As I reflect on my experience at our 2012 CIN Conference hosted in Birmingham, AL two weeks ago, not only am I reminded of the rich historic significance of the city, but also, humbled by our collective contributions to its bright future. If a picture paints a thousand words, then those canvases during that weekend displayed an exhibit of creativity, hospitality, spontaneity, and just plain ol’ fun. Notwithstanding, I have aptly gleaned from my friend and fellow CIN board member, Valaida Fullwood, “that there is always a backstory – to the visual.”
I laud the conference planning committee for sponsoring several tour options for our attendees to avail themselves, in order to sample a small portion of the heritage and culture of Birmingham. Consequently, I decided to venture out of my comfort zone and joined the group that was scheduled to visit the McWane Science Center on that beautiful Saturday afternoon. After our short bus ride to the downtown location, we all assembled in a classroom at the Center. We had the honor of receiving a private tour and orientation from Lawrence Cooper, Director of Community Programs and Partnerships at the McWane Center. He shared with us his appreciation for the partnership between the Birmingham Change Fund (BCF) and the Center. We were told that it is one of the premier attractions in the state of Alabama. Lyord Watson, 2012 Conference Chair illuminated the “backstory” even further by sharing that not only has BCF contributed funds to the Center, but that they have been directly involved through their time and talent. Moreover, we were told that the McWane Center partnered with a local public school last year to provide science education to the students and teachers. As a result, the test scores of those students in science have increased substantially. BCF pledged to give the McWane Science Center a $30K grant over a 3-year period. The first $10K has already been donated.
Following the comprehensive orientation and brief Q&A by our group, which included our youth attendees and the young-at-heart, we toured the remainder of the interactive museum. Yes, I must admit, I was enamored by the aquarium and learning about trivial facts regarding those stingrays and sharks that populated the tank. It was equally pleasing to see how much fun all of the kids (not just our CIN young folks) were having that day. The place was full of life and you could feel the energy throughout each floor. Surprisingly, in one of the aquarium tanks I am sure that I saw a fish that closely resembled Nemo. So yes, I found Nemo at the Center. Thus, after I sampled several interactive activities, such as, playing the harp via a laser-type technology, I visited the bookstore in search of a memento before my departure.
Before leaving the museum, I lingered inside at the entrance for a moment before returning to the bus and I happened to look at the list of donors on the glass Donor Wall. Shortly thereafter, Charles Lewis, BCF member and CIN Board member, approached the wall. Initially, I commented to him that I wondered why Birmingham Change Fund was not listed on the Donor Wall. The wall included several levels of support, e.g., Friends, Patrons, and Sponsors. After another minute of searching, I discovered something that made the most impact on me during my experience in Birmingham. I turned to Charles and said, “Look, there is BCF listed.”
The reason why this backstory had such a profound impact upon me is because it is a visual display of one of our core values – Collective Influence. In addition, it was a validation of BCF, as one of our founding charter members of our network, of what happens when individual donors pool their resources together and invest those dollars strategically. Albeit, at that moment, I felt so proud to be a part of BCF and how they had admirably represented our mission and fellow circles with distinction. Although I had not made a direct financial contribution to the Center, I still felt a part of that creative expression of giving, because we all are a part of the village through our connection to CIN. Most notably, I was truly inspired and humbled to gaze upon that canvas, painted for all that enter the McWane Science Center to see. Undoubtedly, we all, as a network, are a part of that creative expression of strategic giving. I am so glad that I decided to attend that tour, because neither Lyord nor Charles knew previously that their noteworthy contribution had been on display on the Donor Wall and listed alongside such a distinguished and diverse group of local individual, corporate, and foundation donors. If it takes a village to raise a child, likewise, it takes our network to continue to inspire, connect and strengthen our community through collective giving.
Vice Chair, Progress Investment Associates
CIN Board Member