Ciarra Adkins founded the Grand Rapids area’ Black-led Aqume Foundation in June 2021. According to its website, “Aqume, pronounced /ack-me/, stems from the word ‘acme,’ which means the highest point at which someone or something is best, perfect, or most successful.” Aqume Foundation is a systemic-level response to disparities in wealth and resources between white and Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities. Its work focuses on economic justice.
“Western Michigan is the second most philanthropic place in the nation,” says Adkins, who serves as the Foundation’s president. “But when we look at the segregated outcomes of Michigan philanthropy — who was in power, who founded the foundation, who's leading them, where the money is going — it is not equitable when we think about the proportion of people of color who live here and how the resources are being allocated. So, we have to make a change.”
In recognition of founding Aqume Foundation, Adkins was a Grand Rapids Chamber 2022 ATHENA Young Professional Leadership Award finalist and a Grand Rapids Business Journal 2022 “40 under 40” award recipient.
“We are a full-service community foundation,” Adkins says. “Where we differ and where we're innovative is that Aqume also runs some of its own programming. Most foundations just give money to the community to run programming that's near and dear to them.”
In addition to providing grant funding and resources to benefit the BIPOC, Aqume will extend its work beyond philanthropy. The Foundation is already supporting smaller nonprofits with executive leadership coaching. In 2023, Aqume will partner with other organizations to provide opportunities for people of color to learn how to establish intergenerational wealth and do estate planning.
“For us, the economic justice piece is so important that we have our own estate planning curriculum that we're building as well as our philanthropy,” Adkins says.
A 501(c)(3), Aqume Foundation also can serve as a fiduciary partner for BIPOC organizations in the community. In June 2022, the Foundation became the fiduciary partner for Black Wallstreet Grand Rapids’ $100 million, 16-year capital campaign.
“We really want to shift the narrative,” Adkins says. “We want to move beyond the conventional lens of what philanthropy looks like.“There's a very West Michigan missionary mindset for how philanthropy is administered. We're really trying to change that,” Adkins says. “We want it to be more culturally inclusive of what philanthropy looks like in the Black community, in the BIPOC community. Those efforts have typically been overlooked because they might not always be monetarily based.”
Aqume publicly launched at its sold-out inaugural Gold Gala on Nov. 3.
Ciarra Adkins founded the Grand Rapids area’ Black-led Aqume Foundation in June 2021.
“The Gala brought together numerous local foundations, other supporters and interested parties to one location to share our story, announce scholarships, invite others to join the journey and take action together,” Adkins says. “It was more than a fundraiser; it was inspiration and motivation for a much-needed movement.”Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Aqume Foundation