A Call to Action: Black Philanthropy

Approximately 90 people gathered at the Pond House in West Hartford to hear the dynamic presentation from scholar and author Dr. Tyrone McKinley Freeman on “The Past, Present and Future of Black Generosity.”  The diverse crowd was captivated by Dr. Freeman’s presentation that chronicled account of Black philanthropy with passionately charged delivery.

Freeman, an Assistant Professor of Philanthropic Studies and Director of Undergraduate Programs at Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, began his presentation acknowledging that black philanthropy has existed since before American slavery until present day and will continue.  Dr. Freeman noted that throughout history, black people had been instinctively philanthropic. He pointed out that most people did not call their giving of time, talent and treasure “philanthropy” but was nonetheless, giving back to their communities in countless impactful ways.

Freeman referenced several prominent black philanthropists including W.E.B. Dubois, Booker T. Washington, Madame C.J. Walker, Oprah Winfrey and Robert Smith and others.  He highlighted the characteristics of their giving and some of the roles they played in American history. Freeman discussed in-depth how Madame C.J. Walker, one of America’s first self-made women millionaires, created a beauty and haircare empire that allowed her to devote much of her time and resources to philanthropy. Freeman, who is publishing a biography of Walker, discussed how she was the product of the women she encountered during the course of her life and how those experiences heavily influenced Walker’s business and philanthropic success. He compared Andrew Carnegie’s philanthropy to Walker’s, highlighting how Carnegie built his wealth then became charitable whereas Walker had been giving all she could throughout the course of her life. This was a model she adopted from the people who taught her how to be philanthropic.

Freeman then discussed how centuries of black philanthropy in America that was brought to prominence by Madame C.J. Walker, is still thriving today.  He pointed out several groups in the Black community who have been generous throughout time including slaves, washerwomen, churchwomen, clubwomen, fraternities and sororities.  He discussed how all black Americans are heirs to their philanthropic heritage. Freeman pointed out that many black philanthropists, including young people, are not waiting to be asked to give back but are creating new vehicles and organizations to pursue their philanthropic goals. Freeman honored the work of many current day philanthropic entities, including the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and the Black Giving Circle Fund. He encouraged guests to continue to support their communities through their philanthropy.

At the conclusion of Freeman’s informative and inspirational presentation, those in attendance responded with a rousing standing ovation. This was followed by a number of comments and questions from the audience.

The next Black Giving Circle Fund meeting will be its annual grantmaking event where the membership will discuss and vote on the grant proposal they want to recommend a grant award of up to $20,000 to support a project that benefits the Greater Hartford black community.  To learn more about the Black Giving Circle Fund, visit www.hfpg.org/blackgivingcircle.