Celebrating Black History Month by Celebrating the Power (and Privilege) of Storytelling

He (and I use that pronoun intentionally) who tells the story owns the narrative. And the fact is, history has largely been written by men, for men. White men. It’s a truth we, at the Case Foundation, confronted directly and are trying to change through our #FacesofFounders campaign, as it pertains to entrepreneurs. The power of storytelling to document history, make lasting impressions and, in fact, set our default images is profound. And therefore, we need to disrupt the status quo of who tells the stories, about whom the stories are told, the images we assign to entire categories of people and, in doing so, directly confront our biases and work hard—with intention—to change them.

As we researched and designed our inclusive entrepreneurship movement, seeking to democratize entrepreneurship to people and places being left behind or out of business startup opportunities in America, we landed on three important roadblocks: access to social capital (mentorships, networks, accelerators); access to financial capital; and access to something we called “inspirational capital”—their inclusion in media stories, popular images of entrepreneurs or stories of entrepreneurship. Our #FacesofFounders campaign was a direct response to aggressively bust the myth that there weren’t already successful entrepreneurs of color and women entrepreneurs, as well as to inspire the next generation of talent required to drive America forward.

Key to driving that campaign forward was to confront the biases that exist in America, to understand that storytelling and images have played a huge role in reinforcing those biases and to use the power of storytelling, and a set of modernized images, to change that dynamic. We put that power to work in our CEO Jean Case’s TED talk last fall.

As we close out February and our celebration of Black History Month, and in celebration of what I hope is a revolution to level the playing field for all individuals—regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation or birthplace—to participate equally in our society and economy, I’d like to share three other TED Talks that continue to inspire me to #GetinTheArena and both deploy the power of storytelling and extend the privilege of the storyteller.

The Danger of a Single Story

This stunning talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie walks us through a long history of literature, news stories and images that have built a singular story around events and people, particularly people of color. She reminds us that the problem is that, beginning as children, these are the stories and images that set our default positions. Worse, they rob people of dignity, reduce opportunities for equality and accentuate our differences more than our similarities. Her parting words? Stories matter; let’s use them to empower, humanize and repair broken dignity.

How to Overcome Our Biases

Vernā  Myers delivers a hard-hitting punch: get out of denial, “color blindness” is a false ideal…a distraction from doing the real work required to reboot our biases. She walks us through the world of brain auto-association with research showing that people—all people—associated white images more often with positive and black images more often with negative. Seventy percent of white people preferred images of white people; 50 percent of black people did too. Whoa! Beyond just the sheer power of her talk, she deploys a tactic that is intentionally intended to change that auto-association—throughout her entire talk, images of beautiful, bold, everyday black men are displayed behind her. Myers challenges us to do three things: (1) accept that bias exists—it’s not that it exists, it’s what we do with it; (2) move toward young black men, not away from them; move toward your discomfort and expand your bubble—just try!; and (3) when you see something, say something—good people can say wrong things, and if not confronted, biases will continue and be passed onto future generations. A must-watch!

Color Blind or Color Brave

Mellody Hobson tells us in this captivating talk that embracing and deploying diversity—of race, gender, intellect, experience—is the smart thing to do, not just the right thing to do. Like Myers, Hobson encourages us to deal with color head on…to deal with its discomfort and relax into it…to be “color brave” if we believe in equal opportunity. Her three calls to action are things most of us can do today: (1) be intentional in hiring decisions—every opportunity you get; (2) observe your environment with intention, and invite people into your life that don’t look like you, live like you, think like you—they will challenge your assumptions and beliefs; and (3) be brave.

Let’s not forget that Black History Month itself was created to rewrite a history that seemed to exclude black people’s role in advancing American innovation, entrepreneurship, society and economy. Each of us, in our own way—big or small—can be part of a movement to drive a more inclusive nation. Be fearless. It’s worth it.

Black History Month: Celebrating African Americans in Philanthropy

This post was written by Stacey Walker on behalf of the Case Foundation. 

As February comes to a close, the staff at the Case Foundation has enjoyed spending the month reflecting on the great achievements and contributions of fearless African Americans that have transformed our communities and the world. These contributions span the fields of medicine, civil rights, arts and culture, and science and technology. And in looking back, we’ve found that the story of African Americans in philanthropy is equally impressive and groundbreaking.

The philanthropic community has been greatly influenced by the work of household names like Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby, and Magic Johnson. These individuals have brought about meaningful change on an incredible scale, and in doing so have impacted millions. In addition to the great works of these celebrated individuals, it’s also important to recognize the efforts of countless other African Americans working tirelessly to affect change through philanthropy.

Oseola McCarty washed and ironed clothes for a living, and one or two dollars at a time, she was able to save $150,000 in her lifetime. She gave it all away before she died to endow a scholarship that would give young men and women in her hometown the opportunity to go to college. Will Allen has championed the issue of food security and sustainability through his urban farming companies. Geoffrey Canada has empowered thousands of young men and women in Harlem through innovative education techniques. And the paragon of hope and generosity within the African American community – the black church – has long been a mainstay of charitable activities, serving as one of the very first grantmaking institutions to black Americans seeking to build schools and providing college scholarships to deserving individuals. Philanthropy throughout the African American community is pervasive, but the truly extraordinary thing that several surveys confirm is that African Americans don’t even view their gifts of time and money as charitable activities, but rather as their collective responsibility to others.

The Case Foundation strives to lift up people and ideas with the potential to change the world, and this groundswell of African American changemakers in philanthropy is encouraging. Giving back and helping others is the fundamental premise of philanthropy and this premise has been a central tenet of African American culture. The distinguished researcher Mary Winters notes in her study on Endowment Building in the African American Community that perhaps out of survival, “Black Americans have been compelled to share and give back from the moment they arrived on the shores of this country. When they have money to give, they give; when there was no money to give, a generous heart, a strong back or a keen mind. As a value, “giving back” is firmly rooted in black history.” Research by the Kellogg Foundation supports this belief. The report, “Cultures of Giving: Energizing and Expanding Philanthropy by and for Communities of Color,” shows that African Americans give away 25 percent more of their income per year than white Americans. These findings go to show just how deep the spirit of giving runs within the black community.

The story of African Americans has been one of continual progress. It began with slaves coming together and sharing secret messages through song to plan their escape to freedom. It was aided by the fearless Harriet Tubman who along with others helped to create a sophisticated network of passageways and hideouts for runaway slaves. The struggle continued onto the fields of battle, where a divided nation confronted the slavery question with arms. After Reconstruction came an even longer battle for equality complete with the protests of millions of people, inspired by the dreams of a young southern Baptist preacher from Georgia. And out of these movements came some of the first institutional giving platforms dedicated to the Black American cause. Dr. Emmett Carson, President and CEO of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, maintains that the era immediately following the Civil Rights Movement gave rise to the professionalization of black charitable giving. This was represented by the National Black United Fund, which was founded in 1972 “to provide a viable, systematic, and cost efficient mechanism for black Americans to make charitable contributions to black American organizations engaged in social change, development, and human services.”

For the first time, people were systematically donating money to causes and institutions that were not necessarily known to them personally, but that they believed would benefit the African American community as a whole. Today, armed with growing capacity, the descendants of slaves now generate philanthropy that benefits many families who continue to struggle both here in the United States and communities in need around the world, just as their forefathers and mothers before them (Winters, 109). A lot these folks may never make the Forbes List of wealthiest people, but their value-add to society is immeasurable. It is an honor and a privilege to salute these individuals during this Black History Month.

Know any outstanding African American professionals in the philanthropic sector? Show your appreciation for them by sharing their name in our ongoing conversation via Twitter. Be sure to use the hashtag #blackhistorymonth when you do. Our staff will be chiming in with their picks as well. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

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