This month is Black Philanthropy Month, so each week we will highlight a Black philanthropist from one of our affinity groups who’s making a positive impact in the community. This week, we’re featuring Phylicia Coleman, Administrative Hearing Officer at SC Department of Social Services, Individual & Provider Rights and member of the Young Leaders Society’s Professional Development Subcommittee. Read her responses from the Q&A below.
Can you explain your reasoning for joining YLS?
Community service has always played a big role in my life. I didn’t grow up rich, but I also didn’t grow up poor. For the most part, I grew up comfortably. If there were any issues, my parents never made it obvious. Everyone isn’t that fortunate, and I’ve always been keenly aware that I could be one mistake away from being placed in a terrible position. Being able to give back and assist those who are less fortunate is a blessing for me. It helps me keep life in perspective. YLS provides an atmosphere to do this with other young professionals, such as myself. In addition, YLS isn’t simply giving back. They are assisting United Way in helping answer the questions of “Why?” for various issues.
In what other ways are you a leader in the community?
I serve on the Cinderella Project committee for the Young Lawyers Division of the South Carolina Bar. As part of that committee, I assist in collecting gently used formal dresses, jewelry, shoes, and door prizes. We host a boutique every year for middle and high school students to come in and find dresses for their proms and school dances for free. Prior to COVID, I served as a mentor for middle school-aged young girls in Sumter, SC.
Why is it important for Black women to become philanthropists?
A few studies have been done to show that people who are from a community are much more likely to give to that community. Typically, it’s the larger corporations and foundations who receive grants. Rarely do you see the smaller foundations, established by Black women, receive the large grants. As Black women, I think we have a responsibility to ensure that other Black women, who are trying to make a difference and create change in our communities, are being properly funded and assisted. No one is going to care more about the issues that Black women face than Black women. While all children should be encouraged and uplifted, we (as Black women) know all too well what the lack of encouragement and the lack of uplifting does for our Black and Brown girls. It’s great for nonprofits to say, “We donate x percent of our funds to assist in issues affecting our Black youth.” But, how do we know this is happening? How do we know it’s truly being made a priority? The answer is we don’t, unless we are the ones out there making sure it happens.
What are some ways people can be philanthropic without giving monetary donations?
A lot of people associate philanthropy with money, and I think that has a lot to do with how the media portrays some of the largest donors to non-profit organizations. However, philanthropy requires more than just money. Philanthropy requires skill and talent. It requires time and effort. If you have proven experience being an excellent grant writer, you are a necessary asset to non-profit organizations. Instead of dedicating your money, you are using your knowledge and skills to be of assistance to organizations and causes that you’re passionate about. If you are an amazing public speaker, you can volunteer to lead speaking engagements about causes and organizations you’re most passionate about. Are you a math wizard? Assist in tutoring young children who struggle in math. It’s about figuring out how your skills and expertise can help improve your community.
What does Black Philanthropy Month mean to you?
Black Philanthropy Month is a time to highlight Black organizations, their importance to our community, and provide education on how and why the support of these communities are necessary. It’s also a time to educate the African-American population on how their giving, outside of money, makes an impact and difference in our communities. You don’t have to be rich to make a difference. You don’t have to be rich to give your time. The point is to use the resources you do have to better our communities.
What’s a message you would like to send to young Black girls in the community?
The sky's the limit! Your only limitation is yourself because there is always more than one way to skin a cat. Don’t be afraid to take necessary risks to better yourself. Everyone’s journey doesn’t look the same. There may be times when you feel you are having to fight harder than others, and that’s okay. There may be times when you feel things are taking longer to manifest for you than it did for others. That is also okay. Your dreams are not impossible simply because others don’t believe you can achieve them, or there are statistics out there that suggest it is impossible. You can be that doctor. You can be that lawyer. You can be that scientist who finds a cure for cancer. It won’t happen overnight, but with hard work and persistence, it will eventually manifest itself. Celebrate the small victories on your way to the overarching goal. Be confident in the person who is looking back at you in the mirror. Don't be afraid to ask for help. You belong in this world. You have purpose, and you matter.