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Penny Foundation Builds Black Businesses and Leaders in Alabama and Beyond

Lyord Watson Jr. is founder and CEO of the Penny Foundation. (contributed)

By Morgan Jackson

Alabama Newscenter

August is Black Philanthropy Month, a national celebration of African American and African-descent giving and community outreach. It is also a time to support and promote the voices of multicultural philanthropists.

Founder and CEO Lyord Watson Jr. and his staff at the Penny Foundation, based in Birmingham, are coming off a month filled with celebration and listening to the people they seek to serve.

“The Penny Foundation works to eliminate economic inequality in the Black community. We do that by connecting people, resources and organizations in the areas of education, economic development and community development,” Watson said. “Our mission is accomplished through grantmaking, programming and donor-advised funds.”

Founded in 2019, the Penny Foundation is a “hybrid foundation,” Watson said. Its name pays tribute to the historic Penny Savings Bank of Birmingham, which was founded in the late 19th century and was the first Black-owned financial institution in the state and one of only three in the nation at the time. Long closed, the bank’s six-story headquarters, built in 1913, still stands on 18th Street North.

The Penny Foundation takes its name from Penny Savings Bank. (contributed)

In addition to managing charitable funds contributed by families and individuals, the Penny Foundation supports two major programs. The first is the Future Forward program, which works to support businesses, particularly Black businesses – especially those most affected by the pandemic.

The second is the Our Voice Our Time program, which focuses on capturing and elevating the voices of young people ages 15 to 25.

“We ask them to record themselves answering a series of four questions so we can release them, according to topic and theme, so that people can hear their statements and concerns on what is going on throughout their life, communities and educational journey,” Watson said.

Watson said the foundation staff not only stays close to the people they serve, they are also from the neighborhoods where the foundation focuses its efforts.

He said that while the foundation is relatively new, it is dedicated to taking the tools that philanthropy uses and making them accessible to all community members. He said the vision is to continue to grow the foundation so it can serve people beyond Alabama, reaching communities across the Southeast.

This month, the Penny Foundation is concentrating its efforts in two areas as it celebrates both Black Philanthropy Month and Black Business Month. Watson has dubbed this month “The Intersection,” a reference to the meeting of the two observances in August.

“Part of the reason why the Penny Foundation was started was because there are assets in the Black community, along with people who want to help the Black community, so we serve as a platform for people who want to help serve and channel those resources back into our neighborhoods,” Watson said. “Our purpose is not necessarily just to serve the community. It’s because we are the community that we work to build the community.”