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What traditional philanthropy can learn from Black philanthropy

August 24, 2021 Category: FeaturedMediumPurpose


This guest column was written by Monique Curry-Mims, founder and principal of Civic Capital Consulting.
As we end Black Philanthropy Month, I ask… was your intent a dream?

Recently I had a conversation with a friend from Pakistan on “intent,” which quickly shifted to the withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan, the fall of their government, and the return to the status quo before they arrived. His assessment was that the return to status quo was intentional. “It’s been 20 years and no solid infrastructure was accomplished.” He went on to ask, “how long did it take your country to put up that tower (the Freedom Tower) after the attacks?”

While I listened to his assessment, my mind quickly thought about the politics and policies that have prevented progress and change in our cities and country.

I wondered, in 20 years, where was the intent to truly invest in a solid infrastructure in the communities here in Philadelphia to change our status quo?

According to the Census and various reports, Philadelphia’s poverty rate in 2000 was 23% and 20 years later its 2020 rate was 24.3%. In 20 years, while there have been slight increases and decreases, Philly’s poverty rate has held at or near 23%, maintaining its title as one of the largest and poorest cities in the U.S.

Taking it a step further, the areas where poverty is deeply rooted and highly concentrated are North and West Philadelphia —  areas that are home to mainly Black and brown community members, areas that are the focus of millions of philanthropic dollars and government resources.

While I am sure the intent was to be impactful, what did traditional philanthropy dream would change? Did  they truly think beyond their dreams and consider what it would take to move a student, a person, a family out of their circumstances and beyond the various factors and social determinants facing them?

In some cases, there was some impact, but at the same time these dollars were being invested, there was a steady increase in gentrification, gun violence, and households living below the poverty line, to name a few issues Black communities are facing. This is not even including the tribulations from the last year and half that were enough to set any family or person back and further exacerbate problems they were already striving to overcome. 

From our Partners

As you celebrate the efforts of Black philanthropists and leaders and their nontraditional methods of philanthropy, think about what you can learn from them.

Think about the fact that Black philanthropy is being celebrated because traditional philanthropy wasn’t designed to and hasn’t met the needs of the Black community for more than 20 years, and Black philanthropists dreamed of something different.

Think about how these leaders and their dollars, programs, and time are focused on the ground, listening to the needs and lived experiences of these communities. Think about how advocacy is a large part of this work, and how marching, protesting, sitting in and never standing down are a part-of-the-whole to really move their work forward.

Philanthropy alone cannot save our communities from the nightmares and challenges we face. We need to wake up and stop serving our issues and start collectively working to solve them, and the policies and practices that keep us at 23%.

I hope and dream that you take heed of these lessons and those you learned as you celebrated Black Philanthropy month, and that you work to be positively intentional with the impact and lives of Black and brown communities your mission and priorities serve.

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