Power, Privilege and Pride: The Museum

Author: Necole S. Irvin

I’ve written previously about my personal legacy of giving, whether it was my foundational understanding of giving from my maternal ancestors, my giving brochure for my nephews or meeting the first recipient of my scholarship fund. All of these posts highlighted concrete examples of my giving legacy, but last month I was filled with something inexplicable as I walked the floors, examined the artifacts and basked in the magnificence of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

I have been sitting with the remembered beauty of this new museum and contemplating words that served as a metronome during the five days I spent in DC. The words that I mentally keep repeating were power, privilege, and pride. When I returned from DC I decided to write about these three words but struggled to get the post finished. A friend’s discussion about the importance of owning our narrative ensured that I completed this post.

I’d like to share my experience of the celebratory days of the opening. I traveled to DC with a group of friends and fellow donors to the museum. From the moment we got to the airport in Houston, we saw Black people who (correctly) assumed we were headed to the museum opening and the pride began. The museum hosted a series of viewings and receptions prior to the opening dedication and three-day community celebration on the Mall. Throughout the City there were also a host of events acknowledging the momentous occasion. I attended a pre-opening reception, the dedication, an insane after party and two additional days in the museum. Being surrounded by Black givers at all of these events was surreal, especially the day of the dedication. Black philanthropists, including my friends, who made donations of varying sizes to ensure that this concept became a reality. Philanthropists that were internationally known and those who were first-time philanthropists. It was a sea of individuals from a diversity of experiences, geography and learnings all focused on a cause. We were one within our diversity of blackness and it was powerful. Power emanated from the individual and the collective and stood tall in the midst of history and place.

Our group rented a house in DC and spent five days reveling in renewed connections, exploring new spaces and enjoying the moment. We acknowledged and celebrated our privilege. We had the opportunity, ability and flexibility to participate in this celebratory time. That privilege is something that I don’t take lightly. As I write about that privilege, I want this post to extend that privilege to others that were not at the event. My hope is that it inspires and motivates the reader to learn more about the Museum, Black contributions to this country and consider supporting this cause. Storytelling has always played a pivotal role in the Black community and it is why Blackwood Advisors encourage all givers to talk about their causes. When was the last time you shared why you give with your family or a co-worker?

The final word that exemplified my time at the new museum was pride. Pride in the leadership and philanthropy that made this happen. The role of leadership cannot be discounted. Mr. Bunch has done a yeoman’s task of taking a concept and making it a reality. As a giver, the leadership of an organization should always be considered. I didn’t have the opportunity to shake Mr. Bunch’s hand or give him an embrace but when I talk about the museum I highlight the role leadership played in successfully building a collection and building a building at the same time. I lift up his capacities and strength and acknowledge their importance. I took pride in him. I took pride in meeting elders that pointed out artifacts that they contributed to the museum.

Blacks in America continue to redefine ourselves and my museum opening experience highlighted the power, privilege, and pride that motivated the creation of our firm – Blackwood Advisors. Our firm brings to the legacy of Black giving intentionality around strategy and purposeful change. Meeting individuals with family artifacts donated to the museum, drinking with change makers whose skills were on display in the thoughtful construction and design of the building and dancing with individuals that have been raising funds for years highlighted the variety of ways each donor includes the museum as a part of their giving legacy. The reason I had the opportunity to experience the museum prior to the opening and attend the dedication is because I am a donor which means it is now a significant part of my personal legacy of giving. As we approach the end of the year and you begin taking inventory, what are the items you included in your personal giving legacy?

Don’t forget to add a trip in person or virtually to the Museum and donate to our museum.

Juneteenth – Arriving at the Freedom Party After the Lights Are Up

Authors: Kelli King-Jackson and Necole S. Irvin

We started our week with a live Facebook conversation on Juneteenth and the legacy of giving. We wanted to talk about legacy giving after the death of Prince but felt even more compelled to discuss this important topic after Muhammad Ali passed away. We define legacy giving as planned giving that is distributed after death. Watch our Facebook Live video to learn more.

While we both live in the Houston, we took different paths to get here. Necole was born and raised in the South and lived abroad and on the East coast before her return. Kelli was raised on the West coast and lived on the East coast before migrating South. Both of our mothers share a name, Emelda, and were born in small towns outside of New Orleans. These commonalities have greatly influenced our partnership and the ways we thinking about our giving. We both want to honor our mother’s while also investing in the development of Black giving in the Southern United States.

Growing up, Necole’s community didn’t celebrate Juneteenth; neither did Kelli’s. When we learned about Juneteenth we were headed toward adulthood and were confused as to why Black people would celebrate learning about our legal status two and a half years late. As we have grown in our knowledge of Black history and the perspective of Black Americans, we now understand that the timing of the knowledge of freedom was not the most important element in the Juneteenth story. The reality of freedom and what it meant to Black people is the actual focal point we should all look to. Freedom was not just about where to go, live or work. Freedom is humanity. Freedom is ever evolving and freedom also includes opportunities for learning and building wealth.

Given all the civil unrest of the last few years, our opportunities for learning and building wealth are being questioned and challenged. Stanford. Ferguson. Baltimore. Charleston. Orlando. Voting Rights. Congress. The Supreme Court. Trump. These signify a receding of life, liberty and the civil rights held dear, even for a short time, by Blacks in America.

The opportunities and importance of freedom are the basis of why Juneteenth has survived over 150 years and stands as the most visible holiday by and for Blacks in America. This year, more than any other in our lifetime, the importance of Juneteenth is clear.

Our freedom is at stake.

This year, one of the most tangible giving legacies of Juneteenth in the South is the revitalization of the historic Emancipation Park in Houston, Texas. Prominent community leaders, politician Richard Allen, Reverend Jack Yates of Antioch Baptist Church and Reverend Elias Dibble of Trinity Methodist Episcopal, all former slaves, pooled funds from the community to purchase 10 acres in 1870 as a dedicated site for annual Juneteenth celebrations. It is one of the earliest documented land purchases in the name of Juneteenth.

Upon moving to Houston, we were both introduced to Emancipation Park as a cornerstone for the Black community. The unassuming community center was noted as a building that had remained standing since 1939 and served multiple functions for the neighborhood. Before 2016 ends, Houston will celebrate a major $33.6 million overhaul to the park.

This long-standing public space in Houston shares an architect with a new national asset for the Black community – the soon-to-open Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). The NMAACH is a brand new, $500 million structure that was built due to philanthropic investments that span the globe. The Gerald B. and Anita Smith Family and Lauren Anderson, America’s first Black principal for a major dance company, are Houstonians among the list of significant donors to the museum. We will be traveling to Washington, DC in September to pay homage to the legacy of our ancestors and our personal philanthropic investments to the development of this structure.

Emancipation Park and NMAAHC are sustaining legacies of freed people – past and present – that represent the cornerstones of the Black community. This legacy includes individuals identifying a challenge – a dedicated place to honor Black history – that cannot be blocked or rescinded. Black leadership, in choosing the land and raising the funds for these facilities, while understated, must be acknowledged. Courage to purchase the land and dedicate it to ensure our Black history lasts beyond any of our lifetimes should be commended.

Foresight and planning are the words that come to mind with the impactful example of pooled giving. We see this legacy in churches that donate land to communities for affordable housing and with families and individuals in the form of giving circles and other types of pooled giving. While Emancipation Park is a well-known story of collective philanthropy there are many other examples across the South within the Black community. In Necole’s first giving video I talk about how her maternal ancestors purchased land and dedicated parcels for a school and a church. Six generations later both are still standing strong.

What is the giving legacy in your community? How will it stand the test of time? Today as we celebrate our history and progress in the freedom journey let’s challenge each other to leave a legacy with our giving for the next generation. Loudly share that legacy for the entire world to know!