During a particularly busy season, I was actively serving in ministry when my children pointed out the irony of my commitment to young people, given my tendency to not prepare breakfast for them on the days that I was serving others. The criticism was hard to hear. In my desire to serve in leadership and meet the needs of the children who attended our weekly worship service I had sacrificed attention to my first ministry. Motherhood is a constant reminder that our children are watching. Their critique stung.
It should then come as no surprise that teaching faith and philanthropy in my household has been an energetic journey. The ability to spell the word philanthropy and more importantly, to explain the meaning (love of humankind) has shaped over half of their young lives. I learned how to give on a church pew next to my grandmother. She was never known by others as a philanthropist. Over time I came to realize that my children had learned lessons around money and giving much differently. They are another level of experiential learner.
For much of my early life, I had never understood the massive impact of my grandmother and her particular generosity. Her ability to weave intentional lessons around money, giving and gratitude has shaped my understanding of family, and my personal and professional life. While admittedly a work in progress, in our home we have endeavored to impart these lessons to a generation that experiences church, community, family, education, technology and giving in different ways. Checks are largely foreign, church experiences have been varied and diverse, non-profit engagement has been an anchor of their experience and their examination and experience of faith and giving looks very different from my story.
Black Philanthropy Month just wrapped up in August, and I believe this year’s theme of “For the Culture, For the Future” masterfully captures why we should be intentional about our legacy and the lessons we teach. For far too long I have listened to, watched and observed teaching about how millennials give that was anchored in research and projects without the younger generation at the table. Relative to Generation Z, similar mistakes are emerging around the topic of giving. We fail to engage and unpack the complexities of their lives, much less their giving, and the values that guide them at their core. I was not prepared to answer the densely layered questions my Gen Z’s proposed when they wanted less information about the power of giving, and more clarity about how did we end up “here,” with such a great need to give to. While they are givers, they are motivated about the systems, circumstances, and context that shapes the disparity between those that have and those that do not.
This summer my 14-year-old made his first tithe gift to our congregation using a donation app. After months of saving and excitement about his work throughout the summer, it took several weeks before he downloaded the app, received his bank card, learned his account information and hit send.
His gift was made at the island in our kitchen in the middle of a conversation about his worship experience and his confusion about checks, gross and net. His satisfaction and sheer joy of pushing his electronic submission (and then checking his account balance) will be a fond memory for years to come.
Yet, their stories are their own. One child has consistently supported the alma mater of my husband and a local homeless shelter, places where she has seen financial gifts make a tremendous difference. Meanwhile, I have benefitted from the robust conversation of a teenager who has said clearly, “I give my best when I actually want to give and I can see the impact. I’ve been raised to give back and I understand it, but there’s something about obligation that eliminates feeling good about it. There’s nothing good about feeling forced.” As I asked more questions and pushed for more answers, the response was fairly simple, “I feel best when I am moved to give and I decide on my own. I have given more than 10% because it was my choice. I like deciding for myself.”
In a time where we see a near daily narrative that questions children like my own for simply existing in spaces because others feel uncomfortable, it is possible to become disenfranchised about the current state of affairs. I examine the wage differentials for our culture and gender and recognize that education will not eliminate the wealth gap that is pervasive within our community. I witness intentional efforts to breed hatred, stoke culture wars and the ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots. Nevertheless, I have hope for the future because of these young people. They give, in their own unique ways and with their own particular narratives, despite a world that is often hostile and unwelcoming. They find joy and care, and sufficiency in small acts to make a difference. They give financially and they give of their time, their talent and their particular stories, their testimony.
I can’t believe the false narratives about the next generation. I have had my own accountability growth at their hands. They are both learners and teachers. They see a world that needs everyone to do their part, and they actively pursue ways that they can write a different script for the future. When pressured about the selection of major and the pursuit of STEM education from parents that champion the gifts of math and science, our eldest replied, “life is more than your earning potential.” Two hundred conversations later about wealth, major, job selection, graduate degrees and more, I was convinced that we had made a convincing argument about what was needed for the best life. But still, she cautioned, “you’ve already raised me to be a good person. I think you’re going to have to trust that regardless of what I select, you have shaped me to be a productive human. I know how much is riding on the future, for ALL of us.”
The theme for Black Philanthropy Month 2018 was “For the Culture, For the Future.” The future is in good hands, indeed.