Moreover, this is a pivotal time in our national (and global) conversation about–and our evolving consciousness of–inequality. During this presidential season alone, we’ve seen the rise of populism on both the left and the right–a clear reaction to the unprecedented levels of inequality afflicting both our country and the world. We’ve also seen polls showing that dissatisfaction with the capitalist system is on the rise, particularly among young people–a reminder that these frustrations will only continue, if not increase, in the coming years. This discontent will inevitably (and necessarily) raise hard questions that all of us must be prepared to answer.
Ford Foundation President
With all the protests, unrest, and collective anxiety due to the outcome of last week’s presidential election, you may have not realized that this week we celebrated National Philanthropy Day on Tuesday – an annual opportunity to celebrate philanthropy, simply defined as “voluntary action for the public good.”
I was honored to participate in the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ workshop “Transforming The Philanthropic Landscape” featuring women “givers” in the Inland Empire. As panelists we were asked to give a brief opening statement about what is important to us about our giving with a goal of helping women talk more freely about their philanthropy. As we continue as a nation to examine our shared values and collective beliefs, and as we decide which of those values and beliefs we want to leave as legacies for future generations, I’d like to share my opening remarks with you.
I was raised to be a giver. It’s something the four children in my family learned from our parents and they learned from their parents. My parents are civic leaders and community activists who have taught us to use our time, talent, money, influence, and reputation to the benefit of others. All four of us give back in numerous ways through our service on non-profit and educational boards, our work in our communities of faith, our commitment to the less fortunate who cross our paths, and more formally through the educational work of our own non-profit organization that works with a growing list of school districts throughout the region.
My grandparents were also givers.
After my maternal grandmother’s sister died in a tragic accident, she took in her sister’s five kids. My grandmother Melba Minter was already raising three of her own children as well as one of her other sister’s daughters. In total she raised nine children because she subscribed to the philosophy that giving doesn’t take away, giving adds exponentially. Over the years she was known for providing shelter to anyone who needed it. The most striking thing about her memorial service wasn’t that the church was packed full of people celebrating her life, but that person after person stood to acknowledge that she was there to shelter them when they had nowhere else to go. While she focused her generosity on helping others with basic needs like food and shelter, my paternal grandfather Floyd Brown Sr. directed his giving toward civic activities. A sharecropper with very little financial wealth, he gave his time to just causes, including registering voters in his little community of Jones County, North Carolina, risking his own safety and the safety of his family. The Jim Crow South saw its share of voter intimidation and suppression, but that didn’t stop him. He was a member of his local NAACP Chapter and dared the Klan to stop him from helping others exercise their right to vote.
Giving, for us, is a prized family value.
My more formal relationship with philanthropy developed a few years ago when I was asked to join the Board of Directors of The Community Foundation of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. Their vision mirrored my own: a vibrant, generous and just region with unlimited opportunities. As a member of the Board of Directors I’ve been passionate about raising awareness and raising funds for our Youth Grantmakers Program that teaches philanthropy to high school students through the gifting process. I served on the first advisory council and later helped recruit students for the San Bernardino program, and just last month I helped raise over $115,000 for the program and engaged our local tribal communities in the program. Through that effort, the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians established a Native Youth Grantmakers Fund that will help teach the value of giving back to the next generation.
“This is a pivotal time in our nation’s history,” Ford Foundation President Darren Walker reminds us. We are facing some extremely difficult questions about who we are as a country as well as who we are as individuals. What is important to us? And what legacy will we leave?