America’s Leading Black Philanthropists

From education to health, African Americans pump billions into charities and causes, fueling their clout and mission to change the world

Paying it forward is Darryl Lester’s philosophy on giving back. “I am trying to get people to understand that someone invested in them to help them be where they are today. Now, they can pay something forward for someone who comes behind them,” explains Lester, principal of Hindsight Consulting, a firm that mentors African American philanthropists through a grant from the Ford Foundation.

Lester practices what he preaches: He has launched giving circles in Birmingham, Alabama, and the Research Triangle Park in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Regardless of your financial standing, you can make charitable donations. In fact, you should make it a habit to earmark a portion of your annual income for nonprofit organizations or charities. One of the precepts of wealth building is our Declaration of Financial Empowerment principle No. 9: to use a portion of my wealth to strengthen my community.

BLACK ENTERPRISE spent eight months compiling a list of America’s leading black philanthropists. We contacted approximately 300 people from our Top 50 African Americans on Wall Street, America’s Top Black Lawyers, Top 75 Most Powerful Blacks in Corporate America, and Most Powerful Blacks in Sports lists. To find those among the most generous individuals and private foundations, we sent out hundreds of surveys and pored over tax records, press materials, and other information. We also received leads from organizations such as Associated Black Charities and the Twenty-First Century Foundation (see our methodology).

The editors of BLACK ENTERPRISE recognize that philanthropy is the giving of money, time, and talent. Numerous people are giving back and leveraging their clout by serving on community boards or encouraging their companies to invest in black causes. But for the purposes of this list, we chose to focus on philanthropy in terms of actual dollars. Philanthropy is one of the true cornerstones of economic advancement. If we are to tackle the social ills of black America, then strategic giving must continue to be a big part of that prescription.

Studies show nearly 75% of charitable gifts in the U.S. come from individual benefactors. Traditionally, when people think of a philanthropist the image of a white male comes to mind. But the ranks of African American philanthropists date back to those of historical significance such as Harriet Tubman. Others include contemporary rappers and sports figures such as Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and Tiger Woods. Black philanthropists range from those of modest means, like the late laundress Oseola McCarty who bequeathed a portion of her life savings to provide $150,000 in scholarships for minority students, to billionaire talk show host Oprah Winfrey, who has donated more than $130 million since 2002 to fund myriad causes.

Truth be told, African Americans give more than any other group, donating 25% more of their discretionary income to charities than whites, reports the Chronicle of Philanthropy. On average, black households give $1,614 to their favorite causes. In addition, many black families embrace the practice of tithing—contributing 10% of their incomes to the church.

ROOTS OF BLACK BENEVOLENCE
From abolition and the Underground Railroad

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