Philanthropy is often seen as the province of the super-rich. The truth is that philanthropy is nothing more than a love of people, a desire to help others. It’s not about how much you give. It only matters that you’re willing to share your time, talent or treasure to help a fellow brother or sister in need … that’s being a philanthropist. In the black community, we are collective givers. We are a communal people that know our society thrives only when we come together, pool our resources and invest in lifting each other up. That’s what led us to launch the Sankofa Sistas Giving Circle. It’s a simple, philanthropic fund that we each put money into, then work together to choose a local nonprofit to invest in through a charitable grant. It was our way of taking ownership of the issue we care most about: empowering black women and girls.
There are five of us: Joyce Hamilton-Henry, Muslima Lewis, Michelle Prescott, Danielle Prendergast and me. We started the fund in September of 2018 as black women wanting to support our own. Flowing from a desire to help the next generation that looks like us, we are leveraging our resources to address systemic inequalities at the intersection of race, gender and class. We are acutely aware that we have had opportunities others have not, and that we were helped along the way to where we are now. We feel it is our duty to give back.
We weren’t very familiar with a giving circle per se, but culturally, Joyce and I were aware of the concept of “pardner” from our Jamaican heritage. Pardner is when communities pooled their resources to help each other. Michelle likened the concept to the old school “rent parties” where folks in urban neighborhoods would get together to help another in need.
We named the circle “Sankofa,” which is a bird, and loosely translates from the Twi language of Ghana to “go back and get it.” “Sistas,” because we love and support each other just like family.
As we moved forward in exploring this concept, it felt important to help smaller grassroots organizations led by people of color that are doing great work but lose out to big organizations. Often, larger nonprofits have staff dedicated to fundraising, as well as people to seek out and apply for grants. Smaller organizations, from what we have seen, have the same desire and passion for the work, and are more mobile and closer to the people they serve, both physically as well as geographically. If given more resources, so many more people would be helped.
There were many foundations where we could have housed our fund. But we chose The Miami Foundation due to the diversity of their board and staff. It was important to us that we walked the walk with a home that reflected our values. Additionally, The Miami Foundation hosts “The State of Black Philanthropy” — an annual event which is unique to Florida. The Miami Foundation aggressively challenges the notion that people of color are not significant philanthropic donors.
We are normal folks – we are rich in blessings, but not what one would consider to be wealthy donors. We each work in public interest/not-for-profit organizations, which leaves us vulnerable to challenges like the government shutdown. But thanks to careful budgeting and a giving schedule, we are able to make this fund work. While it’s not always easy, we feel it is worth it to leave a legacy in our community.
If you are interested in joining us or donating to our work, you may find us at Facebook.com/SankofaSistasGC. If you are an organization doing this kind of work, our grant application is open until March 1st. Grants will be given to organizations led by people of color with a proven record of effectively advancing programs or policies that empower black women and girls by dismantling systemic inequalities.
I remain inspired by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl.
But whatever you do, keep moving forward.
Melba Pearson is an attorney, writer and blogger. She is a co-founder of the Sankofa Sistas Giving Circle. Follow Sankofa Sistas at Facebook.com/SankofaSistasGC.