Guest Blogger

‘Of Dreams and Mountaintops’: Celebrating Black Philanthropy Month

By Akira J. Barclay 

Barclay is a community philanthropy specialist based in New York City.

August 28th marks the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where more than 200,000 Americans gathered to bring attention to the social challenges facing African Americans. Organized by a host of advocacy, civil rights and religious groups, the march is best remembered for setting the stage for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Credit: Image from “Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African-American Philanthropists”

King’s passionate plea for racial justice and equality endures as one of his most famous and still reverberates today. To amplify King’s message, the theme of Black Philanthropy Month 2013 draws from the core concepts of the speech: “Of Dreams and Mountaintops.”

Created three years ago by the African Women’s Development Fund USA (AWDF USA)Black Philanthropy Month is designed to raise the profile of the long history of philanthropy in communities of African descent.

For Black Philanthropy Month 2013 (BPM2013), BlackGivesBack.com, Community Investment Network and the Giving Back Project have partnered with AWDF USA to inspire all black communities and their allies to take August and beyond to “promote the power of giving to transform lives.”

We can pay homage to our great civil rights architects by continuing their tradition of social justice philanthropy. Giving to support policy change should be at the top of the agenda. Supporting the advocacy efforts of organizations and groups working to drive social change at the policy level can help achieve lasting impact on pressing issues affecting the Black community, including:

  • Voting Rights: Redistricting, felony disenfranchisement, eliminating same-day voter registration, reducing the number of early voting days, and enacting government-issued ID requirements are all considered measures that disproportionately threaten to suppress African-American participation in the election process. With the recent Supreme Court decision effectively nullifying the Voting Rights Act, voters have lost key legal protections. The work of advocates like the American Civil Liberties Union, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the Advancement Project is crucial, as they address race discrimination in voting laws and promote electoral reforms to increase access to the ballot.
  • Racial Profiling: Dramatic cases of Blacks becoming subject to excess exertion of police authority continue to rock the American consciousness. Young Black men in America are given worse outcomes than their White peers from the criminal justice system for the same conduct and are overrepresented in the nation’s jails and prisons. Just as The Brotherhood Sister Sol played an important role in organizing its members to reform New York City’s “Stop and Frisk” policy, nonprofits across the nation are mobilizing their constituents to demand police accountability and cease the practice of targeting individuals for criminal activity based on racial stereotypes.
  • Living Wage and Equal Pay: Today in the United States, women earn 77 cents on the dollar compared to men. For African-American women—more than 4 million of whom are head of family households—this pay gap is even greater and poses a significant barrier to economic security. Advocates for equal pay for women support federal paycheck fairness legislation. Low-wage workers, business owners, and other groups are organizing protests and labor strikes calling for increases in minimum wage.
  • Access to Safe and Healthy Food: Millions of African Americans live in food deserts. Health disparities in the obesity epidemic, diabetes, and heart disease are most severe for low-income people of color. These health disparities have been linked to disparities in access to clean healthy food. Community activists and residents in these areas are expanding the food justice movement by organizing their neighbors, and local funders to build community farms and fresh markets, examine African Americans relationship to soul food, and support healthy active lifestyles.
  • LGBT Equality: Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people face all of the aforementioned social issues in a nation that does not have clear federal laws barring discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Earlier this month Bayard Rustin was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, recognizing his role as chief architect of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Stigma may have delayed the widespread celebration of his legacy, but today’s civil rights groups like The National Black Justice Coalition are organizing to call attention to the struggles Blacks face at the intersection of racial justice and LGBT equality.

We have come far in the 50 years since Dr. King made his famous speech. But inequality persists and there are new threats to the ability of individuals to participate in democracy. Philanthropy that supports advocacy efforts has the potential to leverage the Black community’s resources to make lasting change.

Follow #BPM2013 to learn more about Black Philanthropy Month.