by Mel and Pearl Shaw
Black giving is part of black history. And like black history, it takes place all year long. Black-led giving circles are one example of black philanthropy and they are growing. These giving circles are an example of ‘for us, by us’ investment and their impact extends beyond dollars.
Three advocates for black-led giving circles recently published an article that tells the story of these circles, placing them within the context of black community and black-led solutions. Akira Barclay, Valaida Fullwood and Tracey Webb call attention to the impact of these philanthropic groups, letting people know that “In a high-stakes era, where anti-Black racism is mounting and economic rifts are widening, philanthropy through participation in giving circles is attracting growing numbers of Black Americans.”
Giving circles bring people together with a shared vision and purpose. They often have a local focus and are a clear demonstration of the strength and impact of black dollars. Gifts and grants from black-led donor circles can inspire those served by black-led organizations. They create visibility for black philanthropy and bring resources, advocates and role models to the organizations they support.
For African-descent people, giving circles are an iteration of a giving model that has long been a part of black communities and one that carries cultural resonance and historical significance. Collective kinship giving models, such as susu (or sou-sou), are a system of saving and distributing resources for the material welfare and spiritual well-being of each other found throughout the Caribbean with roots in West Africa.
American history is awash with examples of how black Americans have exercised collective giving to finance social resistance in serial struggles for liberation… During slavery, free blacks would pool funds to purchase the freedom of the enslaved. Some groups formalized their giving and civic organizing by establishing mutual-aid societies, such as the Free African Society, established in 1787…
Giving circles affirm an African legacy. Circles represent a proven philanthropic vehicle with a 400-year track record and stand as a rising force for social change during a period of increasing racial hostilities, cultural erasure and divestment from black communities.
Barclay, Fullwood, and Webb remind readers that while “community foundations and other mainstream philanthropic institutions struggle with issues of racial inclusion…black-led and other identity-based giving circles pose a disruption to philanthropy’s structural barriers to social change.”
About the three authors: Akira Barclay is author of The Value of Giving Circles in the Evolution of Community Philanthropy and founder of Fresh Philanthropy. Valaida Fullwood is author of Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists, creator of The Soul of Philanthropy exhibit, and co-founder of New Generation of African American Philanthropists, a giving circle in Charlotte. Tracey Webb is noted as the first online chronicler of black philanthropy as the creator of BlackGivesBack.com, a blog that ran 2007 to 2015 and is the founder of Black Benefactors, a giving circle based in Washington, D.C.