Relying on our Strength in Uncertain Times – Philanthropy Across the U.S. Diaspora

Good day to all of you in the ABFE network.

I bring you greetings as we come to the close of Black History Month 2017.  While we were distracted with national news and the new Administration’s abhorrent threats, I hope you did get to participate in celebrations that happen during this time of the year.   For me, this February took on a particular theme: further claiming our “tribe”– people of African descent – to organize power for change in our community.

I recently visited with colleagues at the St. Croix Foundation for Community Development to learn about their work on the island.  What I found was a highly-engaged institution moving several strategies for the betterment of the Crucian population.  What I also found was a Black community living a simpler way of life, with countless assets, strong social networks and a present, but growing, level of Black consciousness.  I am inspired by the leadership of Deanna James, Executive Director of the Foundation; she organized a set of meetings that were steeped in the historic and current day contributions of our people on the island.  For example, we learned about the strength and resolve of our earliest ancestors who staged revolts against the Danes and ferociously fought against enslavement and colonization in all of its forms. We experienced the 2017 Ag Fest, a colorful celebration of the island’s rich assets in land, food and livestock.  And we deliberated with over 25 leaders in the nonprofit sector on strategies to collaborate across the ocean, build on the assets of our people and improve opportunities for the residents of St. Croix and in the states.

I learned of similar history in Puerto Rico as shared by Nelson Colon, President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Puerto Rico when ABFE and HIP visited the island last month. We focused our time exploring the Foundation’s investments in the community of Loiza; a vibrant neighborhood rich in assets, leadership and cultural strength. Sixty-four (64) percent of Loiza’s residents identify as Afro-Latino.  Like in St. Croix, we discussed the early history of enslaved Africans brought to this island by Spain and the how the mix of African, Spanish and Taino cultures make up who lives in Puerto Rico today.  These discussions also raised tough issues of mis-education and internalized oppression; it made me question the language I use to talk about “Black and Brown” communities. There were moments of both pride and pain.

Unlike the American south, the U.S. Caribbean is largely ignored by U.S. philanthropy.  It is a region with countless assets.  But there is also great need – Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are impacted by issues we know all too well; colonization, racism, gentrification and poverty.  Black philanthropic leaders in the U.S. Caribbean are looking to connect with Black leadership here in the States through our mutual history and bonds as people of African descent.  As we power forward in our work to build Black-led infrastructure for social change in our community, we cannot forget this region.

Honestly, I have come to believe that the Black Caribbean might just save us! The U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and other Black countries like Jamaica (along with those on the Continent) offer African-Americans opportunities to collectively build wealth and improve the quality of life for people of African descent. In this time of uncertainty, we have much to learn from the Caribbean as many of the islands still practice the principles of collective responsibility, self-determination, and shared wealth.  It often feels like we’ve gotten away from these values here in the States but I’m sure that the antics in Washington, D.C., have many of us thinking about self-preservation more these days. The writing is on the wall folks–let’s make it happen.