Help for women who help

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Volunteering, caring for the sick, the elderly or children, sharing food or other resources with others in the community: These, outside of financial contributions, are all forms of philanthropy that African and American women participate in, most often without support or recognition.

“Many in our community don’t use the term philanthropy, although we give in very high levels,” Dr. Jackie Copeland-Carson says. “Whether it’s giving of voice, by speaking out on community issues…giving of in-kind support through donations of goods and services, or even giving of moral support, [all this is important] because these economic times can be very difficult in terms of just the spirit of a community.”

The three-day Pan African Women’s Action Summit (PAWAS), which runs August 11-13 at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, is an opportunity to support and honor women’s philanthropic efforts. The summit consist of nine keynote speakers, over 70 workshops, free technical assistance for people who want to start businesses or nonprofits, housing and healthcare counseling, and free life and career coaching.

During her 13 years living in Minnesota, including her time as a senior fellow at the Humphrey Institute, Copeland-Carson, founder and chair of the Pan African Women’s Philanthropy Network (PAWPNet) and chair of PAWAS, provided pro-bono support to new nonprofits. Focusing on those operated by people of African descent, she realized that there were many women in leadership roles helping their community through stressful times and situations.

But they were unaware of each other’s efforts. “We were divided along lines of ethnicity and national origin,” Copeland-Carson explains.

Approximately 20 of these women started meeting over lunch in 2003, and PAWPNet emerged. They decided to organize a summit to recognize and bring together Black women from a range of countries and backgrounds to promote and support philanthropy.

In 2006, approximately 200 women gathered at the Wellstone Center’s Neighborhood House for the first summit. Since that time, PAWPNet has expanded from a Twin Cities-focused to an internationally focused organization with approximate 300 members representing 20 different countries who work to sustain an ongoing support network for Black women in philanthropy.

Historically, Copeland-Carson believes, though tough times create even greater challenges for African Americans and Africans across the globe, they also create opportunity for philanthropy. Be it the Underground Railroad or the Civil Rights Movement, Black people draw on the tradition of giving in an effort to get through hard times.

“We’ve seen that, too, in the aftermath of the tornado in North Minneapolis,” Copeland-Carson says.

In Minnesota there are several nonprofits created by African and African American women. Ethiopian native and now Twin Cities resident Tsehai Wodajo created one such organization, Resources for the Enrichment of African Lives (REAL), which mentors young women who are orphaned in Ethiopia. Unlike large national organizations, donations to organizations like REAL allow Blacks in Minnesota the opportunity to see the direct impact of their giving while supporting local nonprofits operated by Black women.

“Women are working in communities that they are very familiar with, and in many instances [they] have been beneficiaries of the same kind of nonprofit support over their lifetime,” Copeland-Carson says. Wodajo, executive director of REAL, is a Twin Cities Habitat for Humanities recipient.

The August summit will be the first since 2006. However, their Twin Cities members have met several times devising ways to support Black women’s philanthropic efforts nationwide, including creating an online community that acts as a Black women’s nonprofit organization directory, helpful to those interested in starting their own nonprofits.

For instance, Copeland-Carson explains, a woman may contact them who has been running a food pantry for her community through her own kitchen and using her own resources, asking questions like, “Can you connect me with a mentor here in the U.S. who can help get my organization started?” Or, “Is there a way I can do this and be more organized, have greater impact on my community, access volunteers or in-kind support?”

“We are basically helping women scale up the community work that they do to serve more people,” Copeland-Carson says.

Though small in percentage when compared to their White counterparts, the Twin Cities Black population is one of the most diverse in the country, with the largest Somali, Kenyan and Liberian populations in the nation and very large Ethiopian and Nigerian communities as well. This year’s summit is in part a recognition of the United Nations General Assembly’s declaration of 2011 as the International Year for People of African Descent and the African Union’s declaration of 2010-2020 as the Decade of the African Woman.

Copeland-Carson says that the summit also publically acknowledges the diverse group of African and African American women both locally and nationally who are often unrecognized for their work in rebuilding communities, providing care for their elders and children, and volunteering.

“We are trying to highlight it. We’re trying to strengthen it. We are trying to encourage it, because philanthropy is all those forms of giving.”

The last day of the event will be devoted in its entirety to health and wellness, starting with the screening of When the Bough Breaks, a film documenting the high rate of infant mortality among African Americans followed by a discussion of actions women can take to address the issue.

A Taste of Pan Africa will be a section of the day offering cooking classes that include African American as well as a variety of African and Afro-Latina cuisine. The day also includes African-influenced exercise classes and full body massages.

The day ends with the declaration of Pan African Women’s manifesto, detailing the “principles for community transformation and personal empowerment,” Copeland-Carson says. Though the summit is focused on Pan African American women’s issues, all are welcome.

“We encourage anyone who has an interest in the history and culture of Black people in Minnesota — from the first African American who came in the 1700s to the most recent Somali immigrant who may have arrived yesterday — to come.”

For more information on the Pan African Women’s Action Summit or to register online, go to www.pawas2011.net, email pawas@copelandcarson.net, or call 612-424-3634.

Vickie Evans-Nash welcomes reader responses to vnash@spokesman-recorder.com.