Highlighting Black Leaders in Philanthropy & Service
This February, we asked four of our region’s Black leaders in philanthropy and service:
“What were your earliest experiences in giving back to the community (Or, what inspired you to get involved in your community)? How do your values and traditions in philanthropy and service play out in your life today?”
Here’s what they had to say:
Rudene Mercer Haynes
SisterFund Member & Partner, Hunton Andrews Kurth
I cannot pinpoint a particular time when I first gave back to my community. Honestly, my mom instilled in me at a very young age the importance of service and philanthropy without ever using those words. I can remember going door to door in my neighborhood trailing my mom raising funds for the American Cancer Society or the American Heart Association. I remember her giving rides to fellow co-workers who didn’t have cars but needed a way to work (and not asking anything in return). I can remember her bringing food to an ailing deacon from my church who had kidney problems and was homebound. I think these random acts of service and missionary work (my terminology and never hers) stemmed from her Christian faith. The fact that she was a single mother of modest means didn’t stop her from doing what she could with what she had to help others. I too feel called to serve those in my community, whether it’s by donating my time and my resources to causes I feel passionate about or, more importantly, lending my voice to heighten awareness about the concerns that affect the most vulnerable among us.
Albert Walker, III
Director of Health Equity and Community Building, Richmond Memorial Health Foundation
When I think about my early experiences of giving back, I remember my childhood home and our neighborhood in Richmond’s East End. As a family of six, sharing was an expectation and a way of life. We carried that practice of sharing and service out into our community, as did many of our neighbors. Whether it was sharing cups of sugar and sticks of butter or volunteering in a food pantry, my parents and grandparents very much believed Luke 12:48: “To whom much is given, much is required.” Today, I approach my work with humility and grace, rooted in our core family values of community and service. I show up each day because I feel called to support the wholeness of people and communities.
Director of Community Engagement, CARITAS
When I was around eight or nine, I remember going to the skating rink and seeing that they were holding a food drive — if you brought in a can of food, you received free admission or a skate rental. Witnessing the impact of that event left an impression on me. I started participating in the food drives and community feedings that my church organized for people experiencing homelessness, and that led to volunteerism outside of church, too. I was raised with that “it takes a village” mindset. In my community, we rally together to help one another. My mother instilled that in me.
I’ve instilled the same values in my daughters. When I was with Altria, I led Bright Beginnings, a YMCA program that provides underserved children with back-to-school clothing and backpacks filled with school supplies. For fifteen years, my oldest daughter served alongside me, shopping and building those backpacks. Prior to me working at Altria, my daughter was a recipient of that same program. She’s just finished college now, and she’s out in the community volunteering in schools and donating to individuals and worthy causes because that’s who she is. That’s who we are. It's part of our fabric. And today, I feel honored and blessed to be working with CARITAS, making a real difference every day. Life has come full circle and I am grateful.
President & Artistic Director, Elegba Folklore Society
I founded Elegba Folklore Society with a group of people who saw a cultural arts and education void where these disciplines related to African and African American heritage. In this community and in other communities we serve, the Society has worked to its mission to provide artistic excellence and experiential learning through programs of many kinds — performances, classes, festivals, visual arts and material culture, cultural history tours — engagement and transformation. Decades later, the efforts still can be daunting and, simultaneously, quite gratifying. As people desire more and more to become aware, we see so much more to accomplish. We can’t do this without financial support.
Each of us holds power in our hands and in our purses however large or small. The intention of giving, the amount and the consistency all weigh together to create impact. We create our communities with these choices. Each of us can truly make a difference. When we see organizations presenting programs or delivering services that resonate with our ideas about the kind of community we want our families to live in, we should support them with our dollars. We can then see ourselves in this work, feel a part of it and enable it to continue.