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Creating Economic Engines in Black Communities

By Lyord Watson Jr.

A legacy is not only what you inherit; it’s what you leave behind. By empowering community philanthropists to leverage available resources, we are able to create an opportunity to strategically target the issues that affect Black communities directly.

The first Black-owned and Black-operated banking institution in the State of Alabama was started in 1890 by Reverend Rubin Pettiford. As the pastor of 16th Street Baptist Church, he collected offerings for the church and afterwards took up offerings for the bank. Rev. Pettiford traveled to several churches soliciting offerings for the bank. He was able to combine all the funds to create the Penny Savings Bank.

Rev. Pettiford used philanthropy to create an engine that allowed Black people to purchase homes and start businesses. There are tremendous assets in Black communities. One of the greatest assets is Black buying power. The challenge is taking that buying power and circulating money within the communities to build wealth, improve the quality of life and conditions.

We believe The Penny Foundation is solving the same economic issues today that Rev. Pettiford worked to solve in 1890. We seek to take philanthropic resources and turn them into engines for businesses to address economic inequalities. One of our solutions is Community Owned Grocery Stores (COGS). COGS are community-owned institutions that intentionally circulate money within a community. All households purchase food from somewhere. The Foundation’s initiative creates a chain of grocery stores that allow community stakeholders to purchase an ownership stake in each location.

Being only one of four community foundations started and managed by African-Americans in the United States, The Penny Foundation works to eliminate economic inequality in the Black community. Founded in Birmingham, Alabama, the Foundation connects people, organizations and resources – through technology and innovation – in the areas of education, economic development and community development.

Yolanda Sullivan, retired CEO of the YWCA Central Alabama and retired Corporate Human Resources executive, volunteers with The Penny Foundation. In her words, “volunteering to assist Lyord Watson actualize his vision for The Penny Foundation fascinated me for two main reasons. First, I have a great respect for entrepreneurs. You have to be driven by a single-minded determination to see your unique purpose succeed against the odds. Secondly, The Penny Foundation has formidable social and economic goals that purposefully focus on amassing donations and other assets to build economic wealth, equity and inclusion throughout Birmingham, Alabama.”

The global and regional issues in our community are many, and they are complex. Community philanthropy provides an infrastructure and organized means to address these issues and create social change. Our approach is to create a chain of economic engines through community-owned grocery stores. In August, we celebrate both National Black Business Month and Black Philanthropy Month to elevate resources within the community. Through our mission and programs, the Foundation seeks to drive the development of philanthropic engines everywhere.

Lyord Watson Jr., B.S., MDiv, is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, preacher and media contributor. He is the founder of The Penny Foundation and recent finalist in the Alabama Launchpad. Learn more by visiting www.pennyfoundation.org/cogs.