When describing traditions of Black giving, the phrase “time, talent and treasure” is often used. I and others often add a fourth “T” for truth. Truth-telling as an act of philanthropy is prized in Black communities. A characterizing facet of Black philanthropy, truth-telling is unadulterated philanthropy—love of humanity—even though we seldom use the word philanthropy. The fourth T is an acknowledgment of the precious and potent nature of bearing witness. That is, to share from our lived experience what we know to be true, even when inconvenient or uncomfortable, as a means to making lives better.
For me, this belief elicits the message of 1 John 3:18:
Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
Ruminating on faith, philanthropy and the sentiments Black givers shared while I was developing Giving Back led me to write a piece that introduces my book. Titled “Truth Be Told,” the opening story recounts the Black American experience with the practice of philanthropy. Released under my pen name, the piece underscores the surviving influence of African philosophies, like Ubuntu, and bears witness to the trials, tribulations, trials and triumphs of the past 400 years. Biblical references are threaded throughout to illuminate the significance of faith in our giving. Piercing false ideas, the story reminds us philanthropy is deeper than your pockets.
To commemorate the world-quaking event of August 1619, I am sharing my poetical piece here for the first time in print since the book was published.
Truth Be Told
Let us be clear: Black philanthropy is no mere tinted twin.
It is of another Mother land, and in its entirety entirely apart, as revealed herein.
Africa taught its lessons about we ages ago with love and vigor.
America tested it though. Still does, with regularity and rigor.
No titan of wealth from this fine nation; instead, faith and unity laid its foundation.
Did somebody say, Noblesse oblige? Please. Nearer to négresse oblige in deed.
It is a proclivity for civility. A style of a generic generosity,
borne of a mentality of mutuality. A study in radical reciprocity.
Caring for folks in need. Sharing in a pinch. Giving gifts in any amount.
Even when some come deemed, by some counts, no account.
Mindless, yet heart-full kindness. Just being plain nice. Bread lent without a fuss.
Forever rooted in a most sacred sacrifice, it is of ties that bind the least of us.
To help a sister out. Be a brother’s keeper. Next door, the widow might
need a hand to quit slipping deeper and have her back next time, but trust, she’s got mine tonight.
It is a responsibility. A seldom-questioned duty.
A thing of supreme Black beauty.
Shut out of places that claimed to aid, the ancestry sure enough came around
with their own homegrown, gracious goodness profound.
Treasure scarce; time a measly ration, the kin back then gazed back on their teaching.
Measuring out lessons in Old World fashion, stirring in truths the faith-filled, still, believe in
Mixing in heaps of talent seasoned with courage of the valiant, they made a way.
As if of loaf and fish, we still feed on their soulful gifts today.
Once dark coast plunder, our people afore here ashore honed a niche and a knack.
And, lo and behold, a curious wonder: From scraps and lack
Least, need and hunger sprang forth feast, good deeds and compassion abundant.
Lavishly ladled love and humanity with rare fever poured out by a people who ironically got neither.
Despite centuries of bullies, blocks and blows
in a land designed to keep us down, we instead rose.
Overcoming wrongs, woulds, coulds and shoulds,
we didn’t just make do, we attained greatness in our doing good.
A long, lasting legacy of benevolence, absent need for further evidence.
Forget the twisted myths. We have always given our gifts.
Since my aha on what it is and ain’t, I can no longer justify undue restraint.
With newfound awe and ardor, I think, harder.
Choose, wiser. Weigh every factor.
Give and strategize, Blacker.
No more am I among the ranks of the fooled.
Knowing this now too, consider yourself schooled.