Yah-Hanna Jenkins Leys grew up in the Caribbean, where giving was focused on people. Her family helped others in need, whether in their faith community or neighborhood. The support wasn’t always money. Often, it was a donation of their time or other resources.
That tradition taught her the importance of giving.
“Many of us give in many ways in our communities. While giving looks a little different, we're not often looked at as philanthropists but as the recipients of goodwill instead of stewards of our own futures,” says Jenkins Leys, interim executive director of the nonprofit, Lighthouse Immigrant Advocates.
Changing the narrative
When she moved to Holland, she found people of color were thought of more as beneficiaries of philanthropy rather than benefactors.
That’s why Jenkins Leys co-founded Women of Color GIVE
, a philanthropy collective that aims to change the local charitable giving landscape by adding more diverse voices to the formal philanthropy narrative.
The model is inspired by the traditional giving circle, which in many cultures involves a group of people who give collectively and choose the recipient together.
Women of Color GIVE cofounder Yah-Hanna Jenkins Leys talks with the group's cofounders, Lucia Rios and Robyn Afrik. Photo by Shandra Martinez
“We are taking elements of a giving circle and then we are marrying it with a traditional philanthropy foundation, which has the structure in the place that allows for legacy giving,” explains Robyn Afrik, co-founder and director of diversity, equity and inclusion for Ottawa County.
Making a difference
Jenkins Leys and Afrik — along with Lucia Rios, a disability advocate and resource navigator for the Grand Rapids nonprofit The Source
— created the organization as a way for women of color to collectively make a difference along the Lakeshore.
The trio quickly found other women of color who embraced the idea as well. They spent more than a year developing their plan and model.
“Last year, we focused on strategies for building the fund. This year, we are focused on building that fund,” explains Jenkins Leys. “We want to do it in a way that's inclusive and collaborative, but also considers and engages voices that are often marginalized and not included in those processes.”
Adds Afrik: “One of the reasons why we're not giving this year is because we want to focus on building that fund to the point where we can make impactful gifts next year and for future years.”
Currently, the group has 40 members, who are invited to monthly meetings and mixers throughout the year. Each has pledged to donate at least $75 toward the fund every quarter. The nonprofit is also accepting outside donations.
“We want to be inclusive in terms of financial participation,” Afrik says.
The women are working with The Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area
and Greater Ottawa County United Way
to develop a process for distributing funds. The goal is to give grants to charitable organizations and causes in West Michigan that invest and empower projects for and by women of color.
A small piece of the pie
Women and girls of color receive only 2% of the philanthropic pie while making up 19% of the U.S. population, according to the group’s website, which notes:
“Studies also indicate WOC choose how to give based on their race and ethnicity; they bring a more inclusive and equitable approach to giving but are grossly underrepresented in the formal philanthropic sectors.”
Women of Color GIVE cofounders Yah-Hanna Jenkins Leys, Lucia Rios, and Robyn Afrik talk about their work at Herrick District Library. Photo by Shandra Martinez
Rios, who serves on the Community Foundation board, is excited to see how this unique approach to giving will empower the participants.
“I liked the idea of us as women of color — not just one specific identity — collaborating together. It’s very inclusive, and we can learn from each other.”
More information about Women of Color GIVE is on the group's website, wocgive.org
This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.