Black Philanthropy Month lifts memories of my grandparents, Dr. Whitney Moore Young, Sr. and Laura Ray Young.  They were the inspired leaders of the Lincoln Institute in Shelby County, Kentucky, in the Jim Crow South.  

An all-Black boarding school supported by segregationist donors, Lincoln Institute was charged on the surface with teaching students agricultural, janitorial and domestic skills, but behind closed doors it was different.

Determined that students not become sharecroppers or maids, but graduates of HBCUs, my grandparents hid an academic curriculum. Granddaddy and Mother Dear were visionaries who taught science and math in the fields coupled with literature and writing in the classrooms.

Lauren Y. Casteel

When we arrived each summer, Mother Dear took us girls to greet each student and faculty member by shaking hands and looking them in the eye, calling them Mr. and Miss. The love that was expressed for my dignified grandmother was deep and authentic.

I wondered, why this ritualized formality and gratitude? Why always fresh cakes or vegetables in our kitchen? Why students offered to watch us as we climbed trees, wandered the fields or churned ice cream? Why a knowing of love, safety, community and well-being?

Why? Because true philanthropy, the love of humankind, was at work. Valaida Fullwood, author of Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropy, more specifically defines philanthropy as “love of what it means to be human.”

She says, “All of our flaws, foibles, and vulnerabilities, as well as our impulses to give, support, improve and change. Acknowledging the good, bad, and the ugly of being human and then demonstrating love of each in light of that; that is philanthropy to me. I like this definition because breaking it down that way allows it to be as inclusive as possible, and in that sense, everybody has the potential to become a philanthropist.”

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I understand now that the Lincoln Institute welcome was an exchange of both blessing and humanity.  

Black Philanthropy Month marks the ingenuity and transformative impact of generosity in Black communities. Black folks always support family or neighbors with shared food, rent, child care, work, housing, transportation, clothing and education. It’s how we survived slavery. We’ve always known our Black Lives Matter.

Despite the racial wealth gap, Black people give the largest proportion of their incomes to charity. There’s always enough in the pot and room at the table to feed one more. Gratitude abounds.

Today, my title affirms I am a philanthropoid, “a person who works in a philanthropic organization.” But like Lincoln Institute, below the surface, I am the culmination of generations of Black women and men givers.

I’m honored to lead a community foundation working tirelessly to mobilize time, talent, treasure and testimonials to open opportunities, co-create communities and build alliances for systemic change.  

Philanthropic movements are often carried on the backs of Black women – see Sojourner Truth, Marsha P. Johnson, and the founders of Black Lives Matter.

I’m humbled to be a part of a national and state history of Black women leaders in philanthropy, such as Karen McNeil-Miller, president and CEO of The Colorado Health Foundation and board chair for the Association of Black Foundation Executives, for which I am also a trustee. THIS Karen’s a statewide force of courage and action during the pandemic.  

Through our partnership with Karen and her team, The Women’s Foundation of Colorado gave rapid response grants to 108 organizations serving women and families across all 64 Colorado counties, many rooted in Black communities.

Similarly, the Sisterhood of Philanthropists Impacting Needs (SPIN), a Black women’s giving circle, is distributing grants and helping WFCO frame our new Women and Girls of Color Fund. Board committees led by business and civic leaders Faye Tate, Kim Desmond and Danielle Shoots are moving bold strategies in fundraising, grantmaking and impact investing that support Black women.

They stand on the shoulders of former trustees, Black women sororities and social action groups, such as the Links, and philanthropists, such as Rose Andom. 

But we can’t do it alone.

I ask you to see the love of what it means to be human as you recognize the many gifts, values, inspirations and assets that Black women as givers bring to our history, culture, education and economy. And, I strongly urge you to do so every day, not just this month.

Lauren Y. Casteel is the president and CEO of The Women’s Foundation of Colorado.

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Lauren Y. Casteel

Special to The Colorado Sun