In 2012, six couples in Columbus, Indiana began the African American Fund of Bartholomew County (AAFBC). As part of Heritage Fund—The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, the AAFBC sponsors discussions and issues grants in five focus areas: health awareness, education, arts and culture, economic/career development, and leadership development.
“We wanted to support events and programs that help raise awareness about African-Americans and their contributions to the local community,” explained Tom Harmon, CEO of Harmon Group Companies, which includes Harmon Construction, Harmon Steel, and Taylor Bros Construction Inc.
“For example, we’ve collaborated with other organizations to bring in African-American performing artists for concerts, and we have worked with artists to feature their art in community spaces. We’ve provided scholarship support to African-American kids going to college, and supported leadership development programs and networking activities.
“In total, we grant out approximately $15,000 every year to support these activities and programs. We hope that number continues to grow as we grow our endowment.”
The AAFBC is bringing the national exhibit “The Soul of Philanthropy” to The Commons in downtown Columbus during the first full week of August (August is Black Philanthropy Month). The exhibit reframes portraits of philanthropy in an effort to showcase conscious giving for social change.
The national display will be married for a week with a local display, which will be showcased from August 5-30. The local display tells the stories of such individuals like corporate trailblazer Shirley Handley, former Cummins Inc. executive James Joseph, and church leader Bishop Charles Sims. The efforts of people who quietly went about the job of making life better for their fellow citizens are also told with glimpses into the lives of educators, ministers, business leaders, volunteers, and good neighbors.
Twenty individuals are honored in the exhibit, while an accompanying electronic slideshow highlights the efforts of many others.
The Columbus display will move to Indianapolis to become a permanent exhibit in the newly-renovated and refurbished Madame Walker Theater Center next year.
What does the AAFBC hope happens as a result of the displays? Harmon first emphasized the importance of raising awareness about the AAFBC’s activities: “We are one of two African-American funds in the state of Indiana, so it’s important to share the work that we’re doing and the impact that we’re having in this community,” Harmon said.
In addition, Harmon also stressed the importance of sharing the impact American-Americans have had on philanthropy overall.
“We give a lot in terms of time, talent, and treasure. We want to help educate people on what type of philanthropic action has been done in the past, as well as inspire them and give them ideas of what they can do in the future.
“It’s not always about writing a check; you can be a philanthropist in other ways.”
Harmon, president of the AAFBC, has taken the lesson to heart, inspiring his employees at Harmon Group to become involved and give back in the community. As a result of their own generous activities and contributions, employees expanded their various fundraisers over the years into a nonprofit called the Joy of Giving, which has raised over $500,000 to help its local community. The Harmon Group owners cover the cost of fundraising, so nearly 100 percent of the money raised can go directly to families in need.
“Similar to the display, we want to show that people in the community have been philanthropic for many years, whether it’s through their time, talent, or treasure,” Harmon said. “To illustrate that concept with the display, as well as through the work of the Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy, will help show that there are many ways that one can be philanthropic.”
A reception opening the exhibit will take place on August 4 from 4-6 p.m. near the “Chaos” sculpture in The Commons, 300 Washington Street, in Columbus, Indiana. This event is free and open to the public.