By Jerome Langston
“I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.”
“Too often, stories of black giving are not part of the conventional story of philanthropy,” says writer Valaida Fullwood while stuck in some Charlotte, NC afternoon traffic, earlier this week. A Charlotte native, the author of 2011’s award-winning Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists, has been passionate about the topic of philanthropy in the black community for quite some time now. “The narrative is kind of set that we’re on the receiving side of philanthropy, and seldom on the donor side…unless we’re Oprah Winfrey or some superstar celebrity.”
It is certainly true that philanthropy and philanthropic work has become so associated with the elite class, that perceptions of it rarely extends to the regular people who give of their “time, talent and treasure,” as Valaida likes to say, to assist those in need, whether in communities of color or elsewhere. It was Valaida’s own passion for giving, and frustration with the way philanthropy is often framed, which lead to her starting a prominent giving circle in Charlotte, and eventually lead to her celebrated book, which features extensive photographic contributions from Charlotte photographer, Charles W. Thomas Jr.
“I wanted to create a collection of stories that represented the range of giving in our community,” says Valaida. Now that literary work has birth a successful traveling exhibition featuring black & white photographs culled from the book, as well as story panels, and multi-media elements which tell stories about the legacy of philanthropy in the black community. There are two versions of the exhibition, which was co-created by Valaida and Charles, and the comprehensive version of it debuted at Charlotte’s Johnson C. Smith University in February of 2015. It has since had exhibitions mounted in cities like Denver, Atlanta and Houston, amongst many others.
A hybrid, Pop-up version makes its Hampton Roads debut later this month at downtown Norfolk’s Slover Library, featuring more than 20 pieces. It is being sponsored by the Hampton Roads Community Foundation, which dates all the way back to 1950 when it started as the Norfolk Foundation, with curatorial duties handled by The Chrysler Museum of Art.
“What Hampton Roads Community Foundation has done, is commit to the pop-up, but for an extended time. So rather than the usual 5 day period, they’re hosting it for a two-week window, and they’re bringing selected elements from the comprehensive exhibit to enhance their pop-up,” explains Valaida. The enhancements include an interactive wall where visitors can share what giving means to them, along with some multi-media elements that are not typically a part of the pop-up version.
One of the author’s favorite pieces in the exhibit is a black & white photograph called Balcony View, which depicts a common element found in many southern black churches. “It resonates with most folks who have sat in the balcony of a black church, and just looking down and seeing their hats and the pews filled with people,” says Valaida, who happens to attend the church shown in the photograph. “We know that many of the lessons and beliefs about giving in the black community are grounded in Christian faith, and things folks learned in church.”
In hopes of expanding upon those centuries long, religious rooted traditions of giving back in the African-American community, Valaida and her team will continue to tour the exhibit, and promote the book —which of course continues to foster discussions about black philanthropy.
“Specifically for the African-American community, I hope that through our greater awareness and pride in our traditions of giving, that we can direct our generosity to affect change, and close some of the gaps and inequities that exist.”
WANT TO GO?
Giving Back: The Soul of Philanthropy Reframed and Exhibited
A free, interactive photo exhibit