For the everyday person, the wealthiest are the ones we usually picture as the great philanthropists of our age. However, for writers Valaida Fullwood and Charles Thomas Jr., the gift of giving doesn’t need money to support it because for them, a simple photo in an exhibit can give greater credence and honor than all the wealth in the world.
The idea came together eight years ago when Fullwood and Thomas Jr. had the thought of showcasing philanthropy within the African-American community, which had largely been overlooked and left unnoticed. Their artwork was showcased again Tuesday evening to a crowd of almost 50 in the African American Cultural Center at the Soul of Philanthropy event.
The goal of the event was “To honor, celebrate and sustain the rich tradition of giving in the African-American community,” according to Dawn Morgan, the new assistant director of the African American Cultural Center at NC State.
Though the two thought the project would take no more than nine months, it wasn’t until four years later that the book was finally published.
“Philanthropy is deeper than your pockets,” said Fullwood, co-writer of “Giving Back.” Rather than simply highlighting people who gave the largest dollar amounts, the project was meant to give the spotlight to the humble givers who due to circumstance would never have been remembered for the acts of charity.
To highlight the essence of the subjects in their acts, black and white photography was used. This technique was employed in a use of environmental portraiture to naturally display philanthropy’s aspects of social reform, giving, improvement and civic engagement.
Yet the book was only the start of when Fullwood and Thomas Jr.’s journey to completing the full exhibit to showcase globally. It took another four years until the gallery, now titled “The Soul of Philanthropy: Reframed and Exhibited,” was finally opened on Feb. 20, 2015.
More than 400 people showed up for the opening of the original exhibit at Johnson C. Smith University.
“The project is a great catalyst for conversation for these kinds of gatherings,” said Thomas Jr., co-writer of “Giving Back.” “In today’s world, it is important for people to start talking about giving back to these communities when many opinions of them are grim.”
With the use of modern day media, a negative view of the African-American community has been created, causing many to look poorly toward blacks as well as leaving many blacks left with dejected spirits, according to Thomas Jr.
“This project was inspired by the negative perceptions to create positive images,” he said. “By creating light from the darkness, the media would be inclined to shift its perception of African-Americans and more positive representation could start occurring in the forms of radio, television and even film.”
For many African-American students, especially at NC State, it is important to see a better outlook for blacks in order to encourage the success of the futures. Marshall Anthony Jr., a graduate student studying higher education administration, commented during the opening talk about how he, “as a black boy,” felt inclined to give up on his academic pursuits during his first semester as a freshman at NC State. However, with the help of the African American Cultural Center, he was given the boost he needed to finish his undergraduate session and pursue a doctorate in the near future.
“How you can give” are some of the words the director of the African American Cultural Center, Frances Graham, used to define philanthropy. Through the work of this exhibit, honoring and remembering those who gave before us is a way each of us can give back to our communities.