Passion and Catalysts, a Rookie’s Perspective

Benzel Jimmerson is a co-founder of Denver African American Philanthropists. He owns two companies: DestineTree and Diversity Dynamics Consulting where he offers coaching and advocacy for fathers.
The 2012 conference was his first CIN gathering.

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When we flew into Birmingham I immediately knew that I was in a place that had the power of history. To know that I was in the same land Dr. King walked on to change the history and actions of the United States, and so many others gave their lives and leadership to be a part of moved me before I even walked onto the streets. Once I met the participants of the 2012 CIN conference and then took off onto the streets of Birmingham I knew that years of Media were most assuredly wrong. The people of the Birmingham proved it. Every Black face I saw smiled and nodded at me (except for some of the really beautiful ones I would have liked to acknowledge me!). There is some sense of good will, unity, and connection that remains strong in the South, and was epitomized by CIN Giving Circle Members.

Once the 2012 CIN Conference began, I started to see the reality of history, and challenges we are still facing today are far from forgotten or addressed by the philanthropic community. Clearly the smiling and nodding faces I met on the streets were not telling the whole story of conditions in Birmingham. I learned how the Birmingham Change Fund, and other Giving Circles, while in different geographic and cultural landscapes are facing very similar personal and community challenges which are directly related to what people of color are facing all over the nation. What I believe makes members of giving circles unique is that we are the ones who choose to shoulder these issues by putting our time, talent, and treasure to work intentionally in finding solutions. The passion to affect change is living in Giving Circle Members while CIN’s development of a network of members across the country passionately addressing our communities challenges is the catalyst to achieve it.

Benzel presenting in a workshop on Executive Directors of Color.

Those 3 days getting to know members, presenting content (as seen to the left), taking in content eating in fellowship together, and enjoying the city of Birmingham was inspiring to say the least. The key note speakers and panel enlightened my understanding of philanthropy and the diversity of people who participate. The walk down memory lane into the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the 16th St. Baptist Church and other historic sites invigorated my desires to continue working for change and true justice. The people, history, and culture of Birmingham dedicated me not only to a place I have never been before, but committed me to building relationships with BCF, and other Giving Circles, in a hope they would ask me to possibly offer my services to helping them meet their challenges. The 2012 CIN Conference was amazing, helping me realize the great need for Giving Circles and for them to multiply. I am humbled and appreciative for the understanding gained from my “rookie” year.

3 philanthropic leaders in 3 cities: Chris WIlson (of BCF in Birmingham), Flozell Daniels (of New Orleans), and Mark Lewis (of Sankofa Fund in Pittsburgh).

Q: What are some resources that you believe would help our Giving Circle going forward?
A: I recognized much wisdom, ideas, and people I considered “a resource”. I am composing a person map with self-identifying “roles” of those within CIN, BCF, and the Birmingham Community I thought might be key players in the following thought.

I am composing a separate proposal and/or request for the CIN Board The basic idea is that I see the power of giving circles coming from the idea of collectives. Collective shows up many ways in giving circles – in visioning of their focus, the time, talent, and treasure, and in how people work together and pass knowledge – all working for an impact.

So, what I have been thinking about; and can not shake as an idea follows:What if every year we created the tradition of supporting the community that hosts the conference in some way for the year following the annual conference as a national collective.The focus and nature of that support could be (but not limited by):

  • Chosen by the hosting city Giving Circle
  • Be an activity at the conference itself each year
  • Could be determined by the planning of the conference planning committee.

I would encourage us thinking of some ways to “not wait” and start something this year to support Birmingham. I well understand that we all are already super strapped for time and thoughts, but I don’t think this would require anyone to do anything outside of what works for, is in alignment with, and resonates for them. Many members of a circle may not see anyway to be able to contribute, and others may really want to help with what could then be considered a “National Collective Effort of Support” from CIN and it’s 14 member circles.

I see several distinct, practical, and functional advantages to this idea outside of the more philosophical I have already mentioned:

  • Deeper relationships, networks, and community being built nationwide – Much like a Fraternity or Sorority
  • Maximize energy and engagement sustainability of members – after the conference
  • Provide proactive and focused behaviors
  • Possibility of national media attention
  • Ensuring that the cost of the conference is an investment with RFI for CIN and that giving circle.
  • Offers contract, service provision, or recognition for the talents of individual members of the each giving circle like a providers network; which would help with focused recruitment of new members and be consistent with and encourage, building the principals of “keeping resources inside our community and culture” as Tyrone said.

From Birmingham to Denver: BCF member Crystal Goodman (l) and DAAP member Herman White (r).

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