You can trace the roots of Athan Lindsay’s devout belief in the power of Black philanthropy to his grandmother’s flower club.
Lindsay, who directs community philanthropy for the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, remembers how the Greenway Flower Club in his native Winston-Salem did a lot more than plant daisies and begonias.
His grandmother and her friends also chipped in to address worthy causes in their neighborhood.
In fact, they may have spent more of their energy and money on their community than on their flowerbeds, Lindsay says.
Now the Black Investments in Greensboro Equity Fund will plant seeds of philanthropy into the fertile, but mostly untilled, soil of east Greensboro.
The initiative will create a permanent endowment conceived by Black donors, primarily funded by Black donors and led by Black donors.
A strong start
Already the fund has received commitments totaling $300,000 from Black contributors as it launches a citywide campaign with an initial target of $3 million.
The Community Foundation will consider a matching grant at its next board meeting.
The fund's goal is twofold:
1. To dash the misconception that there is no wealth in African American communities.
2. To empower Black donors who have money to give by providing a means to give it, for needs that they care about, on an ongoing basis — ideally, forever.
Lindsay says the new strategic investment fund was intended to “expand the narrative of what philanthropy was.”
“All donors,” he said, “don’t have to be white and wealthy.”
It’s a myth that there isn’t money in the Black community, Lindsay said.
“Black folks do have assets.”
A clear focus
Lindsay noted that successful African American professional and business people have been seeking such an outlet.
Now they have one.
The fund will be housed at the Community Foundation, which already manages 600 local, donor-advised, charitable funds.
Once the $3 million goal is reached, a steering committee will decide who gets the grants, which will be awarded cyclically.
The first rounds of grants will focus on small businesses, health care and the digital divide.
Each of those causes makes perfect sense.
Small businesses and entrepreneurs provide the lion’s share of new jobs and can help build wealth and increase amenities in the Black community.
Access to convenient, affordable and quality health care remains an urgent concern, especially in east Greensboro.
And the depth and breadth of the digital divide has become more painfully apparent as K-12 schools in Guilford County have shifted to remote learning to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.
As for who will help to fill its coffers with enough seed money to be sustainable for the long term, Lindsay envisions people like Greensboro native and UNCG alumna Mae Douglas, who retired as an executive vice president and chief people officer at Cox Communications in Atlanta and has become an active philanthropist in her hometown.
“This is sort of full-circle for me,” said Douglas, a graduate of Dudley High School who decided to commit herself to community service when she returned to Greensboro.
“I never disconnected from this community,” Douglas said. “I would tell people I may live in New York or Atlanta, but Greensboro is home. … I’m a product of this community. I grew up in this community, and I know all the things this community has to offer.”
Douglas sees the fund as a way a way to focus and energize African American philanthropy.
Sowing the seeds
The conversation about charitable giving began in a meeting of about 30 Black community leaders in 2018. The strategic investment fund idea was conceived during a followup meeting in 2019.
He sees partners in other corners of Greensboro as well. The Community Foundation announced a $250,000 matching grant on Friday.
And, finally, Lindsay sees the smaller donors giving what they can as they can.
“Let’s take what we have,” Lindsay said, “and make what we want.”
After all, generosity often can come from the places you may least expect.
As with his grandmother’s flower club, a lot of a little bit, with a few big gifts sprinkled in, can add up to something special over time.