Bookshelf: Giving Back—A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists

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“Giving Back” lifts up seldom-celebrated traditions of giving among Americans of African descent. Rarely acknowledged as philanthropy, these centuries-old cultural customs and beliefs nevertheless continue to have an impact on lives and communities. Images and narratives of more than 200 people commemorate the legacy of Black philanthropists from generous donors of wealth to ingenious givers carving a way out of no way. In Giving Back, Valaida Fullwood poignantly chronicles the African American experience with philanthropy. Intimate vignettes and candid reflections reveal a myriad of philanthropic practices grounded in faith, mutuality, and responsibility. Valaida juxtaposes personal accounts from a cross-section of Black philanthropists with fascinating quotes from givers and game-changers across cultures to illuminate transcendent truths and elicit new thinking about philanthropy.

Photographer Charles W. Thomas beautifully captures images that portray the joy, aspiration, remembrance, and resilience that characterize Black philanthropy. Pairing photographic portraiture and narrative, Charles and Valaida give the reader over 160 artful page spreads that enliven the soul of philanthropy and honor the legacy of America’s Black philanthropists. A perfect gift book, Giving Back offers wells of inspiration for generous souls and lovers of photography, culture, and humanity. Every book purchased keeps giving, because proceeds are reinvested in philanthropic causes and because these stories will inspire readers to give.

Read an excerpt:

Rich Aunt

A soup kitchen? The morning my mother called with news that a great-aunt had begun organizing free daily meals in a fragile part of town is as vivid to me today as it was nearly twenty years ago.

Expectations of service are handed down like heirlooms in my family, and Aunt Dora figured prominently in a long line of givers. Even so, I had never imagined such a bold move or demanding commitment from my grandmother’s reserved younger sister. Widowed and seventy-something at the time, Aunt Dora had selflessly looked after people her entire life as a mother, grandmother, foster mother, den mother and church pastor. I was at a loss as to why she was launching a community food program on the heels of her retirement from the church. Hadn’t she given enough? Wasn’t it time to pull back? To the contrary: It was precisely at this point she sought to commit herself anew.

I later learned it was in meditation during a silent spiritual retreat that Aunt Dora received the answer to her quest. “Feed the hungry” was her directive, and she founded Our Daily Bread Kitchen Inc. Since that day the kitchen has flourished and now serves free meals to over ten thousand people a year. Aunt Dora’s ongoing, obedient responses—constructing a larger, new facility and preparing meals, still, as she nears ninety—have removed any of my questions about the ceaseless bounty of service for fortunate heirs.

Purchase the book.


Courtesy of John F. Blair Publishing and Valaida Fullwood.

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