By Angela Lindsay
August is Black Philanthropy Month, created in August 2011 by Dr. Jackie Bouvier Copeland, co-founder of the Pan-African Women’s Philanthropy Network as an annual global celebration of African-descent giving. While these facts may be news to some, Foundation for the Carolinas (FFTC) is well aware of the occasion, and chose to observe it this year by celebrating and highlighting the work of one of its special programs that has been serving the Charlotte community for a quarter of a century.
For 25 years, the African American Community Foundation (AACF) has been supporting efforts that promote economic self-reliance, equal opportunity, leadership skills and cultural awareness among members of the region’s African American community. Established in 1993 as a special initiative of FFTC, the organization also serves as a center for African American philanthropic development.
The AACF was started with assistance of two endowments: 1) The Lethia Jones Henderson Endowment was established in 1981 by the transfer of a trust via Henderson’s will to FFTC. It serves as an unrestricted fund for the purpose of meeting needs in health and community services, with an emphasis on service to minority groups; 2) Elizabeth Randolph, a humanitarian and educator, created the African American Endowment Fund to support organizations that promote economic self-reliance, advance equal opportunity, increase opportunity for the economically and socially disadvantaged, develop leadership skills, promote educational advancement and promote cultural awareness.
“AACF is a unique institution, in that it was initially funded with African American dollars, it has always been led by an African American board and solely grants to programs that address disparities in the African American community,” says AACF board
chair Keysha Walker Taylor. “This ‘for us, by us’ model is a rare treasure to have in Charlotte. In fact, to have foundations like AACF in any major metropolitan city is great, but in the South, where African Americans have typically suffered the most, this fund is a necessity.”
Since its inception, the AACF has awarded more than $500,000 in grants to 85 local nonprofits, making its first grants to local organizations in 1994. The AACF board thoroughly reviews the grant applications to understand the organization, its leaders and what impact they expect from the program, Taylor explains, adding that the initiatives AACF funds and the nonprofit leaders of these programs will yield a return on investment for the entire Charlotte region. Priority is given to “seed grants” to initiate promising and innovative new projects by existing agencies or by new organizations.
“Many of the organizations that we provide funding to interact with the people they serve on a daily basis with very limited resources,” says Qiana Austin, vice president and scholarships program officer
for community philanthropy and civic leadership at FFTC. “Once these organizations attend our grant-writing workshops and receive funding from AACF, they become more confident and are more inclined to apply for larger grant funding. AACF helps provide more support for those who are making a true difference in the communities they serve.”
One of the 2019 AACF grant recipients was S.T.A.R.S. Math & English Academy, which increased the number of third- to eighth-graders from underserved and underrepresented communities who participate in its End of Grade (EOG) Boot Camp, enabling these students to increase their performance on state EOG tests in reading and math.
“We are honored to receive a grant from the African American Community Foundation,” says Elijah Watson, the academy’s executive director. “The AACF’s purpose is to help strengthen African American communities, which is also a goal of S.T.A.R.S
Math & English Academy. The funds we received inspired us to help as many students as possible. Lastly, we are grateful to be a part of the AACF family, because of their remarkable history of altruism in the Charlotte community.”
In addition to funding area nonprofits, the AACF provides grant-writing and provides workshops for organizations addressing disparities within the African American community. The group is looking to increase its grant-making from $10,000 last year to $25,000 this year to celebrate its 25 years.
“I see AACF as a leading institution for Black philanthropy in the South,” Taylor says. “In order to realize this goal, we must raise awareness of the foundation and grow the endowment. We’re currently operating with half a million dollars in the fund. If the endowment increases to a million or $10 million and those funds grow in perpetuity, the African American Community Foundation will benefit Charlotte for generations. We see models of this around the country and even in certain Charlotte communities. We are reaching out to individuals and families in the Charlotte region to become donors and supporters to help AACF grow as a vehicle for collective giving.”