Black Giving Circle Fund at the Hartford Foundation Presents: 20/20 Vision: Black Philanthropy’s Role in the Social Justice
To commemorate its fifth anniversary, The Black Giving Circle Fund at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving hosted nearly 400 guest for an online event on July 8.
The event, 20/20 Vision: Black Philanthropy in Social Justice, featured a wide-ranging and thought provoking discussion with Nikole Hannah-Jones, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter covering racial injustice for The New York Times Magazine and creator of the landmark 1619 Project, and LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, a national organization focused on increasing voter registration and turnout in the Black community, including advocating for policies to expand voting rights and access, and moderated by Dr. Jeff Ogbar, professor of history, University of Connecticut. The almost two-hour robust discussion is one that many are still discussing. We have highlighted a few key points from the national speakers.
Latosha Brown, who is also a professional singer, began the discussion by singing some lines from the song “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize,” a song from the Civil Rights era. She expounded that the she likes to open with freedom songs as they encompass inspiration, resistance and the spirit of unity.
Ogbar asked both panelists what role could Black people play in philanthropy even if they didn’t possess great wealth.
She discussed how Black philanthropy has played a fundamental role in supporting and uniting Black people. As the founding of Spelman illustrated, it isn’t just wealthy people who can be philanthropic, and Black people have always supported family, friends and neighbors in times of need.
“We have to recognize that it has always been a part of our culture to be charitable,” Brown said. “Part of who we have always been is our history is where our giving money hasn’t been tied to receiving tax write-offs. Some of the greatest givers in our country are actually working-class people who give more of their income, black folk in churches, than their white counterparts. There’s always been an element in our community where we have actually given and invested.”
Nikole Hannah-Jones also her offered her view on Black philanthropy.
“I am very skeptical of philanthropy as it is a way for rich people to avoid paying for critical social services that they should be paying for with their tax dollars. It is a way for rich people to pick and choose which services they are going to support as opposed to just paying their fair share. I am thinking of those organizations who are going to go in and fix our public-school system or going to teach us how to handle certain things in our community. If you just funded our schools in the first place with tax dollars you wouldn’t need to fill in that deficit... I think it is critical then that we have black people and brown people with some wealth that are coming together to form philanthropic organizations so that we can actually control our own fate. So that we can show that we know how to raise money and we can determine how best to spend it in our own community.”
Ogbar then asked a question about the importance of the Black vote and its relationship to philanthropy.
Brown, the founder of Black Votes Matter, discussed how she has grown frustrated with people acting like the mere act of Black people voting was enough.
“Even as someone who has dedicated their life to voting, I don’t believe it is the end all to be all. I believe it is a tool for harm reduction. I also believe it is a tool to express our agency around self-governance. Ultimately, we have to move past a conversation around participation and really talk about Black power. Our vote and our engagement in this process has to lend itself to a transformative process for our community so that is not just another activity, but around participating but in fact our participation is lending itself to power.”
“Often times we will adopt the same model of those who are actually trying to keep us out of power. Right now, we are talking about the Black Lives Matter movement and we are talking about police violence and how we impact state sanctioned violence. The police chief isn’t selected in the federal elections or state elections, they are selected locally by the city council or county commission. …talking about local elections in the Black community, there are very few resources. If we are really supporting political power and we need to support local organizations, because that’s where our real power is. When we talk about who controls the school board, who chooses the judges and who chooses the D.A., those can make a remarkable difference.”
Hannah-Jones also discussed how Black voters are often courted by candidates before the election but then they do not court Black people’s votes after the election.
“I often get tired of being tired of being lectured to as Black women, Black people to exercise our right to democracy as if voting is the only way thing to do to fix where we are. Black people have continued to come out to try to save our democracy. This is not on our shoulders… What’s so critical, and why people don’t vote sometimes, is when you vote for candidates and as soon as they get into office they aren’t speaking to our agenda or our needs. And then in four years they come back to us. If you want to encourage people then our votes have to matter once they get into office. That just doesn’t happen.”
The next topic focused on the issue of reparations which Hannah-Jones addressed and referenced her recent New York Times Magazine’s June 30, 2020 article. She refuted the idea that somehow it would be bad if every Black person in America were to receive a check as similar cash reparations have been made to Jewish people after the Holocaust and Native Americans after their lands were stolen.
“When I talk about reparations the root part of the word is repair. It is a form of restitution. We are talking about 250 years of chattle slavery, this wasn’t merely discrimination. Black people enter emancipation with zero property and zero income, not homes, no lames, they didn’t even have food to feed their families.”
“We talk a lot about racism, but racism was set up to justify the economic exploitation of Black Americans. Our parents were not considered full citizens in this country until the passage of the civil rights movement. This isn’t ancient history; the average Black household has 10 cents of wealth for every dollar a white person has. Everything that we are told that Black people should do to pull themselves up by their bootstraps won’t close a wealth gap that came from 350-year head start that white Americans got. The only way you can close a wealth gap that came from 350 years of racialized plunder is to transfer that wealth from the federal government that has it from ill gotten gains to Black Americans. A reparations program would include massive investments in segregated Black communities and Black communities.”
To eliminate this wealth gap Jones estimated it would require every Black person in the country receive approximately $170,000. She discussed how these injustices will require more than a massive transfer of federal dollars to the Black community whose stolen labor helped to build this country and whose taxes paid for services they never benefited from. This would require a reimagining of all of our country’s existing institutions are grounded in structural racism. “Money doesn’t fix stuff, power does.”
“As we are talking about building wealth in our community, are we courageous enough to look really look at what are some models of creating wealth that are really going to be different… about creating a more equitable and just distribution of wealth in our community. How do we reduce the harm that is happening now? How do we push for policies that will move our community forward? How do we create new systems policies, practices, and solutions that will ensure that all people can be prosperous?”
Hannah-Jones highlighted the fact that the federal response to COVID-19 highlighted all of the lies people have been told about what government can’t provide.
“All the lies we have been told. We have been told that we can’t afford to provide a universal basic income. We have been told we can’t afford rent relief. The pandemic has shown that’s a lie. When the government wanted to print $3 trillion worth of money, it printed $3 trillion worth of money and the government is still functioning. We should be forcing people who contribute to philanthropy to pay their fair share of taxes. But also to pushing an agenda that says we have enough money in this country to take care of all of the people, if we aren’t giving so much of the money to the handful of people at the top.”
Throughout the discussion, meeting participants were commenting on the presenters’ points with many calling for more Black people to run for political office and the need to enact policy change. Audience members also expressed the need for philanthropic organizations to have more people of color in leadership positions and the need to do a better job listening to the people they are trying to support and let them develop the solutions to make positive changes in the community.
At the end of the presentation, Black Giving Circle Fund Steering Committee co-chair Chris Cloud paid tribute to Joyce Willis, a major figure in Greater Hartford’s Black community and a founding member of the Black Giving Circle Fund.
Established in June 2015, the Black Giving Circle Fund is a permanent endowed fund at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. Its mission is to create sustainable change in the Black community by leveraging the philanthropic efforts of donors and celebrating Black philanthropy. As a giving circle, the Black Giving Circle Fund membership learns about critical issues facing Greater Hartford’s Black community and pools their contributions to award grants to tackle those issues. For more information about the Black Giving Circle Fund, contact Chari Chester Anderson at CAnderson@hfpg.org.