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WVSU event highlights black philanthropy

CHRIS DORST | Gazette-Mail
Zach Fitchner, West Virginia State University assistant professor of art, hangs a photograph by Charles W. Thomas Jr. in the Della Brown Taylor Art Gallery Wednesday. The photographs are part of a pop-up exhibit this week called “The Soul of Philanthropy Reframed and Exhibited.”

In honor of Black History Month, a local coalition dedicated to supporting philanthropy within West Virginia’s black community will host an event to spotlight the “soul of philanthropy” in the Kanawha Valley and beyond.

African American Philanthropy in Action will host “The Giving Project: Reframing Portraits of Philanthropy” at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Davis Fine Arts Building at West Virginia State University. The event will feature a keynote speech by Valaida Fullwood, author of “Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists,” as well as a panel discussion led by Fullwood and featuring several local and regional philanthropists. Panelists include Michelle Foster, president and CEO of The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation; Lewis Smoot, Chairman and CEO of Smoot Construction; Charles Patton, president of Appalachian Power; Carl Chadband, chief operating officer of KISRA; and Barbara Washington, vice president of philanthropic solutions at U.S. Trust.

The event will also feature a multimedia art exhibit on display this week at West Virginia State by Charles W. Thomas Jr. called “The Soul of Philanthropy Reframed and Exhibited.” The pop-up exhibit features photography, videos, music, poetry and narratives that “provide insight to centuries-old cultural customs and beliefs about giving and generosity,” according to its website.

Timothy Gibson, a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch and a member of African American Philanthropy in Action, said the event is meant to remind people that philanthropy comes in many forms and from many sources.

“Typically, we feel that philanthropy is for the old or well-established, the Bill Gateses of the world,” Gibson said. “We want to remind people you can be anyone and still be a philanthropist through your time, talent and treasure.”

“Giving Back” was the 2012 winner of the Terry McAdam Book Award from the Alliance for Nonprofit Management, and in 2014, Fullwood was named the Lake Distinguished Visitor at Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Thomas, who collaborated with Fullwood on “Giving Back,” is the former education director at The Light Factory Contemporary Museum of Photography and Film, and is now the founding executive director at Queen City Forward, an entrepreneurial hub in Charlotte, North Carolina.

African American Philanthropy in Action is a giving circle that was created in 2013 as a vehicle for collaborative philanthropy directed at the state’s black communities. Members of the organization pool their money and collectively decide where their philanthropy is most needed.

“The word ‘philanthropy’ has changed with time — if you go back to the root of the word, it means ‘love for all mankind.’ Often, when you hear the word ‘philanthropy,’ you get intimidated but philanthropy means that you care,” Gibson said. “If you go to an elementary school and read to the kids, you’re a philanthropist at that point. If you’re a photographer and you take the time to teach a child how to use a camera, how to focus a lens, you’re giving back.

“I think it’s important in today’s world, with all the negativity and bad press and division and hatred, it’s important to realize that we’re all on this planet together, and we all need to take care of each other.”

The event is free and open to the public. For more information, or to RSVP to the event, contact Bridget Bavetz at 304-347-2532 or

Reach Lydia Nuzum at, 304-348-5189 or follow @lydianuzum on Twitter.

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