Shifting the Narrative: The Soul of Philanthropy Cleveland

Shifting the Narrative: The Soul of Philanthropy Cleveland

The Soul of Philanthropy Cleveland offers an exciting new exhibition with two components: Giving Back: The Soul of Philanthropy Reframed and Exhibited and Celebrate Those Who Give Black™. Both exhibits will open at the Cleveland History Center on September 6.

According to Dennis Barrie, the Director of Experience Design at the History Center, the idea for the exhibition came from Cleveland citizens who were familiar with the traveling exhibit Giving Back. They also wanted the History Center to create a permanent exhibit that featured the philanthropic participation of Cleveland’s African-American community.

Though permanent and intended to be on display indefinitely, Celebrate Those Who Give Black™, the Cleveland portion of the exhibit, will not be stagnant. A local committee, chaired by Belva Denmark Tibbs and including Felton Thomas, Jazmin Long and Connie Hill-Johnson, will meet on an ongoing basis to field community nominations for future stories about philanthropy in the African-American community.

Host Committee members Peter Lawson Jones, Randell McShepard, and Robyn Minter Smyers are helping to disseminate information about the exhibition and its associated programming.

Barrie has been impressed with the committee’s dynamic definition of philanthropy, explaining that the exhibit includes people whom the audience may not expect. (Despite my best efforts, he wouldn’t discuss any names!)

Shifting the Narrative: The Soul of Philanthropy Cleveland
Photo Credit: Charles W. Thomas

Tibbs, a Hathaway Brown graduate involved in a wide array of community service work with the Saint Luke’s Foundation and Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging (among many others), says that she became involved because she “was invited by two friends — Kevin and Connie Johnson — to participate in a movement to reframe how we think about African-American philanthropy in Greater Cleveland. I volunteered to give my time, use my talent (leadership/organizational skills) and contribute my treasure to help bring two exhibits about philanthropy (my passion) — Giving Back and the inaugural, Cleveland-specific Celebrate Those Who Give Black™ Exhibits to fruition.”

Tibbs describes herself as “intimately involved” with the development of the exhibit, explaining that her “primary responsibility has been focused on identifying the three legacy honorees and the three philanthropic institutions that will be honored along with the twelve honorees who were nominated by the community at large.”

For Tibbs, both the content of the exhibit and the people involved in its development have made this “a true labor of love.” Asked about Barrie’s positive impression of the committee’s definition of philanthropy, she comments that the committee’s goal is “to recognize African Americans who give their time, talent, and treasure to make Cleveland a better place. We believe by sharing the testimonies of these honorees, we not only will honor current philanthropists, but also inspire the next generation of philanthropists.”

Tibbs’ goals for the exhibit are “to shift the narrative about African-American philanthropy by sharing the statistics about charitable contributions of African Americans, to expand the accepted definition of philanthropy and stress that giving time and talent is as important as giving treasure, and to share some of the rich history of philanthropy in the black community, especially in Cleveland.”

She wants people to walk out of the exhibit knowing that “African Americans have always been philanthropists — not just the beneficiaries of philanthropy.”

The innovative exhibition opens on September 6, runs through December 6, and will be complemented by over 20 programs taking place throughout the city on topics like Women and Philanthropy and The Next Generation of Giving.

See the History Center’s website for tickets to the opening and details about the exhibit–it’s an event not to be missed.

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