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I’m Black, and Philanthropy Looks Like Me!

Authors: Ciarra C. Adkins, JD, & D’Angelo Bailey

Black philanthropy has long been an institution in the Black community. Dr. Tyrone Freeman wrote, “African American giving is unique in that its origins are found in pre-colonial West African traditions of giving and sharing. Those traditions and practices traversed the Atlantic Ocean via the slave trade and evolved over time through slavery and Jim Crow on to today where they are foundational to everyday life in Black communities.” [1] In fact, Black philanthropy in the US began around the time the first enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619. Through the years, we have seen Black mutual aid societies supporting African American civic life before the Civil War, throughout Reconstruction and up through the Jim Crow era. These societies supported medical care, life insurance, banking and real estate, which unfortunately are still areas of distress for Black families.

During the Civil Rights Movement, only a small number of foundations were willing to provide philanthropic support but those few brave institutions laid the groundwork for how grantmakers support racial and social justice efforts today. [2] The practice of mutual aid has had a resurgence since the COVID-19 pandemic through strong online and grassroots networks.

African American families contribute the highest percentage of their wealth to charitable and philanthropic causes among American racial and ethnic groups - even with the wealth gap and other economic disparities. African American donors are more likely to support charitable causes than others, especially those focused on social services, health and youth but are often not included in traditional fundraising efforts. We know that African American donors mostly support local causes and organizations where they have a connection and leadership looks like the community they serve. [3]

Often, colonial institutional philanthropy does not embrace the diverse history of Black philanthropy. This practice of exclusion must end and be replaced with engagement in trust-based philanthropy; entrusting the Black community to be resourceful stewards of funding for thier communities. Many articles have been published highlighting disparities in funding to Black and Latinx-led nonprofits in comparison to white-led nonprofits. [5]

Moving forward, Black philanthropy will be more visible and prominent in the mainstream than ever. Black philanthropists and Black philanthropy professionals will be more vocal than ever, not only demanding seats at the table and priority on the agenda, but building their own tables and advancing their own agendas. Technology will be leveraged to maximize social impact investing, political activism and advocacy. This strategy will advance global economic liberation for marginalized people. Black philanthropy will continue to be innovative with the professional and institutional tools of mainstream philanthropy, which has not historically been accessible to African Americans. Black philanthropy has built upon historical institutional strengths to re-imagine and create new ways of collaborating for social change through identity-based and multi-racial funds and networks. [4]

AQUME Foundation is boldy breaking barriers and trailblazing what it means to be a Black Philanthropist in West MI by becoming the first Black-founded and led community foundation back in 2021. Despite the many strides Black philanthropy has made around the world over the years, there is still much work to be done both locally, nationally, and internationally. AQUME Foundation is a grassroots organization. The reality is that the needs of our communities are pervasive and far outweigh our foundation’s resources, but we are committed to doing all that we can to bring forth our liberation! Join the Movement with us! Share your resources, network, skillset, etc to help AQUME Foundation achieve our mission to center economic justice and racial equity in philanthropy.


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