Jackmont Hospitality Pledge Showcases Best of Next Generation Philanthropy

On May 17, the late Mayor Maynard Jackson's family business, Jackmont Hospitality, stepped forward to do two remarkable things. The first was to pledge the largest philanthropic gift ever made by the corporation to a nonprofit -- $250,000 to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights (the Center). Their giving supports the effort to build a facility in Atlanta that will house iconic exhibitions like the Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection, current exhibitions about issues in the headlines, host discussions among leaders and activists, and tell the evolving human rights story in a compelling, interactive format for hundreds of thousands of visitors on site and online every year. The second was to extend themselves further by inviting other entrepreneurs of color to match their efforts, pledging to raise $2.5 million total for the Center.

The team of executives at the helm of Jackmont Hospitality, Brooke Jackson Edmond, Daniel Halpern, and Valerie Jackson, made this major commitment in honor of The Honorable Maynard Jackson's drive to encourage business owners of color to "do good and do well" as a path to community development, economic empowerment, and true freedom.

In Atlanta, we stand on Mayor Jackson's shoulders. He had amazing clarity about our city's potential as a place where history was made and the future is decided. The National Center for Civil and Human Rights, a living cultural institution where the human rights questions of our day will be analyzed using lessons from past social movements, is an apt project to fund in honor of Maynard Jackson's legacy.

The invitation to match Jackmont's giving is the right approach given the prosperity entrepreneurs enjoy in Atlanta because of Jackson's vision and how easily his values match the Center's mission.

I was moved to write this piece when, not even 48 hours after the celebrated Jackmont gift announcement, Senator Jay Rockefeller said that young people lack "social values" before a senate commerce committee meeting.

He was referring to a generational and technological shift in privacy standards, but the sweeping indictment was a powerful reminder of the misconceptions swirling around young philanthropists and activists. The world is changing, but I find an enthralling mix of old and new in the ways philanthropy is taking shape to include younger, more diverse voices.

The Jackmont Hospitality gift is a perfect example of the new ways of operating in tandem with tradition. This $250,000 gift from the company, and the pledge to extend it to $2.5 million, shows more about where we are as an ever-changing society than any alarmist statements about values. The Center is a project that brings out philanthropists' desire to pay tribute to what has passed and make an investment in the human community's ability to create a just world ahead.

Some themes along these lines, emerged in my work on the Jackmont gift. It honors a legacy. We are flooded with opinions that younger people do not know their history or from whence they came.

Those of us who witnessed the Civil Rights Movement share anxiety that, without the Movement as a frame of reference, our children and their children are adrift. Brooke, Daniel and Valerie, as well as the hundreds of employees they represent, captured the mood of a grateful community for Maynard Jackson's work. The legacy is as important as it has ever been, and the Center is able to capture that desire to fund a project that will inform and inspire future generations.

Clear strategy and leveraging networks were crucial to how this planned gift was announced, how it will be paid, and how these community leaders will inspire others. The savvy these young executives exhibited helps us all think about how to make sure philanthropic giving and civic engagement have the ideal platform to create momentum around projects our communities need now more than ever.

The gift shows courage at a time when fundraising for vital initiatives is harder than ever, as companies, foundations and individuals retract their giving to protect bottom lines. Jackmont has never endeavored a gift of this size and while some would say the second quarter of 2011 is not the time, they believe it is.