City Life »
BPM 2013 | A conversation with Lucious Taylor
Picture by Charles W. Thomas, Jr.
August 19, 2013
In observance of Black Philanthropy Month,Valaida Fullwood, local idea whisperer and co- author of Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists, interviews, in a multi-part series, a number of Charlotte African Americans engaged in multiple facets of philanthropy and focuses on interests and concerns, 50 years after Dr. King’s iconic “I Have A Dream” speech.
Lucious Taylor: Graduate School Student, Yale School of Divinity, Yale University
Hometown: St. Petersburg, Fla.
Years as a Charlottean: 6 years
Education: B.S. Business Administration, Florida A&M University; M.Div. Candidate May 2015, Yale University
Philanthropic Involvement: Men’s Shelter Charlotte Volunteer, Harding High School Mentor, BRIDGES Cofounder
(Finish this sentence) Black Philanthropy is... A concentrated effort by African Americans to give or to serve those in need
What is your first memory of generosity?
I recall individuals coming to my house as a child to ask what I wanted for Christmas. At the time my only concern was what toy I wanted but as I got older I found out those individuals were part of the Angel Tree ministry helping children of inmates.
How does that memory influence your philanthropy today?
Well it helps me pay it forward, not out of a sense of obligation or debt, but out of a sense of love. The small gesture went a long way. As a child I didn’t have much appreciation but as an adult I’m reminded I was thought of and remembered. When my father wasn’t there, others stepped in and gave. I try to embody that today through my philanthropic efforts. I want to step in and give, whether time or money, wherever is needed.
When did you know you wanted to attend divinity school? And what do you aspire to do after graduating?
I’ve always had an intellectual curiosity towards religion motivated by a desire to understand the why’s of life. I was raised in the church and most of my peers assumed one day I would become a preacher of sorts. Ironically though, I struggled with my faith and the weekly charismatic rituals of Sunday worship never really quenched my thirst to understand God’s presence in my life or lack there of. After working six years in the financial service industry I figured I needed a change.
I was relatively young, 29 years old, and single. I thought now is the best time to make a move before settling down with a family or before I got too old. I was torn between going to business school for an MBA to advance my career or enrolling in divinity school to seek further understanding of my faith but with no aspirations of becoming a pastor or to work for a church. As much as I enjoyed my investment management career, I started to realize my thoughts weren’t about the whys of the market as much as they were about the whys of life.
A turning point came one day observing a man plundering through a trash bin outside of one of Wells Fargo’s corporate centers in downtown Charlotte. It was during the peek time of day while everyone was outside having lunch. I noticed the man had no reservations about who watched him or what they thought; his only concern seemed to be finding something to satisfy his hunger pains. The dichotomy of poverty right outside a center of global wealth was disturbing. One because I’ve never seen hunger so vividly in front of me and two because I sat there and did nothing but watched. As I went back to the office I thought hard about ways I could marry my faith with my career. My conclusion was if individuals could spend countless hours during the day figuring out ways to securitize debt for profit, surely that same innovation and intellect could be used to solve issues of homelessness in downtown Charlotte.
Later that year I embarked on a journey to obtain more fulfillment in life. I wanted to change not just what I did from 9 to 5 but who I was. I enrolled at Yale because they have a unique joint degree program with their School of Management and School of Divinity where I can obtain an MBA and an M.Div. degree in four years. Upon graduation I aspire to step outside of the four walls of the church and do ministry. I want to use passions, skills, and intellect to fight against poverty around the world. I’m seeking to develop innovative ways to address some of the issues that effect society like homelessness in Charlotte or clean water in Haiti.
What has been your observation about the intersection of faith and philanthropy?
I believe Faith has often been a catalyst for philanthropy. Many faith traditions teach about having a love for humanity and helping those in need. Human dignity is a concept central to the Christian faith in that we are made in the image and God (Gen 1:27). Wendy Farley, in her book Tragic Vision and Divine Compassion, talks about the dehumanizing effects of suffering. She believes it is through the compassion of others that individuals are able to resist those things that destroy human dignity. I believe the Bible encourages that compassion through philanthropic gestures such as the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35). The Bible also encourages community. I believe it’s through this vision of connectedness that moves the heart towards philanthropy
Black churches have been a significant force in the history and evolution of Black philanthropy. Can you share some historical examples of the church’s influence on giving in African American communities?
The Black Church has always been the central hub for philanthropy in African American communities. This is because individuals have used the church as an intermediary and focal point for charitable giving for the community and other pertinent causes. Even today the church is still where many African Americans, despite social economic status, give their time and money.
W. E. B. Du Bois, in his work The Souls of Black Folk, talked about the significance of faith in the lives of African Americans. In chapter 10, Du Bois shares how he believed the preacher was the most unique personality developed by the Negro. This holds true when looking at the historical impact preachers have had on society. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., along with other Black ministers, formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957. The political activism of the SCLC paved the way for many of the advancements in racial equality we experience today. Many congregants collectively gave their time, money, and in some cases, even their lives to support and build African American communities locally and regionally.
You’re part of the Millennial Generation. Have you experienced generational differences in how your generation perceives and practices philanthropy? And what about how the generation approaches organized religion?
I think the generations have changed. I grew up in church and from what I can remember any time money was given or volunteering was needed, it was for church. Attending church wasn’t much of an option. My parent’s God was my God. There wasn’t as much autonomy as there is today. I believe today things are more diverse because of that. Most African Americans still profess to believe in God but the Black church isn’t the central figure of society as it was in previous generations. Because of such, philanthropic efforts extend beyond the church.
What are some of your thoughts on where America stands 50 years after Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech?
There have been many advancements in America 50 years after the “I Have a Dream” speech. There is a Black president in America at the nation’s capital. Though often viewed as a cliché comment, I still believe it speaks to the progression of the society Dr. King hoped and dreamed of. However, there is still room for growth. In his speech, King said he came to the nation’s capital to cash a check, which America has returned to the Negro people as “insufficient.” Ironically, though there is a Black man standing on the inside of the nations capital, bad checks of justice are still being written.
The injustice found in the mass incarceration of African Americans is becoming what Michelle Alexander calls in her new book “The New Jim Crow.” King dreamt of a day when sons of slaves and sons of former slave owners can sit down at the same table. Today that exists but there is still disproportion in who is sitting at the head of the table. People of color are still under represented in positions of leadership at Fortune 500 companies compared to their white counterparts. I rejoiced the day I was accepted into Yale University. Like King, I dreamt of the day when I could sit side by side with other intellectuals, at one of the top institutions in the world but not too long after arriving I was reminded my skin color is still a criteria on which I will be judged.
When it comes to society or our community, what is your “dream” or aspiration?
I dream of a day when African American reunite. We’ve become a broken people, not just in the sense of our spirits but in out connectedness with one another. Because of the scarcity of resources and opportunity, instead of working together to meet each other’s needs, we’re competing and working against one another. We are missing an element of connectivity and unity, which gave us identity and strength throughout the years. I believe we have all we need to address all of the problems plaguing neighborhoods and inner cities and I dream of the day when we look beyond personal gain or livelihood and help one another.
In terms of your philanthropic endeavors, what’s your “mountaintop” or highest achievement to date?
In 2008 I led a group of teenage boys on a mission trip to New Orleans to help with the Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. Our area of focus was the historic Pontchartrain Park neighborhood where parts had remained untouched even three years after the storm. For a week we worked alongside men from Bethel Colony Transformation Ministry (a local organization geared towards men and women seeking to overcome substance abuse). The experience was very invigorating. Often times it’s easier for me to just give financial assistance but with this trip I was able to be in solidarity with those in need. Tolling in the hot sun every day became a labor of love as we realized our efforts helped some return to a normal way of life.
Name a book that has shaped your philanthropy.
The Life You Can Save, by Peter Singer (2009)
Do you see instances today, where faith-based congregations could learn from philanthropic institutions? Or vice versa?
Faith-based congregations tend to push their agenda as a caveat to their philanthropic efforts. Often times those who receive assistance from faith-based congregations are met with a stipulation of joining the church or listening to a sermon. Though the intentions may be genuine, some may feel ostracized because of their lack of religious affiliation. Also, faith-based congregation should exhibit more disclosures relating to their financial operations, especially for those who donate or desire to. Many people are turned off from church because money seems to be a recurring topic but there’s usually ambiguity as to how funds are being allocated and dispersed
Please leave us with a favorite quote that characterizes an aspect of your philanthropy.
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” — Matthew 25:40
For more information visit BlackPhilanthropyMonth.com and follow the hashtag #BPM2013
CV thanks Johnson C. Smith, our sponsor for this series.