African American Legacy Fund of Indianapolis

Members of the African American Legacy Fund of Indianapolis steering committee celebrated a partnership with Central Indiana Community Foundation at an event in April. The Legacy Fund will educate community members about issues facing the local African American community and develop civic leaders, along with making investments. (Photo provided)

It’s been a little more than four months since Central Indiana Community Foundation unveiled its five-year strategic plan for Marion County and announced it would partner with the African American Legacy Fund of Indianapolis to dismantle racism. It was a boon for the philanthropic initiative, made up of volunteers, letting the steering committee move ahead with fundraising and start making plans for how they’ll use the money.

August is Black Philanthropy Month, a time to recognize the role of Black philanthropists and quiz their future.

A new set of challenges await the Legacy Fund, which will educate community members about issues facing the local African American community and develop civic leaders. The fund will include a giving circle, where donors go through a year of education on issues in the community and decide where they want their money to go. It will also have an endowed fund, which leaders want to get to $10 million in 10 years.

Eight steering committee members and 100 founding members need to decide where they’re going to put that money. Similar funds have a focus on specific issues, but that’s not what this Legacy Fund will be.

In the months leading up the formation of the Legacy Fund, Kiahna Davis, a steering committee member, estimated there were three similar groups forming around the same time. They came together in late 2018.

Roderick Wheeler, the first founding member and a member of the steering committee, said passion is what brought everyone to the table, but it’s going to take more formal structures, including various committees, to guide their giving.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” he said.

Once the Legacy Fund has its 100 founding members in place by Nov. 1, they’ll begin the process of building leadership teams and committees, which Wheeler hopes will make it easier to determine their priorities.

“I think all eight of the steering committee members have a different focus, but that’s what makes us unique,” said Tavonna Harris Askew, a steering committee member. “It’s probably really wonderful because we have eight different ideas in eight different focus areas.”

There will be a constant point of unity, though: A philanthropic initiative with African American leadership should be in the best position to help African Americans and educate other organizations about how they can do the same.

“Traditional philanthropy, they don’t understand some of the organizational mechanisms that the Black community uses that I think an all-African American board understands,” Davis said, adding that “traditional philanthropy” is influenced by wealth and usually led by white people.

There are organizations out there — sororities, churches, etc. — that traditional philanthropic initiatives often overlook because leadership doesn’t recognize the importance of those institutions for African Americans. Or they don’t know how to get involved.

“When you look at things in our communities today,” Askew said, “there are 10,000 problems, and at some point someone has to prioritize the problems. What I think is important may not be what you think is important. There are issues that are prevalent in the African American community that we think are important that should be in the top 10.”

As of Aug. 23, the Legacy Fund had $185,000 in pledges. Founding members — which can include families — contribute $2,000 and can make payments, as long as everything is in by Nov. 1. Central Indiana Community Foundation will match $100,000.

Davis said 100 founding members have made at least a partial payment, and the steering committee will discuss whether to open that up to more people.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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