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Brunch raises money for community

African American Philanthropy in Action hosted its first Jazz and Jambalaya Father’s Day Brunch on Sunday, though the true reach of the event is expected to go beyond the holiday.

The Bob Thompson Quartet played in the Maier Foundation Performance Hall at the Clay Center while families celebrated together by eating brunch food and Jambalaya. But the celebration was also a fundraiser, with all proceeds going to the African American Philanthropy in Action organization, which provides grants to nonprofits in the community.

President Melvin Jones founded the organization after meeting a group of football coaches from Colorado who had formed a “giving circle.” The coaches, who always found themselves supporting the same community events and charities, decided instead to start a giving circle where they would pool their money and give it away to a charity or nonprofit.

Jones, who works as the vice president for business and finance at West Virginia State University, was inspired by the foundation the coaches started and decided to start a similar group in Charleston.

While the members of the organization have always been philanthropic, they realized they could do more for the community collectively than individually.

“I believe it’s our duty to give back. If you can give somebody a hand up, that’s the reason you’re put here on Earth,” Jones said. “If you can’t do that, you’re not worth the suit you’re wearing.”

The group’s members look for areas where their grants can be used most effectively within the African-American community.

Since the organization was started barely two years ago, Jones said members are starting small at first but hope to grow and make a larger impact. While lots of organizations are working on larger problems in the African-American community, Jones said, “We know better about what to do within our own community than anyone else because we live in it.”

African American Philanthropy in Action, an affiliate of the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, welcomes anybody who wants to help make a difference, regardless of race or religious affiliation.

Last year, the organization provided a $2,500 grant to both the Charleston-Institute Branch of the Links Incorporated and the African American Heritage Camp.

Kitty Dooley, one of the group’s founding members, said the Jazz and Jambalaya event was a great way to introduce the Charleston community to the organization, as well as raise funds for future grants.

“A lot of times in rhetoric that you hear, people will say, ‘Well the African-American community isn’t doing enough to help itself,’” Dooley said. “While we vigorously deny that, we think this is an example of people who are coming together to put back into the community those things that have both strengthened us and assisted us as we’ve tried to improve our lives and our situations.”

Timothy Gibson, the group’s vice president, attended the event with his family on Sunday, including his 20-month-old daughter.

He said his daughter is the best thing to happen to him and hopes, by example, to instill the same philanthropic values in her.

“As a parent, I do want to raise my daughter to understand that we are blessed and we are fortunate,” Gibson said. “I think it’s important for her to realize that despite where you are in life, giving back is always important. Right now she doesn’t really understand that, she just wants more sausage, but as she gets older, tradition will continue that we celebrate each other but we will always give back.”

Gibson, along with Dooley and Jones, encourages anybody interested in making a difference to reach out to the organization. He also encouraged nonprofit organizations looking for resources to contact them or apply for a grant.

The group’s grant application process for nonprofit organizations will start in September. A committee will review the applications and decide where the money will be used most effectively and will award the grant or grants in January, around Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

Angelica Armstrong recently moved to Charleston and joined the organization to help the community while focusing her energy on something constructive.

“To be perfectly candid, you look at all the things that are going on in the news, the issues we have in African-American culture, the NAACP president — there’s so many negative things people focus on all the time,” she said. “I just wanted to focus on something positive. This was a good way to do that.”

For more information, visit or call The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation at 304-346-3620.

Contact writer Laura Haight at 304-348-4872 or

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