“Sustainable philanthropy, and perhaps civic leadership, requires us to develop a budget for giving that outlines the intent of our spending…”- Jenna
How old are you? 29
Where do you live? Harlem, New York
I have been giving back my whole life, but purposefully for 10 years. Throughout my youth, I accompanied my grandmother to her volunteer work to educate and care for children with development disabilities, which I guess now it would be described as caring for autistic children. That taught me an adamant faith in serving the ability of every child and to live for what you can give. While studying at Wellesley College, I became involved civil rights and inclusion conversations and had the opportunity to be mentored by Professors Charles Ogletree and Lani Guinier of Harvard Law School, as well as receive training from Marian Wright Edelman and other members of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s cabinet at the Alex Haley Farm. I have always believed that you have got to serve the base that lifts you up and to be aware of the community that exists to allow your success to thrive. Living in Harlem keeps me aware of that principle.
I seek to invest my time, in balance with financial support, to efforts that build my vision of being a leader among leaders. It seems standing out is about being better than others, rather than being good neighbors to one another. I want to be part of an era where the definition of being outstanding is being the best version of yourself and lifting others to that same height.
I see math and science education and preservation of the arts to be the best avenues for achieving that goal. I am currently working on a concept, Imagine Harlem, to connect youth in Harlem to a passion for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). I learned confidence and ambition while participating in math and science camps as a child, because the field lacks bias, everything is based on proof and specific outcomes, and that can be personally freeing and fulfilling for any child, no matter the background. That can be transformative in communities plagued by structures of inequality. On the other side, I value the arts for the act of expression and social commentary. I think it is important for youth to find comfort in self-expression, which leads to better appreciation for others.
“I want to help more people access arts. I see it as one of the great products of the African-American ethnic tradition. I want people invest in the arts and volunteer with arts programs.”
What has been one highlight of your giving/ community activity this year?
Evidence, A Dance Company has been the key focus of my philanthropy. Since moving to New York City, the people who have been mentors and at times surrogate parents to me have been involved in the organization. Ronald K. Brown, the company’s artistic director, is an amazing choreographer and dancer. Most recently, Ronald worked on Porgy & Bess on Broadway. However, in terms of dance, he is “the business”, as they say. Ronald is focused on the transfer of inter-generational knowledge through dance. That’s something I value and am a product of, having had my grandmother and her friends and my mother and her friends present in honing my passion. That is not as common as it could be and motivates the time I spend as a mentor. I have been passionate about getting my peers to be stewards of culture- especially dance culture, and I think Evidence produces works that are a wonderful gateway for anyone to develop a love and understanding of supporting the arts.
What social or community cause do you believe goes underrated in regards to those volunteering and giving their time and why?
I have noticed very few African-Americans are involved in the preservation of our culture, especially the arts. It bugs me that people treat African-American culture as though it was born of the late 1970s or that it lacks expanse. I see traces of that in young professional circles where people carry themselves as though they are inventing greatness with their individual careers, and not just continuing a legacy that just has not been well recorded or hailed. I think there is a lack of knowledge of what there is to revere, whose steps we are following within our own traditions. The challenge has never been success; it has maintaining, expanding and celebrating the record of it, especially in the arts. The value of the artistic contributions of African-Americans is great, in financial and cultural terms, but few of us are investing in its preservation. I am on a mission to save that.
The art scene is flanked by business executives in New York City, and very often, while I am not the only young professional in the room, I am often the sole African-American. Sustainable philanthropy, and perhaps civic leadership, requires us to develop a budget for giving that outlines the intent of our spending. I want to help more people access arts. I see it as one of the great products of the African-American ethnic tradition. I want people to invest in the arts and volunteer with arts programs. As a result, I host salons around the city with gallerists, artists and dealers to change that dynamic. I think being part of that scene, beyond parties, will only heighten our engagement in mentoring youth because being well-versed in cultural pride only intensifies the passion to pass it forward.
If there was one thing you want people to know about your work, what would it be?
I am a patriot, and at the heart of the things that I do is the intention to serve a better America. The Founding Fathers created a resounding contract on the definition of liberty and governance with their time. That toil endures and is everlasting. I aim to replicate that passion with service.
What organizations are you a part of? Evidence, A Dance Company (dance), College Summit of New York (mentoring), Maria’s Libraries (international development), Maysles Cinema (documentary film), United Way of New York (philanthropy), and while I am not a member, I often support the Studio Museum of Harlem and the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute. I also serve as an active mentor for youth in New York City and serve on a few alumni steering committees for Wellesley College.
Keep up with Jenna on Twitter: @thejennabond