U.S. Rep. Alma Adams speaks at a luncheon celebrating the 25th anniversary of the African American Community Foundation, Aug. 21, 2019. (Photo: Glenn Burkins for Qcitymetro.com)

To bring about change and meaningful policy reforms, black Americans must leverage their collective wealth, U.S. Rep. Alma Adams told a gathering in Charlotte on Wednesday.

Adams, who represents North Carolina’s 12th congressional district, said black Americans have a long and unrecognized history of charitable giving, beginning with the black church, which built the nation’s first black schools and colleges and later funded the Civil Rights Movement.

Adams made those remarks at a luncheon celebrating the 25th anniversary of the African American Community Foundation (AACF), a grant-making program managed by Foundation For The Carolinas. AACF got its start after two African American women in Charlotte, Lethia Henderson and Elizabeth S. Randolph, each set aside money from their personal assets to address issues that negatively impact the city’s black community.

Why this matters: Of the billions of dollars distributed each year by the nation’s large foundations, less than 2 percent of those funds are given to organizations that are “specifically black-led and organized to uplift black people,” said Susan Taylor Batten, president and CEO of the Association of Black Foundation Executives.

Since AACF was founded, the fund has awarded local grants totaling more than $500,000. Wednesday’s luncheon was hosted by AACF founding members Jeanne Brayboy, Dr. John Crawford, Harvey B. Gantt and Mayor Vi Lyles.

Adams said sacrifices such as those made by Henderson and Randolph must become the norm for more black Americans. Her comments came as the nation marks Black Philanthropy Month, which is celebrated each August.

“Forty years from now, black people will struggle with the same problems we’re struggling with today, and our communities will remain stagnant and they won’t be further along if we don’t look down the road,” Adams said. “The long term is the vision.”

3 areas of concern

Adams identified three areas of focus that she said need a “strategic, philanthropic approach.”

The justice system: Noting the high percentage of black men in jails and prisons, Adams said, “A more equitable society requires a justice system where everybody is treated fairly, and that’s not happening right now.” She said more money is needed to address systemic injustices and to advance “equitable treatment under the law.” 

Arts and media: Adams said arts and media are “critical to giving voice to underrepresented groups” and “influencing our biases and how we perceive the world.” With a shortage of prominent, diverse voices, she said, “we miss the relational nuances that are essential for peace and justice.”

Environment: Often overlooked, the environment has a significant impact on racial inequalities, Adams said, adding that “environmental racism” leads to higher incidents of chronic conditions such as asthma, cancer and even birth defects in the black community.

Adams said blacks need not apologize for focusing on issues that impact their lives and communities.

“It’s time to celebrate African Americans who are giving their time, their talent, their treasure to make a difference,” she said. “…We need to continue to work toward that.”

Adams, a former educator, offered this quote from the civil right pioneer W.E.B. Du Bois: “The real test in the advancement of any group of people in civilization is the extent to which they are able to organize and systematize their efforts for the common welfare.”

Calling for “intentional charity to dismantle structures of injustice and inequality,” Adams also referenced the local slogan “Charlotte’s got a lot.”

“Yes, we do,” she said. “But we need to collectively focus on sharing the story of philanthropy, so that those who don’t have a lot can have a lot more.”

AACF’s 2019 grant recipients

To commemorate its 25th anniversary, AACF this year awarded grants totaling $25,000 to the following organizations.

Human Capital Investment, Inc – The grant helps to fund the Seeds of Wellness: Leading Intentionally for Future Endeavors (S.O.W. L.I.F.E.) program that provides horticulture training and socialpreneur leadership development exclusively for formally incarcerated minority men 15-50 years of age. This targeted economic development experience will provide tangible action-oriented skills and equip the community with an informed historically underutilized labor force.

Supportive Housing Communities (McCreesh Place, St. Peter Homes) – The grant helped to provide a Peer Support Specialist Training Program for 15 of SHC’s formerly homeless residents.  The goal of the training is to help participants become financially self-sufficient by obtaining certification and employment as peer support specialists.

Hope Vibes Inc. – The Hope Tank Project provides access to proper hygiene and clean clothes to our homeless neighbors and others currently living in extreme poverty. The grant helped to purchase their first mobile shower and laundry vehicle, consisting of four washer/dryer sets and three fully equipped bathrooms.

S.T.A.R.S. Math & English Academy – The grant helped to expand the number of 3rd-8th graders served by their End-of-Grade (EOG) Boot Camp which enables students to increase their performance on state EOG tests in reading and math. The EOG Boot Camp has been in existence for seven years with positive outcomes.

Winners PLUS, Inc. (Greater Charlotte Summer Arts Camp) – The grant supported the Greater Charlotte Summer Arts Camp for four weeks at the West Charlotte Recreation Center in West Charlotte.

Get involved

Persons or groups interested in contributing to AACF or opening a new fund may contact Qiana Austin at Foundation For The Carolinas: 704-973-4535 or qaustin@fftc.org. All contributions are tax deductible.

The application process for the 2020 funding cycle will begin in February. For more information on grant requirements and funded projects, visit www.fftc.org/grants.

YouTube video

Publisher’s Note: Support the work we do at Qcitymetro. Become a member of the Qcity Press Club.

Founder and publisher of Qcitymetro, Glenn has worked at newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Wall Street Journal and The Charlotte Observer.