8 Hot Causes for Black Philanthropists

From STEM education to giving circles, funders are opening their wallets to support worthy efforts.

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    Jack Hollingsworth/Thinkstock/Getty Images

    According to a report by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, black donors give away a higher percentage of their income than their white counterparts do. In addition, nearly two-thirds of black households make charitable donations — a figure that adds up to about $11 billion per year. Beyond this individual giving, there are the philanthropic organizations dedicated to guiding and harnessing these resources to get the most benefit for the black community. So where is the money going? And why? As part The Root’s series on philanthropy, we spoke to Tracey Webb, founder of BlackGivesBack.com — a blog chronicling African-American philanthropy — about today’s hottest initiatives, projects and areas of focus for African Americans who open their wallets with the goal of making a change.

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    Giving Circles

    Giving circles have grown in popularity generally — and especially among African Americans — in recent years, said Tracey Webb of BlackGivesBack.com. What, exactly, are they? Simply, groups of people who pool their money to support charity or community projects. “As a philanthropic vehicle, it’s a way for those who are not wealthy to make a significant impact with their giving,” Webb told The Root. But in order to increase their capacity to serve more, many giving circles need funds for technical assistance and other resources, she says. Answering that call, the Community Investment Network is a philanthropic organization that “connects and strengthens African Americans and communities of color to leverage their collective resources and create the change they wish to see.”

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    Black Men and Boys

    According to Tracey Webb, there are so many philanthropic projects designed to support this group that the Leadership & Sustainability Institute for Black Male Achievement has provided a clearinghouse where one can find local events and projects to support, from mentoring and employment to fatherhood and ex-offender assistance. It also serves as a national membership network that seeks to “ensure the growth, sustainability and impact of leaders and organizations across the public, private and nonprofit sectors committed to improving the life outcomes and creating systemic change for black men and boys.”

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    Brown Center at the Maryland Institute College of Art (Ziger/Snead)

    The Arts

    “Many prominent black philanthropists support the arts,” says BlackGivesBack.com’s Tracey Webb. There are those like Eddie C. Brown and Sylvia Brown, whose $6 million contribution to the Maryland Institute College of Art paid for a large portion of its Brown Center’s construction. However, smaller black arts institutions, like theaters and museums, have been plagued with financial issues in recent years, resulting in the scaling back of service or closures, Webb told The Root. The community’s long-standing interest in the arts, along with the devastation of the recent economic crisis, could make supporting these smaller institutions one of the next frontiers of black philanthropy.

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    Jada Wright-Greene (Heritagesalon.com)

    Black History

    The support of African-American museums and the preservation of historic places is another significant area for giving, Tracey Webb told The Root. One African-American museum professional, Jada Wright-Greene, has made it her mission to promote these institutions through her website, the Heritage Salon, through which she aims to “expose people to museums and historic homes that reflect African-American history and culture” and encourage them to support these entities. Plus, burgeoning philanthropists are already signing on to serve as ambassadors for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, slated to open in 2015 in Washington D.C.

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    Health — along with causes like education and initiatives that serve the public need — tops the list of priorities for many black philanthropic organizations, and has for some time. But a newer approach to racial and ethnic health disparities focuses more on the root causes of illnesses rather than their treatment. “To truly eliminate racial health inequities, we must have effective policies that tackle health challenges by addressing the underlying social conditions that make our communities more vulnerable,” Jacquelyn A. Brown wrote in a recent article for the Black Philanthropic Alliance that outlined her take on the issues surrounding the health and well-being of black communities.

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    Black Girls

    In recent years, several initiatives have emerged to increase African-American girls’ interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), Tracey Webb said. There’s Black Girls Code, which recently won a $50,000 philanthropy award to support its work in teaching computer programming to this group (“I am in search of the next [black] Mark Zuckerberg,” founder Kimberly Bryant says). And Steve and Marjorie Harvey’s Girls Who Rule the World program teaches the skill sets to navigate through issues of self-esteem, financial literacy, health and wellness, and professional and educational development. What’s next? “An upcoming area of focus I believe will be girls in the juvenile-justice system, as this number is increasing,” Webb predicted.


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    Black-Community Change and Leadership

    When it comes to addressing the needs of the black community, some philanthropic projects take on the big picture. Launched in January 2012, the 21st Century Foundation powered by Tides, for example, brings together investors, donors and doers who are committed to addressing the opportunities and challenges facing black and “new majority” communities domestically and internationally. Its goal: to support these communities in becoming resilient and productive through everything from grant-making and collective-action funds to leadership development and capacity building.

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    “Education is among the top causes of giving among African Americans. The main issues in education impacting African Americans are the academic achievement gap, dropout rate and paying for college,” BlackGivesBack.com’s Tracey Webb explained. And there are options for involvement from elementary school through college. Jessica Johnson’s Scholarship Academy is committed to eliminating student-loan debt by helping students assess scholarship options and helping low-income, first-generation college students identify social-entrepreneurship opportunities. Philanthropists who want to support schools and teachers (like the Urban Scientist, a black biologist who is seeking support for science education in urban classrooms nationwide, and Reach Incorporated in Washington, D.C., which trains children to tutor their peers in reading and language skills) are finding projects to fund on sites like DonorsChoose.org.

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