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

years, their numbers have swelled from just a handful to roughly 250 groups, with donations totaling $400 million, reports New Ventures in Philanthropy, an initiative of the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers. Lester, who worked briefly as a banker in the mid-1980s before moving into the nonprofit sector, says: “We are building on an old tradition, but we have more access to capital and resources than our parents did, which speaks to the need for us to pool and collectively invest our money.”

African American philanthropists typically give to educational programs with which they have direct experience or offer enrichment and scholarships to high school and college students. Black civic and professional groups, including 100 Black Men and the Links, raise funds for scholarship programs. Individuals such as Matel Dawson Jr., a retired forklift operator at Ford Motor Co., donated more than $1 million to educational institutions and charities before he died in 2002 at the age of 81.

Emerson U. Fullwood, on the other hand, is building on a family legacy of giving. He recalls how his grandfather gave land in Cedar Grove, North Carolina, on which one of the first black churches was built after slavery. His cousin Harlow Fullwood Jr., who owns several KFC franchises, has given, raised, and g
enerated hundreds of thousands for scholarships during his lifetime. In that same vain, Emerson Fullwood created a scholarship fund in 1995. What began as a golf outing between colleagues has grown into an annual fundraising tournament garnering sponsorship from companies such as Nike, Kodak, and Pepsi. Raising $15,000 to $20,000 per event, the Fullwood Johnson Scholarship Fund awards three to five scholarships between $1,500 and $2,000 each.

Fullwood, one of BE’S Top 75 Most Powerful African Americans in Corporate America, is a corporate vice president and executive at Xerox North America. In the last three years he has given more than $80,000 to various charitable and community organizations and educational and religious institutions. His deep conviction is to not just be a giver but also an active participant, which includes serving on the boards of the Urban League of Rochester and the Rochester United Way, where he also chairs a leadership initiative intended to increase African American participation. “I believe that supporting charitable causes that have a significant impact on the community is very important,” he says.

Arts, technology, and health are other areas of concentrated black donor support. For example, St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk created a technology center in San Diego to impart job-related skills and computer literacy. Renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin S. Carson is helping to create an endowment to provide grants to the uninsured and those with limited insurance.

Jada Pinkett Smith and other celebrity alum of the Baltimore School for the Arts owe a world of gratitude to its visionary, Margaret D. Armstrong. Celebrating its 25th anniversary, BSA is a public city school that supplements its curriculum through its endowment and annual fund drives. Each year a graduating student receives The Margaret Armstrong Award

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