Celebrating Black Philanthropy: Our Hope, Our Future Giving Circle

Graphic with head shots of Dr. Ellen Burts-Cooper, Ronald V. Johnson and LaToya Smith

August is Black Philanthropy Month. As we celebrate this month, we’re sharing stories that honor and celebrate Black philanthropy and philanthropists.

The Our Hope, Our Future Giving Circle embodies the power of people coming together. Inspired by a conversation started at the 2012 Cleveland Foundation African American Philanthropy Summit, founding members LaToya Smith, Dr. Ellen Burts-Cooper and Ronald V. Johnson, Jr., saw a chance to maximize their collective impact by working together.

Our Hope, Our Future Giving Circle Members

LaToya Smith, Founding Member

Ronald V. Johnson, Jr., Founding Member

Dr. Ellen Burts-Cooper, Founding Member

Tanisha Rush

Danielle Morris

Gloria Ware

Anne Richie

Heather Clayton Terry

Valissa Turner Howard

Danielle Sydnor

“It was like minds coming together for a collective vision,” according to Smith. She said attending the keynote session at the 2012 summit inspired her to think differently about her philanthropy.

“The speaker was talking about what philanthropy meant, and the description sounded like me,” she said. “I realized I’ve been a philanthropist since I was 3 years old. Giving and sharing with others and serving the community was what I was born and raised into.”

Her approach to philanthropy has certainly shifted since her childhood giving, but Smith—who now serves as vice president for talent acquisition at Fifth Third Bank—is dedicated to channeling her time, talent and treasure toward improving the lives of those around her. Following the summit, she and her fellow philanthropists knew they wanted to do more.

“We had a lot of energy, and we said, ‘Let’s give some money and put it together. If we pool our resources, we can make a bigger impact,’ and we did that,” according to entrepreneur and philanthropist Burts-Cooper, senior managing partner of Improve Consulting and Training Group and co-chair of the African American Philanthropy Committee, which plans the biennial philanthropy summit.

They partnered with the Cleveland Foundation to formally establish the Giving Circle as a fund in 2014, focusing their grantmaking on smaller nonprofits that may fly under the radar of larger funders, according to Johnson, chief ethics officer for KeyBank and African American Philanthropy Committee co-chair.

This year, in celebration of Black Philanthropy Month, the Giving Circle awarded a $2,000 grant in partnership with the United Black Fund of Greater Cleveland to Village of Healing, an organization dedicated to addressing racial disparities in maternal and infant health.

“It was difficult to narrow down—there are so many great organizations doing powerful, impactful work in this community,” Smith said. “But this organization really meets the moment in our community and touches on all our key pillars that guide our grantmaking: Black-led, Black-serving organizations working in either education, social justice, environment, and health and human services.”

Johnson said the grantmaking is as much a collective effort as the fundraising. “That’s the beauty of the Giving Circle,” he said. “We’re able to take the collective views and perspectives of our members and make an impact in our community.”

Learn more about the work of the African American Philanthropy Committee and get involved. Follow our blog and social media as we share stories of Black philanthropy throughout the month of August!