Black Philanthropy: An Important Yet Overlooked Part of Black History


If you search for the top philanthropists in the U.S., you might notice a limited representation of Black philanthropists. For example, a quick scan of the following lists shows few mentions of Black philanthropists: The 5 Most Generous People in America (Forbes), Philanthropy 50 (Chronicle of Philanthropy), and The Top 50 American Philanthropists (Bloomberg).

Yet Black philanthropy is becoming an increasingly important community of giving, as evidenced by groups such as Black Gives Back, an online portal for social entrepreneurship and philanthropy, and Black Benefactors, an initiative encouraging philanthropy and community service in the Black community of Washington, D.C.

Given that this Friday, February 1st marks the beginning of Black History Month, and that we are coming off the heels of the MLK Day of Service, we wanted to call attention to how Black philanthropy has grown and evolved over time.

To gain some insight and perspective in this area, we  hosted a Q&A with  Sherrie Deans, Executive Director of the Admiral Center, which works with celebrities and athletes on effective philanthropy and social action.  In 2011, the Admiral Center partnered with Black Gives Back to create the Top 10 Black Celebrity Philanthropists list.

How did you come to partner with Black Gives Back for the “Top 10 Black Celebrity Philanthropists” list in 2011?

Tracey Webb, the Founder of Black Gives Back asked me to serve as a judge. We had very similar perspectives on celebrity engagement. We both agreed that, good, bad, or indifferent, celebrities have the power to influence people to behave or think differently. We hoped that recognizing their work could support and highlight the culture of giving in the Black community and also remind other celebrities what impactful work looks like.

What criteria or research was used to make the list? Has the criteria evolved? If so, how?

We learned a lot between 2011 and 2012. In 2011, our choices were more subjective and to our dismay at least one of the people that we highlighted in 2011 had a major scandal in 2012. As a result, we added a more rigorous assessment process in 2012. We rated the nominees based on their scores in seven areas:

  1. Philanthropy: How much has the celebrity donated from his/her own funds or raised funds?
  2. Awareness: Has the celebrity brought significant awareness to an important cause?
  3. Honors/Awards: Has the celebrity been honored recently for his/her philanthropic efforts?
  4. Leverage: Has the celebrity leveraged sponsorships with a company or created a significant partnership to raise awareness of a cause? Have they integrated their philanthropic work into their brand?
  5. Communications: Do they talk/advocate for their issue?
  6. Social Media: Does the celebrity use their social media platform to affect change?
  7. Knowledge: Does the celebrity demonstrate a deep understanding of the issue? Do they understand policy, support effective programs, participate and encourage partnership and collaboration in the field? Has the celebrity hired or consulted with a philanthropy expert to aid them in their giving?

It made for a more robust selection process and one that we hope will lead readers to think about the many forms that philanthropic engagement can take and the many ways that they can get involved.

Is there a common theme among the repeat philanthropists (other than popular vote) who are mentioned year after year? (For example: Alicia Keys, Chris Paul, John Legend, Steve Harvey, Lebron James, Denzel Washington)

In most cases, the reoccurring theme for the “repeats” was sustained commitment. Alicia, Chris, John, Steve, and Denzel have remained dedicated to their issues and organizations and in most cases grew their involvement over time. In Lebron’s case it was because of the rate that his philanthropy developed in just one year. In twelve months he launched a long-term, drop-out prevention partnership with Akron Public Schools and leveraged at least two of his brand partners to invest heavily in the dropout crisis. Last year, the shot clock at the All-Star game was changed to 26 seconds to highlight the discouraging fact that a child drops out of high school every 26 seconds. When you think about all of that happening in the space of one year it was just too remarkable not to recognize. Oh yeah, and he also won the NBA title, NBA MVP, and a gold medal. Not bad.