Giving Black: A Q&A with Veronica Fleming and L. Robert Bolling
How has Black philanthropy shaped our region? What does Black giving look like today, and what could it look like in years to come?
To answer these questions, SisterFund, Ujima Legacy Fund and the Community Foundation have come together as equal investment partners to bring the Giving Black study to our region. We sat down with two members of the Giving Black: Greater Richmond steering committee: L. Robert Bolling, Ujima Legacy Fund member and CEO of ChildSavers, and Veronica Fleming, SisterFund member and Executive Director of Partnership for Families. These leaders share their insights into this process—and a glimpse of their lives beyond their work—below.
If you are interested in taking the Giving Black: Greater Richmond survey, click here.
What is the purpose behind the Giving Black study?
L. Robert Bolling: This study is about telling the true story of philanthropy for Black people. I think there’s this hidden, underlying view that Black folks don’t give, when in fact we give greatly, and we give beyond our faith institutions—often, we give because our lives or the lives of our loved ones have been impacted by an issue, and we give to that issue. We give of not just our treasure, but of our time and talent. What people don’t often see is that Black people give to make sure that the next generation of Black folks coming forward can serve in roles like Veronica and I serve today. I think that’s a huge part of philanthropy that we often miss, and the value of that is priceless.
Veronica Fleming: And too, Robert, I think that the narrative about Black people giving—that Black people don’t give—is still a huge part our culture, of how even Black people think about Black people. I’ll never forget sitting in rooms with nonprofits and other groups, talking about how to fund our systems change work and hearing people say that the idea of approaching the Black community, including Black churches, was not ever on the table because “Black people don’t give.” That was the notion. And this is an opportunity to change that whole notion.
RB: You’re absolutely right, and that perspective that we don’t give is so wrong, it drives me crazy.
One of the reasons that I got involved with the Ujima Legacy Fund comes out of this story, which is so poignant to me: Ujima had been doing some preliminary work, having conversations in barber shops and with men from across the community, and then they decided to do a project at one of the local public schools. At the end of that project event, they asked one of the young boys who attended about who he thought made the event possible. That young boy said, “Where’s the white man?” All these Black men are standing there, and he’s looking for what I would call the “white savior.” It made me think, I’ve got to get involved in this work and help young men who look like me understand that we are there for them, too.
I’ll say this, too, because I think it’s a really important point: there’s tremendous power in the intentionality of changing your network. The reason that the majority population doesn’t understand that Black people give is that the majority population is a lot more segregated than they want to believe. If you don’t have people who don’t look like you in your network, there lies the problem. If you don’t have relationships with people, you can’t understand how they give—and philanthropic work is all about relationships.
What this study will mean for the future of Black philanthropy in Greater Richmond?
VF: Part of this is helping people re-frame the way they think about their giving—that whether they give their time, talent, or treasure, their giving is philanthropy. And by quantifying Black giving in our region, we will be lifting up a level of power and impact that we never think about—the idea of, how can we use our dollars and our will to impact things that are of importance to our community, our families and our future?
This study will also help people understand that there is a network of folks out there who think in common ways about what’s important, and organizations who are supporting community initiatives can look and say, “Wow, I’m getting this percentage of my money from the Black community. Maybe I need to rethink how I allocate my dollars so that it impacts issues of importance to this particular community.” It’s having the philanthropic community take Black giving seriously.
RB: I’m going to say, in the sports vernacular, “slam dunk.” That’s exactly it. It’s about changing this community so that it recognizes the power and the impact of Black giving.
Is there anything you’ve learned in this process so far that you think people might be surprised to know?
VF: We’ve got an advisory board of 25-30 people, and every time we get together, it’s like these lights come on—there actually are people talking about this issue, talking about things that are of importance to me. I’m a part of this network of people I didn’t even know existed. It changes the way we talk about money—we don’t talk a whole lot about our money in our culture, but this is an opportunity to shine a light on a wonderful aspect of our community. The enthusiasm and the excitement about these possibilities is really gratifying to see.
RB: This work is not just about what we as Black philanthropic givers are doing. This work is about helping the community as a whole understand that all of us contribute to the well-being of this community. These days, we talk a lot about equity and inclusion, but we need to break down walls of discomfort and help foster a conversation that is not always looking at communities of color as deficit communities, but as asset communities. I think this study is helping the broader community lean into its discomfort about its views around Black giving.
What do you do outside of work?
RB: I now have five grandchildren, three boys and two girls, and they are the joy of my life. And I don’t play enough, but I love to play golf. I stink at it, but I absolutely love it. And even though I work with children every day, the time that I spend volunteering with kids is an absolute jewel. I’m mentoring kids on two sides of our community, if you will—I’m mentoring an elementary-school-aged, public school kid who is Black, and I’m mentoring an adolescent who is in private school and is white. I just love listening to them talk about their dreams and their possibilities.
VF: I’d say there are three things that I do outside of my job. One is SisterFund work, which takes a tremendous amount of my time, energy, and my love—and I absolutely love working with these amazing women. Number two is, I spend a huge amount of time at church. I lead a ministry and I sing, and that’s one of the things that feeds me. I love being in that supportive and cool environment. The third thing is my nieces, and I spoil them six ways from Sunday. I don’t have grandchildren, but I spoil the daylights out of my nieces.