The Next 400: Black philanthropy empowers communities of color in Cleveland

Soul of Philanthropy Cleveland
Soul of Philanthropy Cleveland((Source: Soul of Philanthropy Cleveland))
Updated: Apr. 9, 2021 at 10:32 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - For many black-led non-profits or organizations, funding is severely scarce. Black philanthropy helps fill in the gaps.

Kevin Johnson and his wife, Connie Hill-Johnson, are co-owners of Visiting Angels senior home care and behind Celebrate Those Who Give Black: Celebrating Black Philanthropy.

What is Black philanthropy?

“If you look at the history and the culture of African Americans, you’ll see a culture of giving and sharing of being very forthcoming with what you have,” said Kevin Johnson. “One of the things we’ve done with the Soul of Philanthropy Cleveland is that we’ve targeted that type of giving.”

Traditionally, people who give large sums of money for the common good have been called philanthropists. Therein lies the problem: being defined by one standard and not always giving credit where credit is due.

“When you dig deeper into that word, we have found that in our community, it has historical roots,” said Connie Hill-Johnson. “That we’ve always been givers, that we’ve always given back in our community and our neighborhoods, but we haven’t been called philanthropists.”

Blacks give more than most of us think—percentage-wise, even more than our whites counterparts.

Black Americans give a larger share of their wealth to charities than any other racial group in America.

Between 2010 and 2016, White philanthropy remained consistent at 2 percent of their median wealth. Black families, by contrast, contributed 6 percent of their median wealth to charity in 2010. The rate jumped to 11 percent in 2013 and then dropped to 8 percent in 2016, according to a 2018 Urban Institute report.

“We’re able to target philanthropy to those who need it, where it’s needed, and that’s really important,” said Kevin Johnson. “Sometimes philanthropy doesn’t get to the right level. Sometimes philanthropy is just a tax write-off.”

One of the many goals of the Johnsons is helping the Black community better understand what they give and how they give matters.

“Whether someone is giving a hundred to a small non-profit in Glenville is just as impactful or perhaps someone who can write a 100-thousand dollars check to the American Heart Association,” said Connie Hill-Johnson.

Giving is relative; the reward is, too. When you share, by whatever means necessary, the whole village prospers.

“We know there are many hidden philanthropists, people of color people, who look like me and you and Kevin who need to be lifted and their stories told,” said Connie Hill-Johnson.

The question arises: is Black philanthropy an outgrowth of necessity because others don’t give to causes that mostly benefit Cleveland’s Black community, or does it spring from the habits of Blacks giving differently?

“It is much deeper than that. Because this giving, I truly believe is coming from the heart of people who are doing good and giving back and are giving Black, number one it was how we were raised and because they see they need and they’re thinking that somebody needs to step up and why not me.”

Reflect on Billie Holiday’s 1941 hit song: God Bless the Child That has his own. While acknowledging the tremendous help of traditional givers, The Soul of Philanthropy was born of this desire.

“It was to for us to identify, acknowledge, recognize and honor African American philanthropy, specially, because the thought really was that the only philanthropy is that that is done by the majority community, to and the benefit of the minority community and that’s so not true.”

A budding philanthropist included in the exhibit is Logan Dior Williams, 13.

Instead of getting for birthdays and holidays, she gives. Her passion is helping the homeless through her Blanket Blessings contributions.

“It’s a really fun activity, and I like to get my friends involved,” said Logan. “We try to go to many homeless shelters, or when we see a homeless person, we try to keep a Blessing Bag in the car and a Blessing Blanket, and we just give it to them to make sure they know that we care.”

In 2019 Logan became a part of The Soul of Philanthropy exhibit, celebrating Black givers.

“I was the youngest philanthropist at the museum. I was named a Black philanthropist, so that was amazing.”

The principal of Wade Park Elementary speaks highly of the 7th grader.

“Logan is a well-rounded young lady,” said Dr. Buddy Lee, Jr. “She is one of our gifted scholars here in the building, definitely handles her business, academically, but also looks for ways to give back in her community.”

“Truly want to encourage people to go out and just help. When you see someone, don’t just walk past them because think about that could be you. Say, if you have a child, think about that could be your child in that future situation.”

How does a child so young know about giving?

“I used to watch a lot of TV shows and used to see them give back a lot, and it really inspired something in me.”

Her grandmother and longtime community activist, Yvonne Pointer, also serves as her inspiration.

“Observing in my household. My grandma, she gives a lot back to the community. She starts a lot of companies and that kind of stuff, and it came down from generations.”

Add inspiration to her list of blessings, and hopefully, more of us, young and older, will find it within ourselves to do what Logan Dior Williams does.

“I continue to give back, and I hope we can all continue to give back.”

If you know someone who should be celebrated for their giving, nominations are open for the August exhibit.

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