Author Kiersten Marek
This year has unfolded like the chapters of a dystopian Octavia Butler novel. A third of US Covid deaths are Black. Black unemployment rates are at more than 20 percent. More than 40 percent of Black small businesses have closed. The George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor lynchings, broadcast across traditional and social media, made it clear that virulent, violent, anti-Black racism is alive and well.
These are confusing, life-changing times. Black joy, struggle, rage and giving converge in our story, creating history and shaping our future this Black Philanthropy Month (BPM). Stories give form to chaos, helping us see hidden lessons and new visions to become the change we want to see. For this unprecedented historical moment of BPM, the story begins and ends in Minneapolis, a new center of the global racial justice movement.
I moved to the Twin Cities of Minnesota in the mid-1990s just as it was becoming the most diverse Black community in the U.S. Although it had a relatively small population compared to larger American metropolises, Minneapolis was the most ethnically diverse, Black population in the U.S., including the country’s largest Somali, Liberian, and Kenyan communities at the time. Suddenly, there were new nonprofits and businesses catering to Black people where previously there were very few.
In my book, Creating Africa in America, I talk about how Black people from throughout the world — along with a longtime African-American community — made the region including St. Paul a hotbed of Black social innovation, cultural trends and entrepreneurism. Diverse Sounds of Blackness literally reverberated throughout the region, country and world — from the music of Prince, to Minneapolis’ first female and African-American mayor, Sharon Sayles-Belton, as well as many prominent Black business leaders. People were drawn from all over because of its booming economy, strong schools, relatively excellent public services, and community spirit.
However, the region’s long-touted social contract began to fray. As the cities became more diverse, there was white flight to the suburbs and disinvestment from urban schools. Additionally, poverty became more concentrated in largely segregated Black and Brown communities. There were growing accounts of discrimination in public services from healthcare to policing. The Minneapolis/St. Paul region increasingly became, and still is, a tale of two cities—one white and relatively flourishing while Black residents struggle without equal access to the region’s bounty.
In response, Black women were building nonprofits and businesses to address injustice and make their communities and the region better for all. In 2003 we formed the Pan-African Women’s Philanthropy Network (PAWPNet) to provide mutual support, collective wellness and to advance Black Diaspora giving with a clear focus on building shared community among African-Americans, Black Immigrants and allies.
As I was moving to Silicon Valley, PAWPNet held its first Summit in 2006. Inspired by PAWPNet’s giving, volunteerism and business acumen, I created and launched Black Philanthropy Month at our second Summit in 2011. In its inaugural year, The UN’s International Year for People of African Descent, The US Congress, City of Minneapolis and state of Minnesota recognized August as Black Philanthropy Month, creating the foundation for its continuing expansion.
Hundreds of amazing activists and leaders convened at this inaugural BPM Summit, which drew women from as far away as Kenya and Australia — including Opal Tometi of Black Alliance for Just Immigration, who later co-founded the Black Lives Matter Movement; Trista Harris, now a creative philanthropic futurist; Valaida Fullwood, who had just published her groundbreaking Soul of Philanthropy book, that would later become a national exhibit; Natalia Kanem, MD, UN Population Fund Executive Director; human rights activist Judge LaJune Lange; Afro-Brazilian social justice advocate, Dr. Antonia Apollonario-Wilcoxin; Center for Economic Inclusion CEO, Tawanna Black; social justice advocate Nontombi Naomi Tutu; activist-scholar, Dr. Julianne Malveaux; Poet Sonia Sanchez and many more.
Black Philanthropy Month reached new heights when Valaida Fullwood, author of the groundbreaking book Soul of Philanthropy, and Tracey Webb, Founder of Black Benefactors, joined as co-organizers in 2013. Their collaboration helped bring the initiative even moreinto the social media age. Working as volunteers together, and with an emphasis on community philanthropy, we have managed to expand BPM’s reach to nearly 17 million people and are proud that it continues to be recognized now by the UN as part of its International Decade for People of African Descent and now 30 governments throughout the U.S.
In Silicon Valley I came face-to-face with the inequities of the tech world. From the underrepresentation of Black people in leadership and severe underfunding of Black startups; the racism of artificial intelligence technology; as well as the pay gap in technology affecting Black and Indigenous People of Color. This exposure to High Tech Racism along with the disintegration of California’s natural environment, due largely to global warming, was transformative, highlighting that philanthropy alone was insufficient to help Black people survive and thrive in a New Economy increasingly shaped by technology and climate change.
Even with the emergence of this new BPM vision, the Covid pandemic and Minneapolis uprisings further underscored the need for us to move beyond philanthropy and toward promoting funding equity for Black nonprofits and businesses as part of a broader racial justice movement.
Next month the 9th Black Philanthropy Month begins a new phase on August 1st with the kick off of the “Black Giving and Beyond Virtual Summit: Toward a Just Future in a Covid World.” With African and Women’s convenings later in the month, we expand the dialogue for change to include all forms of private capital for Black equity. The Summit focuses on how to promote funding equity across philanthropy, social impact and venture investments that Black nonprofits and businesses need to promote economic justice. Free and open to the public, the Summit features prominent leaders in dialogue with community representatives to create New Black Funding Principles that accelerate and scale Covid recovery.
Martin Luther King reminds us that “Philanthropy is commendable. But it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.” This is a turning point for Black communities. The Minneapolis Racial Justice Movement tells us, “no funding, no justice; no justice, no peace.” We invite you to join us to create a more equitable and sustainable Black future in our fast-changing world.
Jacqueline Bouvier Copeland is the Founder of Black Philanthropy Month™, its Black Giving and Beyond Summit™ Series and The WISE Fund.