GREENSBORO, N.C. — Mae Douglas has always been a giver, but never considered herself a philanthropist. Then she got connected with the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro through its “Expanding Community Giving” initiative to deepen its relationships with donors of color.
“Through that initiative I started to learn more about the power that philanthropy can have in a community,” Douglas said.
She’s been all-in ever since. She and some other leaders in the group decided to figure out what they could do collectively to address issues of social justice and inequity in the city’s Black community. They came up with the BIG Equity Fund. “BIG” stands for Black Investments in Greensboro.
Organizers set a goal of raising $250,000 from Black donors in the quiet phase. They surpassed that goal, pulling in $300,000. They recently launched the community-wide campaign to raise a $3 million endowment that will focus on east Greensboro, where Douglas grew up.
“East Greensboro also represents part of the community that’s under-invested. And that’s where the majority of Black people live in Greensboro,” Douglas said.
Their goal is to address disparities in education like the digital divide, as well as disparities in health care and Black entrepreneurship.
“Also it’s just recognition that the Black community has assets and it has its own wealth,” she said. “We just have never really been asked.”
Director of Community Philanthrophy Athan Lindsay says in his 20-plus years working with philanthropic organizations, he’s found that’s not unique to the Triad.
“I was just bothered by who owned philanthropy,” he said. “It seemed to be only if you were white and wealthy. Too often I saw that people of color, particularly African Americans in the south, we were only seen as grant seekers and on the demand side. We diminished our assets.”
“We’re trying to say we have wealth. We have assets,” Lindsay said. “And I think sometimes we get into this game where we’re talking about comparing, making comparisons between Black wealth and white wealth. The reality of it is there was a head start that we’re never going to make up. But that doesn’t diminish what we have.”
“I don’t think we need to look very far to find the need for this kind of initiative,” said Bishop Adrian Starks, who pastors World Victory Church in Greensboro. “I believe God has given us the grace of each day to be better, to do better, and that starts from within.”
He says it’s important to redefine philanthropy, and to understand that it has existed in the Black community since the first slaves hit the shores.
“Philanthropy is taking place neighbor to neighbor. It’s taking place in my sphere every Sunday morning. We’re giving. That’s what philanthropy is. It’s giving with the intent to be supportive,” Starks said. “I was inspired additionally to see how the Jewish Federation operates to promote all things Jewish.”
“While this fund is Black-initiated, Black-led, and the initial dollars are Black-funded, we are open to other contributions from individuals who are not Black but who do understand what’s going on in Greensboro and some of the challenges the Black community faces,” Douglas said.
“The reality is that we have to be the captain of our ship,” Starks said.
This is an unapologetically Black effort.
“I think by doing this within our own scope as a Black community, it empowers us to be a better member of the larger community,” Starks said.
The people involved in the BIG Equity Fund say this is an opportunity for Black families to leave a legacy gift that will outlive them and support the Black community for years.
For more information on the BIG Equity Fund, check out their website.