Long after their deaths, two visionary women continue to shape Charlotte through their giving

You may have never heard of Lethia Henderson and Elizabeth S. Randolph, but their generosity and foresight are still at work in Charlotte's African American community.
At EmpowHERment Inc, girls in grades 6-12 are encouraged to be leaders through mentorship, talent development and advocacy.

Presented by Foundation For The Carolinas

Sometimes the good we do lives on long after our time on Earth has ended.

Consider the stories of Lethia Henderson and Elizabeth S. Randolph: In the 1980s and ’90s, they set aside money to address some of the most pressing concerns in Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s black community.

Now long after their deaths, their generosity lives on through the African American Community Foundation (AACF), a grant-making entity that provides funding to local nonprofits working to address health, educational, and economic disparities in the black community.

Since its inception, AACF has made grants totaling more than $300,000 and retains more than $400,000 in assets.

Among its accomplishments:

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• AACF was one of the first funders of the First Baptist Church-West After School Program, which provides academic and fine arts instruction for students in grades K-8, with a priority on students in Title 1 schools.

• AACF was one of the first funders of Freedom School Partners, formerly Seigle Avenue Partners, giving them a $10,000 grant. The program provides summer learning for students in grades K-8 at 16 locations across Charlotte.

Now in its 14th year, the First Baptist Church-West After School Program seeks to address education disparities through tutoring, homework assistance and weekly fine arts lessons. The African American Community Foundation was among its first funders.

Qiana Austin, a Foundation For The Carolinas vice president who oversees AACF’s daily operations, said that by setting aside money to help future generations, Henderson and Randolph were simply following a time-honored tradition of giving back in the black community.

“We are always taught to give,” she says. “…They just did it in a nontraditional way – through bequests, planned gifts, opening an endowment. That’s not something you hear about us doing.”

Who were these women of vision?

The African American Community Foundation is made up of two distinct funds — the Lethia Henderson Fund Endowment and the Elizabeth S. Randolph African American Fund Endowment.

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The Henderson Fund was established in 1981 to support nonprofit programs and organizations with an emphasis on health and community service. Henderson, a hairdresser by training, bought, sold and rented properties along Beatties Ford Road as far back as 1916, in what is now the Washington Heights Neighborhood, according to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission website.

Before she died in 1955, Henderson set aside money in her will for the purpose of meeting needs in health and community services in the city’s black community

The Randolph Fund was established in 1993 by a retired CMS teacher, principal and administrator who helped guide the district through the turbulent era of desegregation in the 1960s.

Elizabeth “Libby” Randolph Courtesy of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library

As the first black woman promoted to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ central offices, Randolph created the district’s kindergarten program. In 2016, the school board voted to name the district’s new administrative campus for Randolph and Chris Folk, another longtime administrator.

Before her death in 2004, Randolph established a fund to foster philanthropy and to support non-profit programs and organizations that address African American concerns – an endowment that has grown through subsequent donations from community leaders and everyday residents.

FFTC has ambitious goals for AACF.

Austin, the FFTC vice president, said her immediate goal is to see the fund top $1 million in assets. Each year, it awards grants totaling 5 percent of the Gift Fund’s average daily balance for the prior three calendar years.

Despite the challenge of reaching that goal, Austin says she is hopeful.

Qiana Austin

“My hope is that we will increase people’s knowledge about AACF to help people be more aware of the fund,” she says.

AACF opens its grant cycle each year in the first quarter. That’s the time when local nonprofits are invited to apply for grants. It also hosts an annual grant-writing workshop to assist organizations that may be unfamiliar with the process.

An advisory board made up of local volunteers then selects each year’s winner. This year the fund awarded grants totaling $15,000.

Austin said she believes Henderson and Randolph would be pleased with work being done by AACF.

“The lesson is about giving and serving, and just leaving a legacy,” she said. “I think that was important to them.”

The 2017 grant recipients were:

Charlotte Area Fund — combats poverty by assisting low-income individuals and families with becoming self-sufficient. Since 1963, CAF has initiated and provided a variety of programs and services to serve the poor in Mecklenburg County. Learn more.

EmpowHERment Inc. — committed to empowering girls and women to be leaders through mentorship, talent development and advocacy. Pairs girls in grades 6-12 with a supportive, one-on-one mentor in their community. Learn more.

Profound Gentlemen – seeks to build a community of male educators of color who can impact the performance of boys of color in the classroom. Its vision is to retain educators who dismantle the cradle-to-prison pipeline by creating a cradle-to-career pipeline of boys of color. Learn more.

S.T.A.R.S. Math & English Academy — provides free one-on-one and group tutoring sessions for CMS students in grades 3-12. In the 14 years since it launched, S.T.A.R.S. has grown to serve 150 students through a network of more than 30 certified teachers. Learn more.

The Learning Collaborative — a preschool program with hands-on involvement between teachers, students, families, patrons and the community. It also coaches parents to participate in their child’s education as both teacher and advocate. Learn more.

Click here to support the African American Community Foundation. Your gifts are tax deductible.