Community gathers to honor opening of office

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 23, 2005

“Taking what we have to make what we need” is the guiding principle, as well as the slogan, of Black Belt Community Foundation. In 2004 the vision for a community foundation of the Black Belt-in the Black Belt became a reality with the opening of an office in Selma’s Old Town District.

On Sunday afternoon, in a culmination of a two-year planning period, the Foundation opened the doors of 609 Lauderdale Street, where a special guest was Linetta Gilbert of the Ford Foundation, which made the dream a reality through an initial grant and planning. Neighbors, friends, city and county officials were invited to walk through the office building and into a tent erected at the rear, where a band played, a buffet table offered guests a snack, speeches were given, but not too many, and a few awards presented.

And, as the old saying goes “a good time was had by all.”

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The 11 counties of the Black Belt region stretch across the central portion of the state from east to west. These counties: Bullock, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Macon, Marengo, Perry, Pickens, Sumter, Lowndes and Wilcox are so called due to the rich, dark soil found throughout the area, at one time home to the enormous cotton plantations of the deep south.

The Black Belt Community Foundation was conceived five years ago by two distinctly different groups of people. In order to develop a foundation that would truly affect change in these counties, the two groups came together to work jointly and for the first time in Alabama history, black and white, young and old, professional and blue collar, business-minded and grassroots put aside differences and collaborated in the effort for the sake of lifting the Black Belt.

The mission of the Foundation is “to forge a collective stream of giving from the people of the community and other sources so we, the people of the Black Belt, can enhance our continuing efforts to lift ourselves by taking what we have to make what we need,” according to Chairperson Dr. Carol Zippert of Eutaw, and Vice Chair George McMillian of Birmingham.

The Foundation’s goal is to build philanthropy and nurture the culture of giving in the Black Belt. It will support efforts in any one of the 11 counties where residents and leaders address community issues covering a range of services, including:

Environment, Health and Human Services, Education, Youth, Arts and Culture and Community and Economic Development.

A sampling of the funds BBCF available:

Donor Advised Fund to support projects of the donor’s choice.

Designated Fund allows the donor to create a permanent endowment for one or more non-profits that request assistance of BBCF.

Scholarship Fund: college education funds with criteria decided by the donor and also enabling the donor to participate in selection of recipients.

Unrestricted Funds:

This allows resources to be passed on to organizations through the BBCF grant process, and are often named in honor of a person or organization.

Administrative Endowment Fund: These funds ensure that administrative costs are met each year, provide support for the development of new programs and continue support of the Black Belt.

Gifts of all types and amounts are welcomed. An initial pledge is a way to begin a partnership with the Foundation.

For information, call the BBCF office at 334-874-1126.

Felecia Jones is executive director; Tarana Burke, regional field representative and Erica Williams, administrative assistant.

Jones says that BBCF will also bring a variety of resources to community organizations in addition to its financial commitment. These include Grassroots Leadership Development Seminars, Youth Leadership, Community Workshops and Seminars, Resource Room on site to be utilized for gathering information and for research on special projects, and financial planning.

In addition to Chairs Zippert and McMillian, board directors are: State Senator Hank Sanders; Julian Smith, Birmingham, Alabama Power; Dr. Davis Wilson, Auburn University; Mayor Cecil P. Williamson, Mayor, City of Demopolis; Arzula C. Johnson, Pine Hill; Jera Stribling, Bruno Foundation, Birmingham; Dr. Walter Hill, Tuskegee University; Johnnie McCalpine, Marion; Willie King, Blues musician, Aliceville; Saint Thomas, Union Springs City Councilman; Dr. James Mitchell, president, Wallace Community College; Dr. Samory Pruitt, University of Alabama; Jim Hodo, American Apparel, Selma; Frank Kummel, president First Lowndes Bank of Hayneville; Dr. Richard Holland, University of West Alabama; Congressman Artur Davis, Birmingham; Kenneth Webb, Hale County Board of Education; and Lillian Wideman, Sumter County Housing Authority, Gainsville.