Howard K. Hill, founder and president of The Prosperity Foundation, spoke with us recently about the foundation’s work. The Prosperity Foundation’s mission is to strengthen Connecticut’s black communities in critical areas such as health, education, and economic development.
Q: What are your current efforts to catalyze community giving?
A: In April 2017, through our Small Grants Initiative, the Prosperity Foundation awarded grants ranging from $1000 to $2000 to 11 non-profit organizations. These initiatives are grassroots organizations in African American communities throughout Connecticut that are focusing on strengthening the community in education, economics, and health. These groups are not directly connected to larger foundations for their stories to be heard, so TPF is engaged in their activity which helps us with catalyzing them to make a difference where they live.
One of the grantees, Girls for Technology of Hartford, CT is an initiative aimed at encouraging young girls who are interested in the STEM field. They recently had their annual educational event and we were able to attend and see the impact they’re making. In addition to attending events hosted by grantees, TPF has hosted many events that speak to the unique issues that the black community faces: bringing the community together, and encouraging people to think in the long term and to give back in a long-term, permanent way. As a concept, it is more a sense of self-care.
Q: Do you think projects like yours are part of a larger movement to link community-based giving to critical issues in communities of color?
A: Absolutely. There is a disparity of opportunity in communities of color than among White communities. For families, it is getting harder for people to place their children in activities – to even have activities that would be available in larger communities. This is where the grantees of the Prosperity Foundation are able to help. I am seeing more and more pro-black movements that are more street level, versus national level, and my goal is to bring those street-level organizations together and put them under one roof so that we can leverage our narrative and leverage whatever power and resources we have to bring in more.
I envision the Prosperity Foundation not as a state of Connecticut program, but more of a national brand, where you have chapters or organizations in every state where black people can go to find black endowments that give to black causes. It is disempowering to always feel as though you’re going to someone else to get money that you need in order to survive and do work in your own community. It is good to be able to receive money from someone who looks like you.
There is this huge issue of dignity and self-worth and self-respect that is never discussed by the larger foundation community. We don’t have space to think about the possibilities of the black community because we are constantly under attack, constantly oppressed. And this is a systemic issue. The Prosperity Foundation creates a system that allows space for us to think about and act upon those things that are good for us, in a way that is empowering to the people.
Q: What would you say is your unique approach to philanthropy?
A: It’s the way we’re changing the narrative. We’re removing that word “charity” from all our messaging, because we don’t believe the black community is a charity case – they are people, they are organizations, they are vehicles that are making a difference in the lives of our children. Certainly within the black community it is imperative that we talk about collaborating all of our efforts, especially financially. We see the hurt that is occurring, whether it is from the history of slavery to the recent police shootings of unarmed black youth to the white supremacist movement, we must change the narrative within the black community to that of self-sustainability. The Prosperity Foundation was founded by black dollars for black purposes for the black community. We put the dollars in the community that we live in to make sure that they have the resources to do what needs to be done.
There has to be a place to go. You go to the NAACP for civil rights issues; you go to the Prosperity Foundation when you want to focus on economics, health and education – the larger issues that plague us. And education is not as simple as getting a scholarship. The goal of education is to open the minds of our people. Slavery has done a tremendous job of conditioning the minds of people, for generation upon generation upon generation – and it is on autopilot, moving faster and faster and faster. My goal is to interrupt that in a systematic way – to actually do something – and using philanthropy to do that, putting a laser focus on what is good for the black community.
Q: How are you documenting this project?
A: We hold two major events every year: one in April, when we award the small grants, and one in December, when we acknowledge those organizations that have started new funds through our foundation within that year. We document absolutely everything that we do. Our events are videotaped and photographed, we put information on our website, we have our literature at local events, we’re on social media. We’re documenting by capturing moments as they are happening; but we don’t want to be just a moment. Images are just moments, and we are movement driven. We use our website to make sure we’re presenting some of the history behind what we’re doing.