Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Electronic Monday and Giving Tuesday….if you have anything left to give. This string of money-based “holidays” has become as traditional as the turkey on Thursday. And how ironic that Giving Tuesday is last in line. I scan the flood of emails reminding me that today is the day to give, and I will probably participate and click a couple links. But, in the past year since the last Giving Tuesday, I have realized that helping others is a complex undertaking. What, when, where, how, why to give are all questions that deserve some thought.
I am reading a wonderful book, insightful, witty and so educational for those of us embarrassingly ignorant about Africa. “Africa is Not a Country,” by Dido Faloyin, presents the continent in all its richness and variety, debunking myths that plague modern-day African countries ready for respect and acceptance as important players on the world stage. One of the most pernicious myths is that Black Africa is helpless, starving, ignorant, and generally incapable, waiting for White colonizers and their 21st century successors to save them.
Most impactful for me was Faloyin’s critique of charitable fundraising for African causes. With all good intentions, developed countries, European and US in particular, are able to create compelling campaigns to “help Africans” who are starving, being slaughtered or kidnapped, or other crises that the media features. What is almost always missing is the guidance or better yet partnership of actual Africans who know best the answers to those “what, when, where, how, and why” questions above. Our White eagerness to act quickly to feed a dying baby or rescue a kidnapped boy soldier, can easily go awry, contributing to political upheaval, corruption, and perpetuation of the stereotypical desperate African needing the White savior. Not denying there are very real crises that need assistance, the author emphasizes that foreign responses must be designed and directed by those on the ground.
Last month I ranted about the avalanche of political pleas for money and the ridiculous rhetoric of doom and desperation. I wanted to give and would have given more if I had received a nice quiet thank you, instead of an alarm of even greater disaster. Yes, I wanted “my candidate” to win and I wanted to help, but I wanted to have a say in how my money was spent. The thought that the money I gave would support one of those television ads I abhorred was enough to make me think twice about clicking that link. Like Africans in crisis, I would like to be able to guide the fundraising and spending on my cause.
But there is hope. Here are two anecdotes that will lift your spirits. First from a political candidate who seemed to be able to hold a higher ground this season. Cory Booker sent me – yes, me! – a lovely email on Giving Tuesday, subject line: “You don’t need to make a donation to give something valuable this Tuesday.” His message was:
“I want to recognize the many ways we can give to the world around us. While donations are important, they are far from the only way to make a positive impact in your community or for our country. To the folks getting involved in their communities, showing up to meetings, making phone calls, knocking on doors, and serving others through faith-based organizations and non-profits — thank you. Your service in the spirit of love and kindness sets an example for how we can create a more just, loving nation. I hope you’re able to take a moment and reflect today on how special that is.”
Cory’s email had a political agenda, of course. I don’t blame him for that, but the message is valuable: Give however you can to make this “a more just, loving nation.”
And finally, here is an absolutely pure, agenda-free act of giving, exactly what Cory is talking about. Since the beginning of the pandemic almost three years, a group of friends — young women – have shopped, prepared and served lunch every Sunday in MacArthur Park, Los Angeles, to the area’s homeless people. It started small, but word spread, numbers grew, and the friends kept up with more and more meals, never missing a Sunday. This year they went all out, shopped and cooked and served a complete Thanksgiving dinner for over 300 homeless people. They have gathered a small number of supporters whose contributions cover the cost of the food each week. And although some have encouraged them to create a non-profit, get official and grow their giving, they prefer to keep it simple and continue to do what they love. The have answered the “what, when, where, how, why” and that’s all they need.
I am proud to know Emma, a graduate of Santa Fe Prep, who is one of the founders of this terrific project. Thank you, Emma and friends, for knowing how to give.