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Black Philanthropy Month: Spotlight on BlackSpace

For Black Philanthropy Month (BPM) we are highlighting stories of those who are committed to informing, inspiring, and investing in Black communities. Through a series of interviews, we will explore the various ways leaders are celebrating and emphasizing the importance of investing in Black leadership from within the Black community in Brooklyn and beyond. 

We spoke with BlackSpace about philanthropy and legacy as it relates to Black Philanthropy Month, and their work to protect and create Black spaces. BlackSpace is a collective of Black residents, changemakers, urban planners, architects, artists, activists, designers, and leaders, and one of the Foundation’s 2019-2020 Incubator Project Winners.


Above: Several members of BlackSpace

Can you tell us about the work of your organization, BlackSpace?  

BlackSpace is an Urbanist Collective of black professionals who are committed to leveraging social, environmental, and cultural capital to help realize better destinies for communities of color. With more than 125 black professionals nation-wide, our collective’s experience and skill set range from urban planning, landscape architecture, architecture, design, the arts and beyond. This breadth of intellectual black thought allows us to think holistically about the preservation and formation of valued black spaces. BlackSpace demands a present and future where Black people, Black spaces, and Black culture matter and thrive.

How do you define philanthropy?

Our work is largely funded through project based grants, which stem from organizations (such as the Brooklyn Community Foundation) who are aligned with our mission and values. Through a lens of justice and equity, philanthropy in the context of BlackSpace may be thought of as the redistribution of wealth. In the United States, much of the wealth in our country has been accumulated through systemic discrimination, racism, and exclusion, with resources and labor being extracted from black communities. Processes and structures both politically and socially have further prevented black communities from accessing the same access to financial abundance and opportunity that other groups have enjoyed. Philanthropy that is informed by principles of justice and equity may be one aspect of addressing this history, and through our work we hope to redirect financial assets as a tool for cultivating agency, abundance, and joy in our communities. We also see philanthropy as a tool for supporting and amplifying the work of community based organizations. In many communities of color, CBOs have played a major role in filling in the gaps in City investment. We believe in using our agency/funds to support the champions on the ground doing the work.

As an organization that works to intentionally invest in the Black community, what does Black Philanthropy Month mean to you?

The notion of philanthropy in itself is complex. On the one hand, it can be a mechanism (as described) for redistributing wealth and addressing the systemic injustice that has always existed in our nation’s financial makeup. On the other, at times philanthropy can create challenging power dynamics between the wealthy and the recipient. It is critical that philanthropy include principles and practices of dignity, justice, and a deep understanding of historical context. Without interrogating why so much economic inequality exists in our country in the first place, we are not addressing the root causes of injustice. At BlackSpace we are committed to cultivating wealth as one of our core principles, and we strive to stay rooted in our commitment to justice as a prerequisite for engaging in philanthropy.

We encourage folks to consider where their money is headed and what it supports during Black Philanthropy Month, but also as an intentional practice year-round. Whether it’s a monetary donation to BlackSpace, or supporting black-owned businesses, brands, and events, as a community we must interrogate what we support with our money, while also examining our own personal histories with wealth.

How can people support your organization and mission?

Think bigger than money! We are in a position where we understand that financial support is important, but don’t want to lose sight of what we are trying to accomplish. So we welcome support in terms of capacity and skill set. This may look like volunteering with local organizations, educating yourself about the Black history in your community, or offering your professional skill-set pro-bono to Black-led organizations.

The theme of this year’s Black Philanthropy Month is “Let’s make history.” How do you center legacy and the Black community in your work?

We care deeply about histories that have been neglected, ignored, or intentionally taken out of the canon of American history and work to preserve cultural designations that are deemed important by the communities we work with. Legacy imposed in a negative-obsessed media or city government is something these communities are constantly battling while holding on to the more intimate legacies they desperately want to hold on to. For instance, we work with a Brownsville writing group called Power in the Pen. They come together every Saturday at the Brownsville Heritage Center and share their writing with a group of dedicated writers. The small room they meet in surrounds them with an overwhelming amount of black relics such as cloth dolls with yarn for hair, painted kente cloths, and vintage Ebony magazine issues. The richness and beauty of this space adds to the depth of the writers’ work, and one of our goals as a Collective is to continue supporting and amplifying the importance of such spaces.

Below: BlackSpace's manifesto

Black Philanthropy Month, celebrated in August, was created in August 2011 by Dr. Jackie Bouvier Copeland and the Pan-African Women's Philanthropy Network (PAWPNet) as an annual, global celebration of African-descent giving.

Without interrogating why so much economic inequality exists in our country in the first place, we are not addressing the root causes of injustice. At BlackSpace we are committed to cultivating wealth as one of our core principles, and we strive to stay rooted in our commitment to justice as a prerequisite for engaging in philanthropy.