At the 2017 State of Black Philanthropy in February, philanthropists and civic leaders gathered to discuss strategic giving to address pressing issues facing black residents in Greater Miami. Moderator Leigh-Ann Buchanan, executive director of Venture Café Miami, captured learnings and next steps.


noun. To promote the welfare of others, expressed by the generous donation of money to good cause.

The second annual State of Black Philanthropy conversation defied the notion that philanthropy is exclusively tied to monetary contributions. Rather, much like the Greek etymology of the word (i.e., love of humankind), we exposed a more rich dialogue of philanthropy as an expression of love best demonstrated through intentional acts designed to promote the welfare of black communities.

In February, The Miami Foundation convened a panel of thought leaders who represent various institutional and community stakeholders with a diversity of experience in supporting philanthropic endeavors: Bahia Ramos, director of arts at Knight Foundation; Marlon Hill, partner at Hamilton, Miller & Birthisel, LLP; Ron Frazier, CEO of BAC Funding Corporation and Affiliates; and Ira Hall, director of Praxair. Engaged residents shared their experiences and furthered the dialogue in a thought-provoking Q&A session.

Our exploration of the state of black philanthropy in Greater Miami revealed that a major impediment to engagement and participation is a perception that philanthropy is inaccessible, requires a significant investment of money and does not impact the unique challenges of the black community.

Not only should we refute these misguided notions, but we further realized black philanthropy needs to be more personal. That starts by creating a conceptual space with the tools to both educate and empower those who want to invest in black communities, yet don’t know where to begin.

Make a Personal Commitment
The 2016 Our Miami Report concluded that “the lack of greater progress in increasing educational attainment levels also further drives the region’s increasing equity gap.”  Recognizing that you don’t have to be an educator or youth service provider to help narrow the educational inequity gap, Marlon Hill challenged us: start by making a commitment of time and resources to a particular zip code or school. His firm’s adoption of Brownsville Middle School entails more than donating funds. Team members and a broader network of attorneys volunteer their time, work on school beautification projects, support legal studies opportunities and are building a mock courtroom. Cultivating talent in our urban communities can take many of forms, and the opportunities to give back are accessible now more than ever.

Pick Your Favorite
Although we may not admit it, we all have a favorite, be it a favorite family member, restaurant or social cause. Black philanthropy can and should be personal. There are numerous civic issues from which to make your selection – affordability, public safety, placemaking, economic equity, social justice or youth empowerment – and most, if not all, impact black communities. Bahia Ramos encouraged us to pick one issue and make it a focus for your efforts. But, she cautioned, be strategic about your investment and use an approach that identifies which organizations are best equipped to strengthen important community assets as well as lift up facilitators of community cohesion, such as placemaking or the arts.

Pictured above: Leigh-Ann Buchanan addresses the audience during the 2017 State of Black Philanthropy in February.

Leverage Your Capital
Ron Frazier emphasized that we cannot separate philanthropy from the capital necessary to make a positive impact on the well-being of Miami-Dade’s black residents. However, the definition of capital has evolved to encompass more than just hard dollars and cents. The capital infusion from which Miami’s black communities will see the most benefit includes a combination of financial, inspiration and social capital.  

Julio Burgos, Nyah Project fellow and senior at Miami Central Senior High School, pressed the panel for their best advice to inspire and encourage young adults. His inquiry underscores the need for more inspiration capital in black communities, that is, opportunities to see racially diverse people in places and positions of authority and influence.

In a city where social capital is the second strongest currency, the chance to increase the number of people that you know is essential to collective upward mobility and greater access to opportunities. As Ira Hall noted, the value of strong relationship networks and coalition building among the public and private sector is a key driver in the success of philanthropic engagements.

Dispel the Myths
Above all, we agreed, the ultimate catalyst for change and improvement is action … individual action. We all have the ability to invest in the current and future well-being of Greater Miami’s black residents and communities. Black philanthropy is not a zero-sum game; it requires us to be inclusive in giving to diverse groups and issues. Let’s dispel the myth that resources are limited and invest in communities that are historically under-resourced, overlooked, but equally worthy of our focus. That investment can take many forms – our time, talents, capital or other resources. And, it’s not unreasonable to expect a social return on investment, in other words, the significant value created by your gift.

The bottom line is: we are all philanthropists. We just may not realize it yet. Facilitators like The Miami Foundation through its Miami Forever Fund are available to serve as your guide. So let me be the first to say, welcome to black philanthropy. This is your first step in building your legacy.

Leigh-Ann Buchanan is executive director of Venture Café Miami.

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