Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Ujima Legacy Fund: A New Giving Circle Created by and for African American Men

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Damon Jiggetts, Reginald Gordon and Robert Dortch, founders of the Ujima Legacy Fund  (Photo credit: Jay Paul)

A new giving circle created by and for African American men has launched in Richmond, VA – the Ujima Legacy Fund.  On May 23, 2013, the circle awarded its inaugural grant of $20,000 to Partnership for the Future to support the organization’s mission to help motivated students with limited resources transition to their top-choice colleges and to the workplace.   “We are truly honored,” said Charleita Richardson, president and CEO of Partnership for the Future.   “Being recognized by the Ujima Legacy Fund will show our youth that the community cares about their success.”

The circle’s founders, Robert Dortch, Reggie Gordon and Damon Jiggetts, created Ujima as a way for friends, family members and colleagues to get involved in the Richmond community.  Nineteen men joined the giving circle with contributions of $1,100 each, pooling their charitable dollars to generate greater impact.

Ujima’s beginnings grew from conversations and meetings in their local barber shop.  In an op-ed written by the group’s founders, they share:
“The meetings were successful and, much to our surprise, cathartic. The discussions and debates were insightful, emotional and candid, far from the typical style of discourse among men. Some men came to the meetings wearing work boots, others came to the meeting wearing bow ties. The attendees were men from various walks of life and socio-economic levels, but all connected by a common racial ancestry. We challenged each other, debated perspectives, celebrated individual accomplishments and analyzed the best way forward for African-Americans in our community, particularly those trapped in the cycle of poverty.
After several months of meetings, we were all talked out and the tone of the meetings shifted to the creation of action steps. The meetings in the barber shop ceased and a few of us became the successor committee that would work on an idea to catalyze the energy from the barber shop meetings. We decided the time had come to rekindle the spirit of the beneficial societies that were plentiful around the turn of the 20th century that leveraged the largesse from the African-American community to help those in need in that community.”
The group was inspired by the generosity of Thomas Cannon who was called the “poor man’s philanthropist,” an African American postal worker of modest means who donated thousands of dollars to deserving individuals.

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Their grantmaking focus is to support one organization annually that empowers youth of their region through education-related initiatives, with a particular emphasis on underserved youth.   In addition to giving money to support agencies that create pathways to success for young African-Americans, the founders hope that the circle will provide a vehicle for African American men to learn more about philanthropy and become advocates for transformative, results-oriented, poverty-annihilating strategies and programs.

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Ujima awards inaugural grant to Partnership for the Future

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Ujima is the third giving circle to partner with The Community Foundation Serving Richmond and Central Virginia, following Impact 100 Richmond for women and the Richmond Giving Circle for young professionals in their 20s, 30s and 40s.   The Community Foundation provides grantmaking expertise and administrative support for the giving circles, allowing members to grow their circles and identify the best nonprofits that fit their funding criteria.

While celebrating a successful first year, Ujima’s vision is to continue to grow and broaden its impact on the community.  “Many of the men in Ujima are unsung heroes who come from all walks of life and work tirelessly to contribute to making Richmond a better place,” stated Robert Dortch, Ujima co-founder and member of its leadership team.  “This inaugural grant is just the beginning and we hope that others will join us in this effort to support the education of young people,” added Damon Jiggetts.

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Members of Ujima Legacy Fund

For more information and to join, visit  Connect with the Ujima Legacy Fund on Facebook here.

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