Our New Brave World: A Black Philanthropy Month 2014 Call to Action


A glance at the almost unbelievable news headlines today show that these are unprecedented times for black communities:

Black Giving at a Crossroads

We begin Black Philanthropy Month 2014 at the crossroads of crisis and hope. Our life everywhere can seem like an Orwellian science fiction novel moving back and forth through a strange time-space anomaly at a new speed of life.

On the one hand, post-civil rights, independence and apartheid progress are undeniable. A black American president, three black women presidents of African countries, growing economies throughout Africa and even new rights for the long suffering blacks of Brazil highlight just a few global black milestones.

At the same time, we are rushing towards an expanding parallel universe of concentrated poverty, disparity, malaise and social immobility for the masses of black people throughout the nation and world.

I created Black Philanthropy Month (BPM) back in 2011 as a time to celebrate, review and renew our rich traditions of giving, self-help and social innovation.

As has been true throughout our history, our collective giving and action are still keys to our success.

But I feel compelled to temper my usual celebratory BPM kickoff post with an urgent call to reshape our Movement for the times. This is the first in a series of BPM 2014 commentaries where I share my thinking about the factors shaping our communities, new principles for black giving, as well as promising examples to inspire innovation.

7 Key Mega-Trends Shaping Black Giving Today

One place we can start to re-build our giving for the times is to ask the perennial black existential question so aptly put by Marvin Gaye, "What's going on?"

Social scientists, futurists, pundits, corporate leaders and increasingly many activists have identified key gamechanging conditions -- mega-trends -- that are uniquely different from any previous era. These are not just theoretical or academic issues.

Together these factors are changing our experience of life, like a new, emerging invisible hand of the market shaping the future of the entire planet, including black communities. We need to do much more to understand these dynamics to help our communities succeed in and even shape this 21st century reality.

1. Global Connections and Beyond

At some level, American black communities have always been global. Afterall, most of our distant ancestors came from some part of Africa during the transatlantic slave trade. But today ours and all communities are more global than ever before. Overnight travel international travel, instantaneous finance, as well as new digital information and communication technologies make our everyday lives at once global and local. The connections across the various countries, systems and communities of the world are more tightly woven.

The new global connections are not just between whole countries but link specific cities, neighborhoods and local institutions, creating new spaces of social interaction and economic exchange and competition.

Here's a small personal example that makes the point. Back in 2000 when our daughter was having trouble with algebra, we happened to learn about a then new and free online math instruction program called Heymath created by Indian entrepreneurs and based on Singapore's public school math curriculum -- at the time the highest performing in the world. Using a combination of animated Heymath cartoons explaining algebraic equations and even a real-time, India-based online tutor, this program was an important component of our daughter's success in middle school math.

The world -- for better or for worse -- is becoming one open market where, essentially, for example, neighborhoods in Atlanta are competing with neighborhoods in Shanghai for jobs. It means that black people need to create, get access to and take full advantage of existing opportunities to gain the world class education, technical, cross-cultural and language skills necessary to survive and thrive today.

Black giving needs to find ways to embolden our communities to find and use global strategies to address local challenges. It also means that we need use our giving to impact national and global policy issues that increasingly affect our local communities no matter where we are from or where we live--from Stand Your Ground Laws to foreign policy issues that may not be defined as black issues in our old models. Today they affect you right in your own backyard.

2. Geographic Compression

The world seems to be shrinking. Globalization and environmental decline are creating political and economic unrest, fueling the largest worldwide movement of people ever known.

For example, there has been a 200 percent increase African immigration to the U.S. since the early 1990s. There have been similarly high levels of black immigration from Latin America, Asia, and Europe too. In some cities almost 30 percent of the black community is foreign-born, creating Little Mogadishus, Nairobis, and Lagoses in places like Minneapolis, New York, Atlanta and Houston -- compressing and condensing together disparate places across the globe in unprecedented ways.

Unfortunately, for African-Americans and black immigrants this new ethnic mix can be a cause for fear, conflict or divisive politics. But it does not have to be. As we always tell others, diversity is an asset. The new black diversity is an opportunity to build global and local social networks, as well as pool our intellectual and financial capital to address common challenges faced by all black Americans -- U.S.-born and immigrant.

3. Diversity within Diversity

Immigration and globalization have taken black ethnic diversity to an entirely different level. We can no longer assume that everyone living in America who might be defined as racially black is necessarily ethnically African-American, that is, descendant from the American slaves.

As a result, we have a multi-ethnic black community including people who define themselves in various ways -- Jamericans (black Jamaican-Americans) and Neo-Africans (black Africans who emigrated from Africa or their U.S.-born children). People are creating wholly new identities such as Afro-Cosmopolitans, mostly next generation, U.S.-born Africans who consider themselves new black global citizens able to re-create their lives and culture wherever they might be living.

African-American and other black philanthropy associations must do better at helping their members build relationships and collaborate across the new black diversity. Like Latino and Asian communities, we have to find means of identifying mutual interests while respecting the diverse ethnic groups (African-American, Ethiopian-American, etc.) that now make up the 21st century black America. Black organizations such as the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, the Pan-African Community Endowment, the Cultural Wellness Center that include an African-American agenda but build common cause with other black, as well as other communities, facing similar challenges are examples of ways to build inclusive black social change organizations.

4. Convergence

Ironically, as the world and our communities become more connected and diverse, our social challenges are becoming more similar even though the specific local causes and manifestations may differ.

For example, all the data show that by second generation, African immigrants are approaching the same disproportionally high levels of infant and maternal mortality, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, asthma and cancers as African-Americans.

Despite our diversity, our communities, social outcomes and futures are linked in an ever expanding net of global places and forces. To avoid creating yet new generations of black disparity, we need to identify such issues of common concern and work together to address them.

5. Hyper-Innovation

Innovation drives history. However, especially with the advent of digital communication, the production of new knowledge and technologies has accelerated to unprecedented levels. For example, we all have a sense of information overload and that we have to learn constantly just to keep up with the new knowledge or skills needed in our various fields. "Learning how to learn," including having basic proficiency in online technologies, is considered a distinct competence today.

There is a social innovation field and industry focused on how to systematically produce and replicate new ideas not just for profit but to address the unique social and environmental challenges of this global era. As we organize to ensure that the U.S. educational system prepares our children for this new world, let us also make sure we are doing absolutely everything we can as families and communities to promote parenting and education to teach our children how to be life-long learners. Many of our nonprofits do not know how to strategically use social media to advance their work, undermining their capacity to promote social change in our rapidly changing world and systems. Online social change technologies need to be a basic part of the black philanthropy toolkit.

6. Prosperity, Privatization and Individualization

Our classic studies of African-American philanthropy document the collective aspirations that drove the individual giving and social action of black people from all walks of life. Growth in prosperity and a decline in barriers to economic opportunity throughout the 20th century have enabled more individuals than ever to gain wealth and be upwardly mobile. Individualism, as well as a breakdown of community ties, is ever more common. Stagnant wages have not kept up with economic growth and the cost of living producing severe income disparities.

The trend towards individualization has affected philanthropy too with a growth in donor-driven giving focused on individual social entrepreneurs and innovators. Black giving is not immune. While donor interests are a critical component of social impact, collective community building and interests must be included for the success of any giving agenda, including black philanthropy.

7. Accelerated Change

Many of us have the sense that time is speeding up -- that more life happens in a shorter span of time than in any time of our lives. This is not an illusion. All these mega-trends interact and coalesce to quicken the pace of social change. Changes that may have taken decades or even longer in the past can take just several years or one decade today.

Just rewind time back eight years ago to 2006. Our communities and allies were celebrating a historic, dramatic growth in African-American homeownership ever.

But fast-forward just two years later to the 2008 recession. Bad mortgage loans and securities created a worldwide financial crisis that rippled through the black community. With the resulting foreclosure crisis, black homeownership is at historic lows today.

Homeownership loses combined with a 20 percent post-recession unemployment rate are eroding the black middle class eroding decades of post-civil rights progress in just five years.

This accelerated rate of change will continue in our more interconnected world changing the good and bad fortunes of black communities more quickly than ever before.

Join BPM 2014's 21st Century Giving Movement

As our worsening social indicators show, our communities are largely unprepared for this brave new world. The times bring many unanticipated challenges such as "post-racial racism" that my colleague, the brilliant anthropologist Faye Harrison first called "neo-racism" over two decades ago.

But as our post-1960s progress shows, the times also present many new opportunities for enterprise, collaboration, movement building and increased social impact.

Use the occasion of BPM 2014 to learn about the history, innovations and potential of our generosity at home and around the world -- and revive them for the times.

There are many actions you can start taking this month to get started or expand high impact black giving.

Visit the websites of Black Gives Back, the Community Investment Network and the Giving Back Project are using to see how our next generation philanthropists use social media, art and giving circles to expand the reach and inclusion of black giving.

Join Community Investment Network from October 3rd to 5th at their 10th Anniversary conference, Coming Full Circle, to celebrate and create a new agenda for black giving.

Be sure to catch the national Black Philanthropy exhibit, The Soul of Philanthropy, at a local museum or online featuring the award-winning images and giving stories of BPM 2014 co-leader, Valaida Fullwood's book, Giving Back.

Read the new studies of contemporary black philanthropy that highlight our diversity and ways to use it as an asset to promote social justice for all.

Get your government officials in your area to recognize Black Philanthropy Month as we now have done in multiple cities and states.

Follow BPM 2014's Twitter and Facebook to highlight your organization and local events in celebration of BPM 2014.

Join the free Pan-African Women's Philanthropy Network (PAWPNet) to meet black and allied philanthropists from over 30 countries to exchange ideas about how to change the world during these complex times.

Visit BPM 2014 for other ways to get involved.

In keeping with BPM 2014's thee of Generosity at Home and Around the World, learn about and give to the global black and other struggles for justice even now recognized by the UN in its International Decade for People of African Descent. You will find that we share much in common despite our differences.

BPM 2014 begins in August but runs through the holidays as a time to celebrate our giving traditions. Let us also use the occasion to embolden our thinking and collective action required for this brave new world.

In my next post, I will share some principles for High Impact Black Giving that you can use whether you give through volunteerism, donations, advocacy, and activism or mix multiple approaches.

What are your ideas for ways to strengthen the impact of black giving traditions in the US and worldwide? Share your thoughts here at HuffPost or #BPM2014. Let's get and keep a conversation going for the sake of all.