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!