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BPM 2013 | A conversation with Tiffany L. Graham
Picture by Charles W. Thomas, Jr.
August 26, 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.
Tiffany Legington Graham: Director of Advancement, Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture
Hometown: Buena Park, Calif.
Years as a Charlottean: 1.5 years
Education: University of Southern California, B.S. Industrial & Systems Engineering/ B.A. Mathematics; Georgia Institute of Technology, M.S. Industrial & Systems Engineering
Philanthropic Involvement: Treasurer, South Charlotte Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Inc.; National Convention Planning Committee, Jack and Jill of America, Inc.; Board Member, Girl Talk Foundation, Inc.
(Finish this sentence) Black Philanthropy is... A deep obligation to invest in our communities and each other.
What is your first memory of generosity?
My parents were both educators in the Los Angeles Unified School District and like most teachers, they were deeply committed not only to their students, but to their students’ families as well. In particular, I remember my mother buying clothing and shoes for her students, paying for lunches when their family could not afford it, as well as buying school supplies for them. And we all know how underpaid teachers are, so this was a sacrifice for my parents to do this.
How does that memory influence your philanthropy and your work in the field of philanthropy?
In addition to my parents, most of my extended family members were largely educators in public schools, and so I grew up with an understanding and an obligation to serve, and that it takes all of us to build a great community. I would consider my parents to be philanthropists, even on their middle-income salaries, and I’ve learned that you don’t need millions of dollars to give back and make a difference.
You’re involved in fundraising at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. Please tell us more about the history and mission of the Gantt Center.
The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture (formerly the Afro-American Cultural Center) was founded in 1974, and exists to present, preserve and celebrate the art, history and culture of African Americans and those of African descent through dance, music, visual and literary arts, film, educational programs, theatre productions and community outreach. Named for Harvey B. Gantt, the prominent Charlotte architect and community leader and former Mayor of Charlotte, the Center is housed in an inspired and distinguished award-winning structure and is home to the nationally celebrated John and Vivian Hewitt Collection of African-American Art. The Center envisions a multi-cultural, multi-generational community with a shared commitment to the contributions of African Americans and those of African descent, empowered to realize their own potential to make a difference and joined together to build a better future. The Gantt Center exists to: Further civic engagement; be a catalyst for cultural and artistic development; be a resource for historic and cultural inquiry; and instill pride while educating all.
How does the Gantt Center set out to “present, preserve and celebrate” African-American art, history and culture?
The Gantt Center has three strategic objectives:
Priority #1: K-12 Education. We seek to enrich the education of K-12 students by serving as a resource for teachers via lectures and workshops provided by artists and other partners that integrate national Core Curriculum standards to support learning goals. This includes the development of curriculum and engaging programming related to our exhibitions. We intend to rejuvenate existing partnerships with public and private schools while strengthening collaborative programming with cultural partners.
Priority #2: Collections & Exhibitions. We will showcase exhibitions that elevate the Gantt Center’s stature in Charlotte, the region, nationally, and internationally. Gantt Center galleries will continue to feature renowned artists of the African diaspora. We will also leverage opportunities to create exhibitions originating from the Gantt Center collection and loans from private and corporate collections, and other institutions. The Gantt Center will share its collection through traveling exhibitions and loans to other institutions. Programming will complement the Center’s mission and vision, and link to its exhibitions and extensive art collection.
Priority #3: Regional Impact—“Beyond the Walls.” The Gantt Center will continue to be a key contributor in the southeast region showcasing African-American and African contributions to art, history, and culture. This strategy, which includes performing arts, symposiums, traveling programs, and digitally based access, will then expand the Gantt Center’s prominence in the cultural arts community. Our intention is to expand our reach geographically to those who do not have access or opportunity to visit the Center, as well as demographically to those of non-African descent who otherwise might not be inclined to engage.
Why and how did you become connected to the work of the Gantt Center?
When I first arrived in Charlotte over a year ago, I connected with several colleagues in the fundraising and development field and one of them in particular was managing the search for the Director of Advancement position at the Center. After several interviews and conversations, I was offered the role. Of all the positions I’ve held in my career, this role is especially personal for me because my mother is a huge collector of African-American artifacts from the 19th and early 20th centuries. I spent my childhood going to African-American museums and lots of antique stores!
What exhibits and programs do you have on the horizon?
Right now, we are proud to partner with Wells Fargo to showcase The Kinsey Collection: Shared Treasures of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey—Where Art and History Intersect, through October 12. This collection features art and artifacts examining 400 years of the African-American experience, including an early copy of the Emancipation Proclamation.
In late October, we will open with three equally exciting new exhibits—Question Bridge: Black Males (multi-media exploration of Black male identity in America); I SEE YOU (Black and Latina female body image and gendered stereotypes); and Identity of a Master: Dr. Eugene Grigsby, Jr. (works and life of the acclaimed painter).
What are some of your thoughts on where America stands 50 years after Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech?
We’ve come a long way since King’s “I Have a Dream” speech—it’s a completely different world today than it was 50 years ago. I honestly never thought we would have an African-American President of the United States in my lifetime! My children are definitely growing up with different perspectives than even I did, and it’s particularly impactful when they see someone who looks like them at the helm of this country. However, the dream has not yet been completely fulfilled. There are still inequities that exist related to race, gender, and other socio-economic issues that must continue to be addressed.
When it comes to society or our community, what is your “dream” or aspiration?
I would like to see more support for organizations like the Harvey B. Gantt Center. It seems like we don’t truly appreciate institutions or particular individuals until they are gone or are in trouble. I would love to see more families getting involved in educating their children about African-American contributions to this country (whether you’re African American or not!). It is so important that we pour into each other and support anything that will move our communities forward. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. Each of us has something that we can contribute.
In terms of your philanthropic endeavors, what’s your “mountaintop” or highest achievement to date?
For a perfectionist like myself, I would say that I’m still striving for that mountaintop achievement. There is always more work that can be done and more contributions to make!
Name a book that has shaped your philanthropy.
It may sound cliché, but there really is no higher book on philanthropy than The Bible. I strive everyday to do His work and to be a blessing to someone else. The best teachings are from Jesus’ example.
Describe some of the ways that readers can support arts and cultural institutions, especially those that focus on communities of color.
Give! Give your time, your talents, your money! Particularly as non-profits, there are a wide variety of needs and it’s impossible to do the great work that we do for the community without the financial and human resources. Contact your local organizations and ask what you can do to help. Find ways to connect those institutions to resources and partners who can help further the mission.
Please leave us with a favorite quote that characterizes an aspect of your philanthropy.
“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself… Serve and thou shall be served.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson (one of my favorite writers)
For more information visit BlackPhilanthropyMonth.com and follow the hashtag #BPM2013
CV thanks Johnson C. Smith, our sponsor for this series.