Every two years, the Cleveland Foundation African American Philanthropy Committee convenes its philanthropy summit to raise the visibility of Black philanthropy and honor Black philanthropists. We sat down with committee co-chairs Ellen Burts-Cooper, Ph.D., chief improvement officer and senior managing partner, Improve Consulting and Training Group; and Ronald V. Johnson, Jr., chief ethics officer, KeyBank National Association, to learn a bit more about their own philanthropic journeys and hear what they’re looking forward to at this year’s event.
How did you get involved with the Cleveland Foundation African American Philanthropy Committee and the summit?
Dr. Ellen Burts-Cooper (EBC): I first partnered with the Cleveland Foundation in 2011 to establish the Bagby, Palmer Memorial Scholarship in honor of my mother and mother-in-law. I’ve been a member of the committee since then and have been serving as co-chair since 2018. I was attracted to serve on the African American Philanthropy Committee because I really wanted to think about philanthropy and what it means from my own community’s perspective. There were also a number of people in the African American community who gave their time and talent endlessly, and I wanted to be a part of something that showcased what was happening in our community. Oftentimes, you don’t see it, and I want people to be aware that giving happens at every level, and it happens among every community. I want to highlight those individuals who have spent their lives giving back to others.
Ronald V. Johnson, Jr. (RJ): I’ve been part of the summit since the beginning, so it’s been great to see it evolve. I got involved because I wanted to help people think more about philanthropy and help dispel the myth that you have to be super wealthy to be a philanthropist. Some people get discouraged because they feel that philanthropy is too big of a thing. There’s this misconception that if you can’t give enough to put your name on a building, why bother? But philanthropy is powerful at every level—you can be a grassroots philanthropist.
What’s your definition of philanthropy?
EBC: It’s about making your time, talent, treasure — whatever resources you have — available to make an impact on your community and the people around you. You don’t have to have a lot of money to do it, you just have to have a lot of passion.
RJ: For me, philanthropy really is just the idea of doing more: giving more of your own resources to help the greater community. More of your resources can mean money, time or other resources that you can bring to the table. It’s just a broad definition, but really the whole premise is the fact that there’s this sense of obligation, sense of duty, to contribute to the greater cause.
How did you come to be philanthropic?
EBC: My start with philanthropy was probably in first grade. My mother made it mandatory to do community service at our home. My mom would say, ‘Give back to the world more than you take,’ and that’s always stuck with me.
RJ: I think I’ve always been charitable in some way, shape or form. I can’t really point to any particular influence. I think some people are maybe natural givers. But I am an attorney, and I do feel that there are certain people who have gifts and talents that really are duty-bound to give back.
What are you particularly excited about for this year’s summit, Philanthropic Equity: Making an Impact?
EBC: I am looking forward to the richness of the conversations stemming from the diversity of the breakout group topics. I think the team did an excellent job of selecting thought-provoking areas of discussion.
RJ: I’m looking forward to reconnecting with people in person (for those who are able) and the conversation about elevating philanthropy to the next level.
Join us Saturday, April 30, from 8 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. for the 2022 African American Philanthropy Summit, Philanthropic Equity: Making an Impact! Hear from Kevin Clayton, vice president of diversity, inclusion and engagement for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Michele Ghee, CEO of EBONY and JET, and discuss how equity influences philanthropy at multiple levels and how transformational philanthropy can be for individuals, families and communities.
Attend in person at Corporate College East or virtually from anywhere! Register today here.