Community Matters

Philanthropy Means We Take Care of Each Other

LaTida Smith, Tiffany Waddell Tate
February 20, 2023

The Black Philanthropy Initiative (BPI) was established in 2003 as a 100% Black-led initiative of The Winston-Salem Foundation that explicitly focuses on grantmaking and programming to strengthen local Black communities. BPI’s vision is to expand the concept of philanthropy to include investments of time, talent, and treasure, acknowledging that the powerful history of giving in Black communities is a great example of what philanthropy should be.

Foundation president, LaTida Smith, and BPI board chair, Tiffany Waddell Tate, reflected together about what philanthropy can look like in practice, what it means to take care of each other, and how BPI channels similar notions through its work in the community.

Tiffany: It's interesting to think about the first time I felt like I was part of something philanthropic because that's not language I really knew of or thought of as a kid. But something that comes to mind as I think of philanthropy now is my experience planning for college and applying for scholarships. There was this notion of I know I'm going to school, but I have to do my work to figure out how I’m going to pay for it. And I remember being in high school, having my little binder, and feeling like I'm responsible for this. My first year of college, I received a scholarship from the Foundation and another one from Crosby Scholars—so in terms of being part of something philanthropic locally, that feels like a very specific memory. There was a thought of, “oh, there are people or entities that care about me getting an education,” and that was substantive for me.

LaTida: To me philanthropy is like an institution, so, I never really thought of myself in relationship to the institution of philanthropy before this became my profession. But when I think of a philanthropic person I immediately think of my great grandmother, who was actually from Winston-Salem. She died the year I was born, so I didn’t know her myself, but I knew of her through our family folklore.

Some of the richest stories I heard about my great grandmother are all about giving. She lived in public housing, in an efficiency unit, and yet every Sunday, like every single Sunday, all of her eight children and all of their children and cousins and neighbors, all of them would come to her home for dinner. And it was a huge, Thanksgiving-like spread, and they would take shifts eating because they couldn't even all stand in her apartment at the same time, and that just blew me away. So, there was always this idea that we take care of each other and that we give, not just out of what we have that’s extra, because, when I think of philanthropy, there’s this idea that you're giving out of your wealth or out of what’s extra, but sometimes we give out of whatever we have because we recognize that our wellbeing is connected to one another and so that's the kind of philanthropy that inspires me.

“There was always this idea that we take care of each other and we give out of whatever we have because we recognize that our wellbeing is connected to one another”

Tiffany: It's so interesting—this idea of duty of community or duty of family. I guess I never really thought about the difference between philanthropy as an institution and who we are as people but hearing you talk about your great grandmother, I’m reminded of my own family, and I can't imagine a scenario where we don't take care of each other the best that we can. I've never thought of homegrown benevolence as philanthropy, but hearing your story, I think of my mom, who was the youngest of 13, and as soon as I was old enough to help, that’s what was expected of me. And if my parents didn't have enough, or when my family moved to North Carolina, I lived with an aunt in another state until they could get it together. Now, as an adult and as a parent, I understand what community care looks like in practice—it's this idea of making sure that everybody's good, and I think it’s a huge part of Black culture.

And that kind of collective care reminds me of BPI and how I became involved. I think it was about three years ago when a former BPI chair, Melvin Scales, encouraged me to join, and then fast forward to today, now I'm serving as chair of the BPI advisory committee. I originally said yes because I was really interested in a different type of community engagement, and because I believe in BPI’s mission, especially the concept of having a Black-led group decide how and where funds might go to support local Black-led initiatives. It's important to me. It was also a unique value proposition, because I hadn't really seen or experienced anything like that, here or elsewhere. So, I thought it was important to jump in and share my time and talent.

“Now, as an adult and as a parent, I understand what community care looks like in practice—it's this idea of making sure that everybody's good.”

LaTida: Yes, I recognize that even as the whole Foundation strives to embrace racial equity as a central part of our work, there are limitations to what we see, limitations to how quick we can move—that’s just real. And so, I really value BPI as being a body that can innovate and learn and bring organizations and people to the Foundation who are beyond our networks, so that our work can expand. So for me, that's why I value BPI.

Tiffany: Exactly, and BPI’s not trying to dictate what community-led change looks like, we're just trying to inspire and support it. I love BPI because it’s Black, it's multigenerational, it's forward-thinking and that in my mind has created some cool opportunities to support things that are happening in the community and trust that those groups are doing their work right.

To me, BPI is unique in two distinct ways:

  1. The advisory committee is all volunteers, but there is significant support and partnership from the Foundation, which feels different than some spaces where I’ve volunteered, where the level of impact is capped because there isn't organizational support, or it's slowed down possibilities because there's no long-term sustainability. So, BPI has an infrastructure where there are guardrails for what we do and what we don't do. But there's also a lot of room for creativity and possibility within that framework and I think that is really great because BPI has done so much in the community, but it doesn't feel like there's a ceiling to our growth.
  2. BPI is able to spend time learning more about what philanthropy is and looks like in our community, or how white supremacy shows up in philanthropic spaces and how to work against that. It's also created space to try things on for size, like simplifying our grant applications or featuring grantees in a different way. In my 20s, I had no idea what philanthropy really was, even though I benefited from it. And I think what's been really awesome about BPI specifically, because being part of this work has also been part of an unlearning for me—to better understand what philanthropy could look like, and to open up new possibilities that directly impact people who look like me.
“Being part of this work has also been part of an unlearning for me—to better understand what philanthropy could look like, and to open up new possibilities that directly impact people who look like me.”

LaTida: And for me, I think the emphasis on both time and treasure, is something that continues to just inspire me, but also challenge me. Especially when I think about BPI’s growth in the last few years, and the $2 million campaign launch last October, I’m excited for that growth. But at the same time, BPI has been so helpful in lifting up the idea that you don’t have to have financial means to be a philanthropist. BPI reminds us of the importance of leveraging the time and the talent of the community in a valuable way, and that is of equal importance to financial giving. So, success for a major campaign for BPI might look different than for another group—it might look like a whole lot of gifts as opposed to a few big ones. And so, it’s not just about growth and more resources, it’s also about trust and accountability.

Tiffany: I think it sort of cracks open this idea that philanthropy is for everybody and that you don't have to wait until you’ve amassed a ton of financial resources or assets. BPI looks and feels different because we do value time, thought, capital, ideas, experiments, and I think there's something about that that invites younger people to participate. I'll be honest, when I first had the conversation with Melvin about joining BPI I was like, “well, I mean, I can't really give a lot of money.” And Melvin said something like, “but we need your energy, we need the way that you think, and you will add value, I know you will.” And so, BPI creates space to actually connect and build relationships and explore ideas that can lead to movement and change.

LaTida: Yes, we're not talking about a rejection of philanthropy, it's more like an expansion of philanthropy because when I think about the organizations that BPI is able to fund, there is still value for those organizations to become connected and get funding from The Winston Salem Foundation. If anything, we're trying to expand who has access.

“We're not talking about a rejection of philanthropy, it's more like an expansion of philanthropy.”

Tiffany: Yes, and when we think about who has access, I think it's important to acknowledge the history of Black people. As a collective, we’ve experienced intergenerational trauma, not to exclude slavery, and so, in modern times we still navigate injustices that are systemic. So having an initiative like BPI that is Black-led and Black-informed and Black-influenced is important, especially on the local level.

In my brain I imagine this circle, similar to the recycling symbol. In our community you have people who are still experiencing disenfranchisement and marginalization because of the impacts of this country’s history. Then there are organizations that are impacting people who are disenfranchised and marginalized. Then you have an entity like BPI supporting, partnering, and influencing capital to support the organizations impacting those communities. It's sort of this reciprocity ring where we are both experiencing and influencing. In traditional philanthropy, you have more of a top-down approach where philanthropic institutions are influencing organizations, which in turn support directly-impacted people, but that reciprocity ring doesn't exist. So what makes BPI different is that no entity is separate from the other and that reciprocity ring for me is what BPI is in practice.  

LaTida: Yes, we know that marginalized communities have been researched to death and promised to death and so we have to acknowledge all of that history to overcome harm and build trust. When people are giving you their time, but also sharing their lived experience—that is a gift. So, it’s not about presuming that we know what folks want. Sometimes, instead of offering an answer, we have to ask the question of what would accountability look like for you?

And, there's something very powerful about the Foundation as a 103-year-old institution saying, “we want to invest our resources, we want to invest the time and talent of our folks, and then we want to step back because we acknowledge that the community has the answers.” There’s something very powerful about investing in initiatives like BPI and stepping back because we acknowledge that BPI has unique relationships, and influence, and trust in community. You know, it certainly feels related to our desire to make philanthropy available to the broader community and truly address the needs of this community. And we also know that to address those needs, it’s going to take all of us, and we have to employ multiple vehicles—philanthropy is certainly one of them, but it’s not the only answer.

Tiffany: I think it's important to acknowledge and frame what’s happening in our community today, and why it's happening, and I also think it's really hard to own or carry all collective trauma—you just can't. Sometimes I think information sharing can be the solution, and sometimes I think collaborative ideation can be the solution, and then sometimes I think it's just being able to have honest, candid conversations, and meet people where they are. I think that’s what makes BPI different, from a structural perspective, but also symbolically—we have that collective responsibility and that calling to support other people, to make sure everybody’s good, and as you said, to recognize that our wellbeing is tied to each other.

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