Elijah Ross may not be the first person to come to mind when you think of a philanthropist. At 19, the sophomore at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs is just beginning his academic career. It will probably be many years before Ross has an established profession and a network that will allow him to make meaningful financial contributions to nonprofit organizations whose work he admires. He’s not a donor, yet.
However, Ross is a philanthropist — among a new generation of leaders who carry on a long legacy of giving within the African American community — in both old and new ways. What Ross gives is his time, his abundant energy. As a student at Eagle Crest High School, he was a member of the Kappa League. Today, he is a recipient of a scholarship from the Delta Eta Boule fraternity, a men’s organization, and serves as a nonprofit summer intern with The Denver Foundation.
“I’m where I am, right now, because of all those who gave to me, many who are sitting right here today,” he says of the group featured on the cover of this month’s Denver Urban Spectrum. “I want to get to a place where I am able to give back and also help those who come after me.”
August is Black Philanthropy Month – a chance to reflect on the legacy and impact of African American giving across the country and in Colorado. In Metro Denver, families, faith-based congregations, organizations, and generous individuals have kept giving traditions alive for decades. Denver Delta Eta Boule, which has roots that date to 1921, has distributed more than $300,000 in scholarships for rising African American men since 1998. The Denver Chapter of The Links, Inc., an African-American women’s organization formed in 1952, has contributed more than one million dollars and more than 325,000 hours of community service to organizations and activities that work to enrich the lives of others. And the many African American sororities, fraternities, organizations, and groups who invest countless hours, expertise, and financial contributions for the betterment of the Greater Metro Denver community shows that Black philanthropy is alive, active, and expanding in traditional and nontraditional ways.
Nationally, giving among African Americans is increasing among members of Generation X and Millennials as nonprofits and foundations learn to engage them in new, culturally relevant ways. Excitingly, the definition of what it means to be a “philanthropist” is broadening to include all of the ways that individuals and families make positive contributions to their communities – now and in the future.
When you think of philanthropy, think of the “Four T’s.” There are four types of philanthropic gifts: Gifts of Time, volunteerism and service work; Gifts of Talent, mentoring, lending expertise, and nurturing leaders; Gifts of Treasure, financial gifts including donations, tithes, and investments; and Gifts of Testimony, sharing traditions and news about important work and its impact, calling others to action.
Here, we celebrate individuals who exemplify the spirit and inclusive nature of Black Philanthropy in Metro Denver. Some come from families with established histories of giving. Others, like Elijah Ross, are helping to widen the gates of giving to all who have something to contribute.
The Time Givers
In her 25 years as a financial planner, Myra Donovan has helped hundreds of African American clients manage and grow their money. A volunteer professional advisor to The Denver Foundation, Donovan gives by sharing what she knows — and leveraging assets for the greater good.
For the Haynes sisters – Allegra, Khadija, and Mary – giving through service is a family affair. Their mother, Anna Jo Haynes, is a member of the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, a founder of the Head Start program, and a legendary advocate for children in Denver. Today, her daughters contribute to the community in a myriad of ways. Allegra, better known as “Happy,” is a lifelong public servant with a passion for children’s issues. She has distinguished herself as a member of both City Council and the Denver Public Schools board; a co-founder of Mile High Youth Corps, and a Denver Link. She also served as a liaison to former Denver Mayor Federico Peña. Khadija has been involved with so many civic and community organizations that even the partial list is long. She is a member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority who has also donated time and expertise to the United Church of Montbello, Colorado Black Women for Political Action, Colorado Black Roundtable, Colorado Black Arts Movement, Denver Center for Performing Arts, Montbello Organizing Committee, and many more. For Mary, education is her focal point of service. A graduate of East High School and Stanford University, she helped first-generation college students get into and get through her Ivy League alma mater. She enjoys watching the successes of more than 3,000 Daniels Fund Scholarship recipients which she’s managed for 16 years. Mary has served on many boards including Metro Volunteers, Judi’s House, and the Mental Health Center of Denver.
All of these busy women make time to serve; they are philanthropists.
The Talent Givers
In a giving circle, people with similar visions and backgrounds come together to amplify their collective impact. It’s a new trend in philanthropy — and it’s growing in Denver, thanks to the efforts of some very talented young leaders. Formed in 2012 in partnership with The Denver Foundation, Denver African American Philanthropists (DAAP) is the largest men’s giving circle in the West. Each year, its members provide funding, mentorship, and support to organizations that support children and other vulnerable populations.
Two of DAAP’s members — Javon Brame and Eddie Koen — share a brotherhood in the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. This year, they also share DAAP’s commitment to addressing systemic issues faced by Black males. The group recently awarded grants to the National Black Child Institute (Denver Affiliate) and Second Chance, Inc., which helps formerly incarcerated men and women find footing in society. Brame, a Denver native, is guided by a quote from Maya Angelou: “When you get, give.” Koen, a member of The Denver Foundation Board of Trustees, is an entrepreneur who uses his business savvy and his law degree from Samford University to support a number of organizations including the Rocky Mountain Black Economic Summit and Denver Health. Koen will be receiving a master’s degree in management from Harvard University in 2017.
When women come together in circles, powerful things happen. That’s clear from the work of Nneka McPhee, co-founder (with Tanaka Shipp) of Sisterhood of Philanthropists Impacting Needs (SPIN), a women’s giving circle, also housed at The Denver Foundation. Since its founding in 2014, SPIN has grown to 13 members and generated more than $5,000 in gifts for Florence Crittenton High School and families in needs. LaRae Scott Jennings, an educator with Girls, Inc. of Metro Denver and a graduate of Chamber Connect, is one of SPIN’s newest members.
For their skill in building networks and collective impact and engaging more people of color in all kinds of giving, Brame, Koen, McPhee and Shipp are philanthropists.
Givers Of Treasure
For Denise Burgess, nurturing the next generation of philanthropists starts with her family. A member of The Denver Foundation’s Board of Trustees as well as a fund holder, Burgess is teaching her daughter, now a college student, about the responsibilities and rewards of being a donor and steward of charitable gifts. A former member of Jack and Jill of America, Denise supports STEM/STEAM education and programs for girls of color.
Giving is also a family value for Kathryn and Jim Kaiser, who have made philanthropy and service a cornerstone of their 25 years in Denver. Between them, they have been involved with scores of organizations including the Assistance League of Denver, Western Fantasy, Mount Saint Vincent, Denver Chapter of The Links, Inc., Delta Eta Boule, Executive Leadership Council, and The Denver Foundation’s Civic and Education Advisory Committee. The Kaisers give generously through a Denver Foundation donor-advised fund, and their daughter, Lauren, is learning the ropes.
Born and raised in Five Points, Matthew Burkett considers himself a serial entrepreneur, a title borne out by the many businesses he’s developed in real estate, technology, and software through the Flyfisher Group. He put his business savvy to brilliant use in 2006, when he redeveloped Lincoln Hills, a historic African American resort in Black Hawk, CO. Today, Lincoln Hills Cares welcomes 5,000 children to the property each year and provides $5 million in grants to youth organizations including Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Denver, YMCA, cityWILD, and ELK. Over the years, Burkett has employed more than 800 people from the Five Points area, including 40 youth during the summer, and has donated $130,000 in scholarships.
The White Rose Foundation is yet another powerful African-American-women-led philanthropic organization supporting efforts in the Metro Denver African American community. Founded in 2007 by the Denver Chapter of The Links, Inc., its current president Wanda Pate Jones was the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board for 27 years. “After retiring a year ago, I decided to dedicate a good amount of my time to the White Rose Foundation. I want to see the organization’s endowment grow so we can do even more,” Pate Jones says.
For providing nonprofits, service organizations, and youth with funds to pursue their missions and dreams, and for passing down the importance of responsible sharing their treasure, Burgess, the Kaisers, Burkett and all members of the White Rose Foundation, are philanthropists.
Al Cooper, as the president of Delta Eta Boule’s Denver chapter, has no shortage of stories to illustrate the organization’s work. Each of its 52 members is very active in the community, and serves as board members and volunteers for dozens of organizations. One of those success stories is about the Delta Eta Boule Institute for Professional Development, a program created by Al, in partnership with Jim Kaiser. Through the Institute, young men who receive four-year college scholarships are paired with Delta Eta Boule members, who mentor them over the four-years while preparing for the “world of professional competition.” This invaluable person-to-person mentorship not only supports the success of each young man, it creates a pipeline for leadership in philanthropy.
LaDawn Sullivan spends most of her time speaking, thinking, writing, and educating others about how to engage people of color in philanthropy — and how to celebrate African American philanthropy. Sullivan is the president of the Denver Chapter of the Links, Inc., as well as, Director of Community Leadership for The Denver Foundation, where she oversees the initiatives to expand inclusiveness and racial equity, the Strengthening Neighborhoods Program, and the EPIC Initiative to Elevate Philanthropy in Communities of Color. This month, EPIC’s funding has been renewed for three more years, by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. In Sullivan’s words, this time will help EPIC “dispel the myth that people of color are only on the receiving side of philanthropy. We, too, are givers, and leaders in the supply side of philanthropy.” She says, “We need to elevate the vibrant history and tradition of varied ways giving happens within African American communities. The ‘face of philanthropy’ is colorful and different from what many people think it is.”
For sharing stories and powerful messages that invite dialogue and inspire action, Cooper and Sullivan, are philanthropists, too.