I just love guest blog posts from authors. Today, we’re posting a heartfelt reverence to home from Valaida Fullwood, author of Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists (photography by Charles W. Thomas, Jr.).
Giving Back lifts up seldom-celebrated traditions of giving among Americans of African descent. Rarely acknowledged as philanthropy, these centuries-old cultural customs and beliefs nevertheless continue to have an impact on lives and communities. Images and narratives of more than 200 people commemorate the legacy of black philanthropists—from generous donors of wealth to ingenious givers carving a way out of no way. (For just a few examples of this generosity, some of which are mentioned in Giving Back, read this recent article in the New Orleans The Times-Picayune.)
I hope Valaida’s words get you thinking about your home, wherever it may be, and how you can make a big difference there with a little gift this holiday season.
“No building bears their names. No boardroom displays their portraits. No foundation sustains their legacy. And yet, the philanthropists best known to me are the ones in my family, church and hometown. These are people who showed a profound love for humankind and taught me about giving.”
–Valaida Fullwood, Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists
So much about Giving Back is rooted in Morganton, North Carolina. Though a large share of the book’s stories and photography feature people and places in Charlotte, the city where I now reside, my hometown is without a doubt the book’s epicenter.
Morganton, a hilly prelude to North Carolina’s western mountains, is where I grew up and where my parents still live. My affection runs deep for both the town’s natural beauty and its history and people. It is the place of my father’s birth and where his mother, his mother’s mother, and her mother and all my known paternal ancestors were born, lived and died. But like many daydreaming girls from small towns, I longed for big-city adventures and faraway places all through my childhood and youthful years there.
Only when I left home in pursuit of long-awaited places did I awaken to Morganton’s hold on me. Though this revelation came to light soon after leaving home, it became undeniably clear while writing Giving Back. The close-knit family, wide-ranging networks of friends, nurturing educational environments and shared community values that Morganton provided during my youth shaped me then and also sharpened my sight for a kaleidoscope of opportunities and experiences that were yet to come.
While a high school junior, I was the beneficiary of women at my church who pooled their dollars to give me spending money when I left home to become a foreign exchange student in Bolivia. Their kindness helped provide a yearned-for taste of the world. Upon returning, my appetite for globetrotting had only increased and, as I headed off to Chapel Hill to delve into international studies, family and hometown folks stepped up again. This time, they came bearing graduation gifts, cash slipped in cards, new clothes and advice.
Years prior to high school—in fact, as long as I can remember—I have felt encircled by a community of people looking out for my interests. My memories are filled with Morgantonians fiercely committed to important work, willing to engage in civic causes and selfless in their giving. These influences were strong. And when my sister and I ventured to follow suit with forays into leadership and community service, our efforts were met with encouraging nods and enthusiastic pats on the back. The imprint of such generosity remains with me.
Perhaps it should not have been all that surprising, when decades later the same hometown kindred were there for me yet again. While launching my book project in Charlotte, I was taken aback by unexpected help from home. Childhood friends, former classmates and family were among the first to give, at a time few folks could grasp my vision for the book. Their blind faith, financial gifts and willingness to share personal stories seeded the development of Giving Back.
Of the book’s 60 main narratives and 180 photographs, over three dozen feature people connected to Morganton. Among the project’s donors, more than a dozen hail from home. This trend persisted when I learned Carolyn Sakowski, president of John F. Blair, Publisher, boasts Morganton roots, too, and that our families have shared fond friendships for generations.
My wander-lusting spirit relies on the compass and lessons imparted while coming up in Morganton. In navigating life, it brings comfort. A quick glance at a calendar and I know I left Morganton a long time ago, yet it stays within me. And for certain, it is the heart of my book Giving Back.
Valaida Fullwood is a project consultant, writer, traveler, and consummate idea whisperer. Her areas of work range widely and center on social innovation, education, and the arts. She is a native North Carolinian and resides in Charlotte. For more information, go to givingbackproject.org.