Securing funds to support the Black Belt Region (counties from Virginia to Texas) is crucial in order to sustain agriculture in the South.
Finding your true purpose in life and actually receiving opportunities to apply it to community causes: priceless. But not having the capital to jumpstart your gift — a pure funding frustration. I’ve been there. Trying to secure the right funding for my rural research and passion project dedicated to the Black Belt Region didn’t begin with big bucks. I had to work, write and network time again for financial support to a national problem.
I traveled to Indianapolis’ 2019 Conference on Diverse Philanthropy and Leadership to seek local solutions to sustaining meaningful fieldwork that can benefit neighborhoods and even regions. The African American Development Officers Network co-presented the conference with Council for Advancement and Support of Education in partnership with the Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
The conference introduced me to new ways of acquiring financial backing without creating debt. I met and received answers from keynote speakers like philanthropic studies professor Tyrone Freeman of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and fundraising professional/president Yolanda F. Johnson of YFJ Consulting.
These fundraising experts helped me realize the importance of having a philanthropic network — people who find the “free” money for you and your project. This system is essential to my work in the Black Belt Region because many of us don’t have generational wealth to rely on; however, philanthropy in our Southern area isn’t new.
I developed online platform Black Farmers’ Network to connect rural, black farmers in the South to modern, digital markets and share their sincere stories from the land.
The conference reminded me that black owned and operated businesses lined their neighborhood streets during the Civil Rights era with no other choices. So the money stayed in our community. With integration, though, the money flowed out of black communities into bigger, non-black brands. Now, I’m taking on the challenge of putting money back into our rural, Southern areas by creating an operation dedicated to raising scholarships for underrepresented communities. I also want my fundraising efforts to provide resources for my faculty to continue their research.
It sounds overwhelming to accomplish as I talk about it, but the conference helped reassure me and other participants that the philanthropic world isn’t an exclusive club. As Freeman shared previously in celebration of Black Philanthropy Month: “If you’re an usher at your church and you welcome people into service every week, you’re a philanthropist,” he said. “If you volunteer as coach, and you pour yourself into the lives of young people, you’re a philanthropist. If you’re part of a giving circle, you pull your resources together with other like-minded people to start a scholarship or  provide some other service in the community, you’re a philanthropist. And you’ve got 400 years of history standing behind you.”
The AADO conference started in 1999 as a reception for African American Development Officers from the Metro Atlanta area. It has since grown into a national network to help developing organizations like mine, Black Farmers’ Network, to learn from experts in the field of development. Moving forward, this conference has inspired me to next plan a collaboration with Georgia Tech, the Lily Institute and others who have high social networks. I want them to understand and clearly see the changes they can help create for black farmers and rural residents through sufficient funding.
I’m excited to know that Black Farmers’ Network has the potential to continue to share our Black Belt Region stories, connect with more allies and market our black farmers in the modern, digital market. All each one of us needs is a cause worth believing in and joining forces with like-minded people to get it off the ground.