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February 6, 2013 / Christian Clansky

A Voice From Philanthropy: When was the last time you read Ebony Magazine?

By Tamara Copeland
President, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

Recently, a colleague came to me and commented about the monthly delivery of Ebony Magazine to our office. While addressed correctly to our suite, it was not addressed specifically to anyone who works here. So, my colleague asked me, the black staffer who was in the office at the time, if I wanted to read it. I think she assumed that nothing in the magazine would have relevance for her. White staffer, black magazine. This made me think about our ongoing efforts to reach those not in our particular choir.

All of us are trying to reach the unusual suspects, but I’m not so sure that we’re willing to be the unusual suspects. Here’s what I mean.

Let’s say that those who care about the arts want those committed to economic revitalization to see art galleries and theatrical productions as part of what drives the economic engine, not solely as entertainment. Are the arts funders talking about the arts in economic terms? Are they going to meetings about workforce development issues to hear what might be said about the arts or to try to insert their message into the workforce dialogue? Are they open to understanding why carpentry and computer technology are more top of mind for workforce development conversations than the arts are? Are they able to take off their arts hat for a bit to be the unusual suspects in a workforce development conversation? Maybe they could even talk about how the performance arts might be used to better prepare folks for job interviews or how visual arts might be used to reach discrete audiences with messages about what workforce opportunities are available. We have to be able to understand the “other” to get the “other” to understand us.

We often preach to our own choir using our own songbook and then wonder why the folks at the other denomination don’t join in.

Believe it or not that brings me back to Ebony Magazine. Ebony was founded in 1945 to be a coffee table magazine like Look Magazine or Life at the time. Its purpose, however, was very distinctive and important. It covered stories pertinent to the black community that weren’t being covered by those other magazines. Some would say that sixty years later, with every major journalistic medium employing African-American journalists, the black perspective is well represented. Maybe, maybe not. Did you know that the NAACP is opposed to the growing number of bans on sodas? If so, have you heard the story fully? The issue goes beyond health issues to an impact on minority businesses. Have you ever wondered why so few of the public stories about abortion feature African-American women? The latest issue of Ebony tells you why black women, generally, aren’t telling those stories. Issues of racism and stereotypes play a key role.

In February, Black History Month, I am urging all of my non-African-American colleagues to buy a copy of Ebony or Black Enterprise or whatever black-oriented magazine speaks to you. Take a few moments to really try to learn about issues from a different perspective. There may be an important nuance in the policy discussion or the programmatic area that you hadn’t thought about before.

We’re all trying to get those outside of our niche to understand our issues and our perspective, but are we working – actively – to understand theirs?

Just a thought.

2 Comments

  1. Terri Freeman / Feb 7 2013 8:21 am

    Very provocative challenge. I hope folks take you up on it!

  2. Kelly Dunkin / Feb 8 2013 5:30 pm

    Thank you, Tamara. As usual, you challenge my thinking. I’ll take you up on your challenge!

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