CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Twenty years ago, about to retire at age 70 as pastor of her church, Dora Atlas started serving meals at a public-housing community in Asheboro.
Her effort has grown into Our Daily Bread Kitchen, which now serves 10,000 meals a year and where Atlas still works at age 90.
Atlas’ initiative inspired her great-niece, Valaida Fullwood, to write a book about traditions of giving and philanthropy in the African-American community.
African Americans grow up with the expectation on the part of their families that they will give, whether through church, fraternity, sorority or neighborhood, Fullwood says.
Yet the word “philanthropy” can be “off-putting” for many people, she says, both because it evokes the image of wealthy, white philanthropists like Rockefeller, Ford and Carnegie, and because many philanthropic institutions “for years excluded African Americans from participating.”
Fullwood, a Charlotte-based writer and consultant who manages grant-funded projects for nonprofits and oversees grant initiatives for foundations, was the organizer and one of 17 founders in 2006 of New Generation of African American Philanthropists Charlotte, a “giving circle” at Foundation for the Carolinas.
Having worked with foundations, she says, she saw a lack of African Americans working in organized philanthropy.
So she decided an African-American giving circle in Charlotte could give its members greater impact by pooling their charitable dollars, and give them greater influence “as a segment of the community that often doesn’t have a voice in decisions around philanthropy.”
The 22 members of NGAAP Charlotte, which has given away a total of $40,000 over three annual grant cycles, contribute at least $365 a year each, and can participate in two retreats each year that feature speakers and topics about trends in philanthropy and community issues.
Grants support groups that often serve or are led by African Americans and focus on causes like education, health care, and civic and social justice.
The giving circle awarded $10,000, for example, its largest grant, to Jacob’s Ladder Job Center, a group that provides job training and support to chronically underemployed people, and helps them find and keep living-wage jobs.
“Our mission is to focus on organizations that improve the quality of life for African-American families,” Fullwood says.
The giving circle does not accept grant applications but instead conducts “stealth due diligence,” Fullwood says, identifying groups it might want to support and then inviting some of them to submit funding proposals.
For her book, Giving Back, Fullwood over four years interviewed over 200 people who shared stories about their giving.
In addition to givers’ stories, the book will feature photographs of them by Charles Thomas, director of education at The Light Factory.
To be published in October through Foundation for the Carolinas, and distributed by Blair Publishing in Winston-Salem, the book has been supported with funding from NGAAP Charlotte; nine other philanthropic sponsors, including Foundation for the Carolinas, The Duke Endowment and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; and 80 individuals.
Proceeds from the book will complete the circle, benefiting the grantmaking fund for NGAAP Charlotte.
Philanthropy “never ends,” Fullwood says. “We’re always expected to serve, all the while we’re here on Earth.”