Our kids were ages 3, 5, and 7. At that age, they hear and repeat everything. My husband and I were having discussions about our family legacy. How we wanted to be remembered. My mentor introduced me to giving circles as listened to my ranting about wanting to live an inspired life before my children. She said, “You should meet these two young brothers from Raleigh.” I got a telephone number from a Powerpoint presentation from a philanthropy session she had attended in Alabama. I called. A warm “Hello” was my first introduction to Darryl Lester, Athan Lindsay and CIN.
In 2006, there were three of us from Charlotte who attended CIN’s Annual Conference in Raleigh – Valaida Fullwood, Tamika Lester, and myself. We took a group photo as the “Charlotteans,” smiling for the camera as we embarked on redefining philanthropy for our generation. We didn’t have a name. But the thought of expressing my “love of humankind” resonated within me.
Our circle began to meet on a monthly basis. We became the New Generation of African American Philanthropists, aka NGAAP-Charlotte. We created a theory of change and had many conversations about how we would invite our friends into the circle. I remember saying, “My friends don’t even know what philanthropy is.”
Embracing the notion of giving back became easier when I began to think about the many ways we, as a people, give and love. The original definition of philanthropy as love of humankind began to unfold for me. I remembered a generous donor giving anonymously so that kids like me, who lived in the inner city, could experience summer camp on the white sands of Lake Michigan. It was there I watched the sun rise over the dunes for the first time at Camp Miniwanca. I will never forget lifetime friends I met there. I cried like baby when I had to leave. My life was changed forever because of the generous spirit of another.
As NGAAP-Charlotte, we shared so many stories of giving. We began to discover our collective power. I had my three kids in tow at every meeting. We met at local restaurants, cultural centers, and circle member’s homes.
My little ones never missed a meeting. They could be found whispering quietly in a corner, playing a video game, or giggling away as the grown ups strategized about how we pool together a dollar a day. By the end of the night, my children had usually eaten up all of the food and slept through the philanthropy talk. My oldest son could not stay up past 8:00 pm, so we usually had to carry him to the car after each meeting. But, they were listening.
My daughter is 12 now. A year ago, she let me know that giving circles were not just for adults. In her “tween” way, she said how “Kids can do that too – ”
I listened to her passion as she shared with me what she imagined to be a circle of kids giving back.
We fumbled through various themes and encountered insurmountable fears over a year’s time. The biggest fear for her was the fear of failure. The “what ifs” became so real to her that she stopped dreaming and talking about the giving circle altogether. She experienced real anxiety about being accepted as a leader. She was concerned about whether or not her peers would receive her. She gave up long before getting started.
I had many “Mommy moments” when I wanted to tell her what to do. Instead, I resisted that temptation and held back until she felt the confidence to begin again. I let her know that even adults grapple with the fear of failure.
“You will make mistakes,” I told her. “But quitting is not an option.” We agreed that if she were willing to live out her passion, her family would have her back.
FaJha has always kept me on my toes. When she was 7 she began asking about money. “Should I save it? Am I going to have a bank account? Should I put it in church? Can I buy candy?” As a Mother, I struggled to tell her that I did not do so well with my own finances. When I was a child, no one was talking about money. All I heard was, “Money don’t grow on trees.” So, she and I began learning together and we brought other Moms and daughters alongside us by creating First Purse, Inc.
Since 2007, First Purse has been teaching girls to save, invest, and give back through an innovative six-week program called “Purses & Promises.” We incorporated “Giving Back” into Week 5 of the sessions in 2011. The assignment for the girls was to collect all of the loose change they had at home and to bring it in a container to the next meeting. They were also asked to research organizations that were making a difference in Charlotte. Members of NGAAP-Charlotte came to this session and walked our young donors through selecting an organization to be the recipients of their collected funds. The savvy group of 16 girls have adopted Crisis Assistance Ministries as the organization where they will donate their time, treasure and talent to in 2012. The girls chose Crisis Assistance because it helps people with needs without expecting anything in return.
In January 2012, the group of young philanthropists will expand their collective power even further. The Love in Motion Giving Circle will be launched under the protective umbrella of First Purse. We will use the giving circle model to introduce girls ages 8-12 to civic engagement, community service, and collective giving.
Who would have ever imagined that the organization that my daughter inspired will now become an incubator for her kid-driven giving circle?
“I am really thankful for the people that have my back,” FaJha says. “Especially my Mom.”
Together, she and I are living out our family legacy, loving through giving, while making a difference in our community. I dedicate this story to every reader who has ever believed that they can be the change they want to see in this world. Keep on believing, keep on talking, keep on carrying the kids along because, quiet as kept, our children are listening.
Rev. Renee Bradford is a member of NGAAP-Charlotte and a marathon-running mom. Renee is Founder of First Purse, Inc. and has received the United Nations Program Excellence Award and Koinoiah Magazine Stewardship Award. She is Associate Minister at Mount Carmel Baptist Church.