Uplifting Change Summit

In the African-American community, we need something better than the "whatever it takes to survive" plan.  We need a "what will it take to thrive?" plan.  The Uplifting Change Summit last week took the challenge on.

 Here are excerpts from remarks made to Summit attendees by Liberty Hill's President and CEO, Kafi Blumenfield.

 "I’m pleased to welcome you all to the Uplifting Change Summit!  Thank you Reverend Masters for starting us off on the right note and to Speaker Bass for her words.

Over the last few months, I’ve been in a few living rooms across Los Angeles talking to small groups of people about the concept and program of Uplifting Change. At each session, I ask the participants – lawyers, doctors, educators, small business owners – “Who here gives to a church?” Many hands go up.  “Who here gives to a sorority or fraternity?”  Hands go up.  “Who here give to an association, a membership organization?”  And hands go up again.  Then I ask, “Who here thinks of themselves as a philanthropist?”  This time, not a single hand is raised. 

Today is about further realizing how we can be more strategic in our giving for the African-American community, owning our role as philanthropists to address many of the unmet needs of our community.  Our ultimate goal is to invest the resources we do have in community leaders and institutions at the frontlines tackling:

  • our broken health care system

  •  dishearteningly low wages

  •  staggering unemployment  (while the unemployment rate fell from 10.0% to 9.7% in January, the rate for black workers – 16.5% –  hardly changed at all)

  •  environmental  injustice

  •  and more

These circumstances call for change. 

The conversations we will have today are directed towards distinguishing strategic philanthropy from uncoordinated charity as a major piece of uplifting change. 

Our goal was to have a small group 75 folks to come together.  We’re delighted to report that, by day’s end, we expect over 140 who care about philanthropy in the African-American community to come together.  While this isn’t the first of these types of conversations and it certainly won’t be the last, it is part of a quilt that we are knitting together to address the needs of our community.


 Growing up in Washington DC, I had the privilege of never going to bed hungry and always knowing where I was going to lay my head down at night.  

 Yet my family wasn’t rich —  rich in love, yes, but we were a middle class family trying to do the best we could.  My mother gave to the collection plate on Sundays, my father gave to associations, they’d give to family members who needed a little extra to get through the month (which at some point would come back to us when we needed a little extra help too).  

When we didn’t have money to share — we would help friends and relatives with our time, advice, spirit and energy. Giving was part of our lives.  But our giving wasn’t strategic.  It was a, “whatever it takes to get by” plan.   

 For many of us, the tradition of giving back is a family tradition. Yet it is also deeply rooted in our history.  We have engaged in philanthropy to survive from our earliest history in this country:

  • As early as the mid to late 1700s we formed mutual aid societies.

  •  By 1800 Black churches provided charitable assistance.

  •  In the 1860s some individual philanthropists begin to emerge.

  •  By the 1900s lodges, and other fraternal organizations had joined the philanthropy infrastructure.

  •  Today we see black foundations.

 Yet more needs to be done.  We need something in addition to the "whatever it takes to survive" plan.  We need a "what will it take to thrive?" plan.  And just like within our families, often times big needs come at hard times, like the times we are in now, but that’s when we roll up our sleeves to try to do a little more.

 Liberty Hill

At the end of this day, we hope that all of us will be inspired by the many others who are walking down this shared path towards giving back to the African-American community. 

 At Liberty Hill conversations like the ones we will have today have been helping us to do more.  Our historic niche in giving has been for social change and providing organizations dedicated to community organizing and advocacy with funding.  We understand that it takes many different types of actions to uplift a community.  Social service all the way to advocacy for systems and laws that will result in long-term change. Within our areas of expertise, we are redoubling our own efforts, and learning from many of you in this room, so that we can direct the resources we do have, even if limited, to support groups doing good work in the African-American community.


 I greatly appreciate the sponsors who made this event possible: The Honorable Karen Bass, Broadway Federal Bank, California Community Foundation, Brotherhood Crusade, 21st Century Foundation, Jemmott Rollins, the Sentinel, Personal Service Plus, Southern California Blacks in Philanthropy, and Southern California Grantmakers. 

 I want to thank my entire team and board for their hard work in preparing for this event and recognize my colleague Vincent Jones, whose leadership is responsible for creating today’s summit.

 Dr King said, “Philanthropy is commendable but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.”  Thanks to all of you for being here to learn, to share your experiences and wisdom with the others in the room, so that through philanthropy, together, we can Uplift Change."


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