Byline: Susan LaTempa
On February 18, Liberty Hill hosts the second annual Uplifting Change Summit, an invitational gathering of African American and ally philanthropists, to focus on practical tools and strategies to promote social justice in Los Angeles.
We spoke with Kafi D. Blumenfield, President and CEO of Liberty Hill.
KB: Liberty Hill was inspired by the long African American tradition of giving to the community through churches, bridge clubs, fraternal organizations and individual efforts. Sometimes this is a hidden history and we don’t always realize how central philanthropy has been to our community’s achievements. We have been inspired by how often the Black community connects philanthropy with social justice activism.
Here in L.A., there are many examples. Bridget “Biddy” Mason, arrived in California as a slave, but in 1856 successfully won freedom through the courts for herself and her extended family, then invested her earnings as a midwife to buy real estate and become the city’s most noted philanthropist. Another example is the Los Angeles Forum, a discussion and action group started here in 1903 by J.E. Edwards, Jefferson Lewis Edmunds and Frederick Roberts. Its political agenda was entwined with raising money for charities, relief programs and scholarships.
One of the forum’s scholarship recipients was Ruth Janetta Temple, a 1920s-era physician who with her husband funded the Temple Health Institute, a nonprofit community clinic health and education program that became a model for work by the Los Angeles Health Department. And it may be hard to believe that a Hollywood celebrity’s philanthropic work has gone uncelebrated, but did you know Hattie McDaniel, thanked by Mo’ Nique last year in her Academy Award speech, was a Sigma Gamma Rho member who started her own group dedicated to raising money for charitable causes called Les Femmes Aujour d'hui (Women of Today)?
Or think of attorney Crispus Attucks Wright, son of a former slave, who, in 1997 made a $2 million donation to USC, his alma mater. At the time, it was the largest donation the university had received from an African-American and, in funding scholarships for law students who would practice in underserved communities, it was clearly a part of his life’s work in civil rights.
Is there a reason that Liberty Hill is focusing on Uplifting Change at this particular time?
Although we’re hearing about signs of an economic turnaround, it’s clear that it will take longer in California, and particularly in the African American community there are few signs of improvement. Unemployment, especially among young Black men, continues at extremely high levels and people are not seeing opportunities for financial growth.
Given the deep cuts in government programs that benefit the community, the burden on nonprofits and on nonprofit leaders is intense. This is a time when they are needed. The leaders know their organizations have the talent, strategies and will to address these tough issues—but they need the resources. So it’s up to us in the communities to give and to give more.
Liberty Hill makes grants to grassroots community organizations and it offers training and technical support to community leaders. How does having a conversation about philanthropy fit into promoting “Change. Not Charity.” in Los Angeles?
Liberty Hill is a public foundation. We only exist because individual community members roll up their sleeves and get involved by giving in support of community leaders working in the neighborhoods most affected by injustice and disparities. One in every four African Americans lives below poverty level. One in every three African American children in L.A. lives in poverty. Our economic justice work is critical to the African American community and the community at large.
Liberty Hill has sponsored or been part of many conversations about philanthropy over the years but we have seen how women and people of color and lesbian and gay people have often been left out of traditional philanthropic discussions. There are a growing number of institutions such as the 21st Century Foundation in New York and Gill Foundation in Colorado that are trying to turn this around, and we are joining them with our efforts here in L.A.
On February 18, we’re bringing together African Americans and allies to talk about how we all can give more of our time and money to bring social justice and economic justice opportunities to L.A. and especially to the African American community. In coming months, we will be sponsoring additional conversations through house parties and other programs to discuss particular philanthropic strategies and specific needs of the Latino, Asian-Pacific Islander and LGBT communities.
We are opening the door to donor-activists throughout Los Angeles who want to learn more about how philanthropy, and funding community organizing in particular, can bring real change.
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