Black Philanthropy Month is an annual celebration of the giving of time, talent, treasure and testimony across the African diaspora. Established in 2011, BPM is a “concerted campaign to elevate African-descent” traditions of philanthropy. (Not to be pedantic, but every person who is alive now, and anyone who has ever lived, is a person of African descent.) For African Americans, BPM is a reminder — or perhaps a revelation — that our history began long before our enslavement.
Black Philanthropy Month is the brain child, and the heart child, of Dr. Jackie Bouvier Copeland, who is a co-founder of the Pan-African Women’s Philanthropy Network, or PAWPNet. (Everyone who is surprised that a Black woman came up with this commemoration, please raise your hand.) PAWPNet is an international collective of Black women and their allies. The organization strongly promotes eco-health solutions to climate change and also advances the social and economic well-being of underserved communities in Africa, America, Australia and Brazil.
Copeland is also the founder and chairperson of the WISE Fund, which supports women technologists who are Black and/or Indigenous. Finally, I would be remiss if I failed to share that Dr. Copeland is a former member of the advisory board for the initiative that I led several years ago at what is now the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI.
In 2013, Copeland connected with Valaida Fullwood and Tracey Webb, who have extensively studied Black philanthropy. Fullwood is a nationally known writer, speaker and project strategist. She authored the award-winning book “Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists.” In 2014, Fullwood was selected to be the Lake Distinguished Visitor by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. She is also a founding member of the New Generation of African American Philanthropists, which is a giving circle that launched the Giving Back Project. The Giving Back Project “is a civic engagement initiative that reframes portraits of philanthropy through the arts, stories, culture and conversation.” Its latest project is a touring museum exhibit called “The Soul of Philanthropy.”
Webb is the founder of Black Benefactors, a giving circle that is based in Washington, D.C. Black Benefactors provides grants and in-kind support to Black-led nonprofit organizations. Webb, who created BlackGivesBack.com, is believed to be the first online chronicler of Black philanthropy. This pioneering blog features stories about Black giving. Webb has been featured in national media and has received several honors and awards, including the Association for the Study of African American Life and History’s (ASALH) Living Legacy Award and the Trailblazer Award from the Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE).
The partnership among these women has paid major dividends for all who support Black philanthropy. Their brilliance is made obvious by the fact that BPM has grown in scope and scale each year. Notably, BPM offers a new campaign theme annually. For 2021, it is “TENacity: Making Equity Real.” This 10th anniversary celebration features an online conference that has convened a global “who’s who” of scholars and practitioners. There are also in-person events, stories in traditional and social media, proclamations and service projects. BPM is not just about celebrating; it is also about doing.
BPM illuminates the ingenuity and transformative impact of generosity among Black folks. Its primary objective is “informing, involving, inspiring and investing in Black philanthropic leadership to strengthen African-American and African-descent giving in all its forms.” Further, its celebrants have avoided the trap of parochialism and myopia. In at least this regard, we’re all members of the same tribe.
BPM has reached roughly 18 million people (and counting). It has gone viral, and not just online; BPM has taken up residence in our minds and in our hearts. It has harnessed the hopes and dreams — not to mention the financial resources — of a people whose generosity often goes unheralded. When nobody is singing your song or telling your story, you have a responsibility to open your mouth. We must not only practice what we preach; we must preach what we practice.
Like the powerful women founders of BPM, all of us should seek to heal and preserve our planet, to build (or rebuild) our communities, to enhance and equip our organizations, and to educate all people. As the saying goes, “Service is the price we pay for the space that we occupy.”
Larry Smith is a community leader. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.