLINA - (January 24, 2024)...

Read More

Grants

11 December, 2023

2024 Grantmaking Information

2024 Grant Information Immediate Needs CYCLE 1 • Cycle 1 is open for organizations with operating budgets $500k or LESS. • 2024 Cycle 1 Inquiry Form opens January 11. •...

Read More

Systems Change Journey

9 November, 2023

Philanthropy Engaging in Advocacy: A Necessity

Philanthropy Engaging in Advocacy: A NecessityBy Chynna A. Phillips, Senior Director of Policy and Research Impact--a small word with endless possibilities. When considering our impact over time, we began to...

Read More

News

18 October, 2023

Sisters of Charity Foundation of SC Awards $877,000 Million in Grants Statewide

Sisters of Charity Foundation of SC Awards $877,000 in Grants Statewide SOUTH CAROLINA - (October 18, 2023) The Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina awarded 100 grants totaling $877,000...

Read More
VIEW ALL