In the Community

Black Philanthropy in Hampton Roads

Panelists discuss Black philanthropy in Hampton Roads
(L to R ) Dr. L.D. Britt, Valaida Fullwood, Barbara Hamm Lee, Dr. Ruth Jones Nichols and Bishop Kim Brown participate in a discussion on Black philanthropy in Hampton Roads.
To celebrate Black Philanthropy Month, the Hampton Roads Community Foundation is sponsoring the exhibit Giving Back: The Soul of Philanthropy Reframed and Exhibited at the Slover Library in downtown Norfolk from August 16-30. As part of the opening night event on August 16, the community foundation hosted a conversation on the state of Black Philanthropy in Hampton Roads. Don Luzzatto, vice president for civic engagement, shares a recap of the discussion.

When asked to imagine a “philanthropist,” many will conjure a 20th century business magnate whose family name graces a school or a wealthy foundation. Often white, usually male.

The reality of modern philanthropy is both different and more diverse and democratic. That was made clear during Thursday’s panel discussion to kick off the “The Soul of Philanthropy” exhibit at the Slover Library in Norfolk, sponsored by the Hampton Roads Community Foundation.

Valaida Fullwood, author of “Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists,” and a co-creator of the exhibit, was unequivocal when asked about the state of black philanthropy: “It is well, and it is growing.”

Indeed, according to a repeatedly cited report from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, black households donate 25 percent more of their income to nonprofits than do white households. It’s a finding that other studies have paralleled, and one especially resonant as the nation marks Black Philanthropy Month.

Fullwood’s premise was echoed across the panel, which included L.D. Britt, chair of the Eastern Virginia Medical School surgery department and a member of the board of the community foundation; Bishop Kim Brown, senior pastor of Mount Lebanon Baptist Church in Chesapeake; and Ruth Jones Nichols, the chief executive of the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore.

The evening’s discussion was led by Barbara Hamm Lee, Hampton Roads Community Foundation of “Another View” on WHRO-FM.

“I think [black philanthropy is] understated; it’s strong and getting stronger,” said Britt. Three-fourths of the individual donations to support the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, he said, came from African Americans.

“In many ways, black philanthropy … flies under the radar here in Hampton Roads,” said Jones Nichols. “Traditionally, African Americans give — not only through the church — but … through their sororities and fraternities, through community groups that most people don’t know a lot about because we don’t publish annual reports or have really glossy websites and social media platforms.

“But we are giving and we’re giving significantly and we’re giving in ways that are going to be transformational to the people who are being served, and we give because we want impact, not necessarily access to influential people.”

Those premises — that African Americans give disproportionately, and for impact — came together in Brown’s hope for the future of philanthropy in a more diverse nation.

“If you look at the percentage of income,” Brown said, “the people who are on the lowest end of the economic ladder give the highest percentage of their income. … If I’ve got someone that’s giving a high percentage of their income while they're struggling, if I can deliver them from the struggle and teach them how to handle economics and pursue education to position themselves to have more disposable income, that would [give them] even more opportunity for them to be philanthropic.”

Vivian Oden, the Hampton Roads Community Foundation’s director of donor services, was the force behind Thursday’s panel as well as the exhibit, which runs through the end of the month in the lobby at the Slover.

That exhibit includes a video of some of Hampton Roads’ most generous African American philanthropists. They may come from all walks of life, but they’re all dedicated to the same simple proposition: Philanthropy can make life better in this place we call home.

“Let’s start doing things now, where we can experience the joy that it brings,” said Audrey Settle, a retired Philip Morris USA executive who lives in Sandbridge.

The reason for that urgency is simple, said her husband, John Settle, a retired veterinarian: “You don’t get much joy from the grave.”

“The Soul of Philanthropy” exhibit is on display at the Slover Library in Norfolk through August 30 along with the video below featuring a few of Hampton Roads Community Foundation's African-American donors.

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