African American millennials seek to define ‘young, black philanthropy’

February 24, 2013

Ebonie Johnson Cooper is looking to redefine the modern philanthropist.

Through her boutique marketing firm, Friends of Ebonie, the communications consultant is on a crusade to debunk stereotypes about philanthropy while also rallying the African American community to become better givers.

She and the FOE staff recently held a networking and panel discussion event — called “Defining Young Black Philanthropy” — at the National Council of Negro Women headquarters in Northwest Washington to tackle the challenges facing African American millennials. It’s her way of spurring her peers into greater social responsibility.

“When we think of philanthropy, we think of old, white and wealthy,” she said to a room of 100 African American professionals in their 20s and 30s. “And none of us in here are that.”

Following a mixer that connected donors to a room of nonprofit officials, a spirited panel discussion ensued.

The conversation touched on a myriad of issues, including whether there is a standard dollar amount each person should give, how social media has affected giving and best practices for philanthropy in the African American community.

At one point, the conversation turned to whether wealthy African Americans are doing enough to give back, and by the end of the night, a consensus developed that all African Americans need to do more to hold one another accountable for how they give their time and money.

“We need to make sure that we’re not just talking the talk, but walking the walk,” said Johnson Cooper, 29. “We may not have a lot of money to give, but we need to make sure we give.”

Panel members included Rita Lassiter, secretary of the National Urban League Young Professionals; Clarence Wardell III, research analyst for CNA and co-founder of Tweenate; Joshua Lopez, political adviser and former at-large city council candidate; Stefanie Brown-James, former national African American vote director for Obama for America 2012; and Kezia Williams, chairwoman of Capital Cause. The discussion was moderated by David J. Johns, director of Impact, a civic engagement consulting firm.

Audience members worked in government, nonprofits and business, including for Deloitte, Wells Fargo, Booz Allen Hamilton, H&M and Qiagen.

Johnson Cooper started FOE in 2010 as a blog where she recounted her philanthropic experiences, hoping to encourage people to be more socially active. As the blog gained traction, she made it more than a hobby and began establishing a brand.

“No one else was talking to young, black philanthropists,” Johnson Cooper said. “I knew that I had a niche in that sector and was something that people would listen to.”

She hosted an event during the annual Congressional Black Caucus Week and another philanthropy panel discussion in New York City. She hopes the organization will be the go-to resource for African American millennial philanthropists.

Nonprofits that attended expanded their donor pool and professionals signed up to be volunteers.

Michelle in Training, a youth development nonprofit for girls, received 20 sign-ups and met three other nonprofits that it looks to partner with.

“One thing that’s really important is that our girls constantly interact with young black professionals, because its not something they see everyday. So being in a room like this was perfect for us,” founder Kat Calvin said.

Other nonprofits that attended were D.R.E.A.M. Life, A Legacy Left Behind, Dreams Work, Black Benefactors and TheMusicianShip.

Vanessa Small covers philanthropy and nonprofits for Capital Business. She also spotlights newly appointed executives in the New at the Top column, which chronicles their journeys to the top. Small was raised in Orange County, Ca. and graduated from Howard University.
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