Recently I had the pleasure of attending an event held annually by a local philanthropic organization-Chicago African Americans in Philanthropy (CAAIP). The organization, a professional development group, brings together like-minded individuals from private and corporate foundations for meetings and networking to further the dialogue on diversity in our field. The organization also offers students of color scholarships to explore careers in philanthropy. I discovered the group a few years ago as I was forging my path and have been a member ever since.
The annual event, the Handy L. Lindsey Jr. Award & Lecture on Inclusiveness in Philanthropy, each year honors an individual whose leadership and commitment to inclusiveness has helped maintain a public conversation on the importance on diversity in the philanthropy field. Past recipients have included Anne Roosevelt (Boeing), Aurie Pennick (The Field Foundation of Illinois and my current Executive Director) and Nicholas Goodban (former VP of Philanthropy at the McCormick Foundation). This year’s honoree was Amina Dickerson, former Senior Director of Global Community Involvement at Kraft Foods.
Even though the awards ceremony is only in its sixth year it is no less significant in its meaning. Amina’s speech was self-deprecating, enlightening and emotional. She recounted her early days in the nonprofit and philanthropy field being only one of a handful (if that many) of African Americans practicing the craft. She reflected on the isolation she felt and lack of mentors that existed at the time. During her speech I looked around the auditorium at the more than 200 attendees—a truly inspiring sight when you realize some of country’s most prestigious foundations and corporations were represented by these individuals of color. I listened as Amina spoke of how far the field of philanthropy has come in terms of diversity but the job is far from complete. We must continue to work toward mentoring and sheparding the next generation of color into the philanthropy field. By maintaining the public conversation and keeping the issue at the forefront is the only way to truly level the playing field.
In a perfect conclusion to a stirring speech, Amina quoted Hannibal by saying: “We will either find a way or we will make one.” Indeed.
Paulette Pierre is a Program Officer intern at The Field Foundation of Illinois. She has a graduate certificate in Non-Profit Management and Philanthropy from Loyola University and is currently pursuing her MA in Interdisciplinary Studies at DePaul University