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ASU joins in celebration of Black Philanthropy Month

August 11, 2022

Throughout August, the ASU Foundation is honoring Black generosity and highlighting funds that support Black communities

This year, Arizona State University will participate in Black Philanthropy Month. Throughout the month of August, ASU and the ASU Foundation will be taking time to celebrate Black donors and recognize the impact of funds that support Black students, faculty and programs.

Black Philanthropy Month is a global campaign to celebrate giving by people of African descent and promote equity in funding. The initiative was founded by Jackie Bouvier Copeland and launched in 2011 to commemorate the United Nations Year and Decade of People of African Descent. Today, Black Philanthropy Month is a program of the WISE fund, which engages more than 19 million people across 60 countries.

Kimberly Scott serves as the inaugural senior fellow at the ASU Foundation, where she researches diversity, equity, inclusion and justice within the ASU Foundation and other foundations across the United States.

Much of Scott’s role at the ASU Foundation is to make sense of national research within a local context and provide suggestions to the foundation as to how it can best promote diversity, equity, inclusion and justice. As part of her research, Scott visited a conference hosted by ABFE, a philanthropic partnership for Black communities.

“It was there that I learned about Black Philanthropy Month,” Scott said, who is also the founding director of ASU’s Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology and a professor in the School of Social Transformation.

Scott saw an opportunity for ASU to innovate racial justice work in the university context and recommended that the ASU Foundation celebrate Black Philanthropy Month.

Kimberly Scott

Kimberly Scott serves as the inaugural senior fellow at the ASU Foundation.

“It’s a global campaign to encourage Black people across the globe to give to nonprofit funds and invest in Black businesses,” said Kenja Hassan, who serves as the assistant vice president of cultural relations in ASU’s Office of Government and Community Engagement.

In addition to addressing systemic issues in the distribution of charitable donations and business investments, the campaign works to expand conventional understandings of what philanthropy – and philanthropists – look like. Black philanthropy often goes underappreciated, and Black philanthropists often go unrecognized.

“The lack of conversations around Black people in philanthropy, at its most insidious, has roots in the stereotypical devaluation of Black people,” Hassan said. 

According to Hassan, anti-Black racism and political expedience have encouraged depictions of Black people as recipients of aid and discouraged images of Black people as agents of change.

“When in reality, Black folks in the United States have been part of philanthropic giving in multiple ways since our time in this country began,” she said.

Hassan and others point to a wide range of historical and contemporary examples – including the abolition movement, the civil rights movement, faith-based initiatives, community organizing and support networks between Black families – to show the variety of Black generosity.

“We always think of it, in the modern context, as the giving of large sums of money,” Hassan said, “but when you look at the word, philanthropy is love for other human beings and desire to support other human beings. And African Americans have been doing that in ways that the larger society can’t necessarily see.”

Kenja Hassan

Kenja Hassan serves as the assistant vice president of cultural relations in ASU's Office of Government and  Community Engagement.

“Philanthropy comes in different forms,” Scott said. “African Americans have a history of philanthropic giving. The history, however, has not necessarily been recorded beyond giving monies.”

Hassan is excited that ASU is participating in Black Philanthropy Month and considers it an important way for the university to live its values.

“It’s part of embracing our (ASU) Charter, of being measured by whom we include and how they succeed,” Hassan said. “Our charter says that we take responsibility for the communities we serve. It’s really important for ASU to think specifically about each community it’s serving because Arizona is a range of communities.”

Hassan sees Black Philanthropy Month as an opportunity for ASU to demonstrate care for Black communities, support philanthropic efforts within Black communities and understand charitable giving in different ways. She also hopes that ASU might inspire other universities to participate in Black Philanthropy Month.

“This gives us another way to celebrate the Black philanthropists in our midst and also celebrate the ways ASU contributes to and supports Black life in Arizona and across the globe,” Hassan said. “It’s celebrating culture, celebrating history, bringing to light the funds that were created by people who wanted to see Black people in this community be successful.”

“We have grown as givers, and that’s something to celebrate throughout the month of August,” said Kim Covington, who worked in television news for 30 years before transitioning to full-time nonprofit work. “What I’ve seen in my research – and what I’ve seen in the community – is that we are givers. We have never called ourselves ‘philanthropists,’ but we’re learning how to do that and learning how to do it more strategically.”

Covington is an ASU donor who has volunteered for multiple leadership positions at the university over the years. She currently serves as vice president of community initiatives at the Arizona Community Foundation. Part of Covington’s work at the foundation is to support giving circles, groups of people who pool their donations to make a significant impact.

Kim Covington

Kim Covington worked in television news for 30 years before transitioning to full-time nonprofit work.

“Whenever we’re working together, whenever we’re collaborating – putting a little bit of money in a big pot – we can change the world,” Covington said, giving the example of a women’s giving circle that commissioned a study on the vast racial disparities in maternal mortality rates.

Covington also organizes the foundation’s Black Philanthropy Initiative, which supports local charities and small businesses through grants, marketing expertise, business education and technology resources.

One small business owner couldn’t get a loan for nine months while her business struggled to stay afloat. The Black Philanthropy Initiative helped her build relationships with financial institutions, and within eight weeks, she secured a loan. Today, her business is thriving and recently expanded from one location to three.

“It’s not like we’re just awarding a grant and forgetting about it,” Covington said. “We’re learning. We’re getting involved. We arm them with knowledge. We want them to succeed. We’re tailoring our strategy to make a huge impact.”

Scott stresses the difference between racial equity and racial justice within the context of philanthropy. Racially equitable philanthropy is “giving money to a sociohistorically marginalized group in order to equalize the experience of that group relative to others.” Racially just philanthropy is “giving money to a sociohistorically marginalized group in order to provide that group with the resources they deem necessary to build their own capacity.”

Scott thinks that Covington’s efforts at the Arizona Community Foundation fall into the second category.

“That’s much different,” Scott said. “And we don’t see that a lot.”

Although this form of giving is rare within formalized philanthropic efforts, Scott thinks it’s becoming more common.

“More collectives of philanthropists or individual philanthropic organizations are understanding the value of ‘nontraditional’ forms of giving,” Scott said.

Covington knows firsthand the impact that this more holistic approach to philanthropy can make.

As a child, Covington wanted to be a journalist but was unsure if such a career was open to her. One day her aunt heard on the radio that a group of journalists was holding a summer workshop at a local community college. Every Saturday, Covington’s aunt drove her to the community college. And every Saturday, the same group of television anchors, newspaper editors and radio hosts came together and volunteered their time to teach aspiring journalists.

“They really changed my trajectory,” Covington said. “I was from east St. Louis, and I didn’t see anyone who looked like me who was a journalist. And it wasn’t until that workshop that I knew I could do it. That’s when I learned that giving works, that giving has impact. I’ll never forget them.”

Over the course of her journalism career, Covington went on to win multiple Associated Press awards for investigative work and four Emmy Awards for excellence in reporting.

Shayla Cole has been a member of ASU Black Alumni since 2009 and currently serves as president of the organization. During her time with ASU Black Alumni, which often funds scholarships for current students, Cole has seen how philanthropy can make a difference.

“Generosity is extremely important,” Cole said. “When the community comes together and gives, it goes back into the community.”

Cole hopes that her work with ASU Black Alumni might inspire others to serve their communities.

“I believe representation matters,” Cole said. “Knowing that I'm in a leadership role, I want to continue to be a role model for others.”

Cole specifically hopes that her work might help others see that service doesn’t have to compete with other obligations.

“You can have a family. You can work. You can do all that you want to do,” Cole said. “If I’m here to show that you can balance it all, the next person who sees me might say, ‘I could do the same thing.’”

Shayla Cole

Shayla Cole (right) has been a member of ASU Black Alumni since 2009 and currently serves as president of the organization.

“When Black people go to work in institutions of higher learning, the majority of them are bringing with them a ‘give back’ mentality,” Hassan said. “Those folks come with an attitude of ‘I have to give back to the rest of the community’ – it’s an obligation, a duty.”

As the unrest of 2020 refocused a national conversation on racism, individuals within Arizona State University came together to identify and address the ways in which ASU was falling short in its mission to serve all students, faculty and staff.

Kissa Powell, an ASU staff member at the EdPlus Success Coaching Center, volunteered on committees and helped facilitate these conversations.

“I saw that a lot of people were in pain, including myself,” Powell said. “I really wanted to take the small role that I have in leadership and use that as a platform to help people get the support that they needed.”

Kissa Powell

Kissa Powell is an ASU staff member at the EdPlus Success Coaching Center.

In partnership with ASU President Michael Crow and other senior leaders, committees of faculty and staff across all of ASU’s campuses collaborated to develop the LIFT Initiative, an unprecedented series of 25 actions to support Black communities at ASU.

The initiative set out to enhance diversity, growth and opportunity for Black students, faculty and staff. The plan also outlined steps to expand ASU's academic offerings, community services and collaborative relationships to benefit all underrepresented groups and individuals at ASU.

Jeffrey Wilson

Jeffrey Wilson is associate dean of the W. P. Carey School of Business.

Jeffrey Wilson, associate dean of the W. P. Carey School of Business, and Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, vice president of cultural affairs for ASU, were appointed by President Crow to lead the Advisory Council on African American Affairs, which helped develop the LIFT Initiative.

"It is our belief that the work of the council will enhance the lives of Black/African Americans and ASU through President Crow's LIFT Initiative," Wilson and Jennings-Roggensack said in a joint statement.

A year after the initiative launched, the university had already taken considerable steps towards its goal, revamping To Be Welcoming modules, inviting guest speakers to lead discussions around social justice, opening four Multicultural Community of Excellence locations, and funding dozens of new fellowships and assistantships for Black students.

Colleen Jennings-Roggensack

Colleen Jennings-Roggensack is vice president of cultural affairs for ASU.

The LIFT Initiative has directly benefited thousands of people, and its impacts will be felt for generations to come. But the LIFT Initiative simply would not have been possible without Powell and other people from across ASU who dedicated their time, talent and effort to the cause.

“In a university environment, one of the ways Black employees are philanthropic – in the sense of wanting to ensure the success of other human beings – is they will give a lot of time to informal mentorship of students and peers,” Hassan said. “And a lot of times, that extra effort isn’t recognized.”

LaToya Grigler, a senior counselor at ASU Counseling Services, works with students and student organizations, like the ASU Black African Coalition, as part of her job. But she also donates her time and expertise to these organizations outside of work hours.

“I’m supporting them after hours – yes, after hours – but I don’t mind because it’s important,” Grigler said. “The students need to see us. They need to know that we care in more ways than one.”

Grigler enjoys using her expertise to help those around her, and she hopes that more people will think of giving in a wider sense and find creative ways to give.

“Money is great,” Grigler said. “Time is even better.”

Grigler says that it might seem difficult to get involved, but there are countless opportunities. She says reaching out to someone – anyone – is the easiest way to get started.

“Connect with somebody at ASU,” Grigler said. “Even if they’re not the right person, they will talk to somebody who will talk to somebody who will get you involved.”

LaToya Grigler

LaToya Grigler is a senior counselor at ASU Counseling Services.

“Having a voice is so crucial,” Powell said. “I started off with just trying to create a space for people to express themselves, to seek help if needed.”

“If you don’t have money to support us, come join an event,” Cole said. “There’re so many different ways that you can give back.”

“You don’t have to be rich to be a philanthropist,” Covington said. “You can look at some of the problems in your own neighborhood and give. If we all do that, we can change the world.”

“I think the first thing is to recognize, in your own heart, the value of giving in different forms,” Hassan said. “Make the decision that generosity, care, concern and empathy are an important part of your being.”

After that, Hassan said, “there are millions of ways to give back.”

Top photo: A graduate celebrates after the Black African Convocation with his family.

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October 12, 2021

New report chronicles first year of ASU's LIFT Initiative and efforts to address inequities, injustices and bias

In follow-up to ASU’s commitment to enhance and support the lived, teaching and learning experiences of Black students, faculty and staff, the Advisory Council on African American Affairs at Arizona State University has released The LIFT Report: Status of Black and African Americans at Arizona State University for 2021.

The report is the first in a planned series of annual reports that will document the process and progress of 25 calls to action announced by ASU President Michael Crow in fall 2020 to address embedded injustices and structural problems within our institutions and society at large.

“This is a design transformation process for ASU,” Crow said of the LIFT Initiative at the unveiling of the report during the African and African American Faculty and Staff Association (AAAFSA) meeting on Sept. 24. “Our design is not modern enough. We have an opportunity to accelerate our institution’s evolution and then subsequently impact the broader evolution of society’s aspirations of social equity and social justice. LIFT is launched, and we are holding ourselves accountable.”

A first-year overview of the implementation of the 25 launch points, the 2021 LIFT Report outlines the progress and developments being made in the effort to find solutions to issues of bias, discrimination and underrepresentation at ASU.

LIFT Initiative - Feedback Loop

The LIFT Report – FIRST Feedback Loop

The work of identifying some of these issues is underway through the LIFT-inspired Faculty Inclusion Research for System Transformation (FIRST), led by Victoria Sahani, associate dean of special projects and professor in ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

At the AAAFSA meeting, Sahani said FIRST was developing data sets to review and track initiatives and policies related to the experience of inclusion and belonging among faculty who identify as Black, Indigenous or persons of color, and other identity-disadvantaged faculty at ASU. The goal, she said, was to create a research system for the transformation of the faculty experience at ASU that includes a virtuous cycle, or feedback loop. 

Sahani said the in-development data set augmented by additional data in the future will help determine the effectiveness of current policies and practices and allow for adaptation to improve the experiences of faculty at ASU. 

Postdoctoral fellows and graduate assistants

Other launch points underway for LIFT (an acronym for Listen, Invest, Facilitate and Teach) include the initiative’s "Teach" commitments to establish a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship program and Presidential Graduate Assistant program.

Both programs are currently in motion. They are designed to diversify the faculty of the university and better prepare Black students to navigate graduate school and obtain research and teaching assistantships.

The postdoctoral fellowship program is funding a minimum of 30 positions over a period of two years, and the graduate assistant program will establish 50 assistantships over the next two to three years. The first cohorts of both programs were recently recognized in a welcome reception hosted by the Graduate College on Sept. 22.

Speaking on the progress of the initiatives at the unveiling of the LIFT report, Nancy Gonzales, executive vice president and university provost, cited the presidential postdoctoral program and the LIFT "Invest" commitment to prioritize the practice of cluster hiring as demonstrative of work being done to recruit and retain leading faculty members from underrepresented groups. To accelerate the effort, Gonzales said ASU is also building relationships with several historically Black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions to develop partnership and pipeline opportunities toward graduate degrees.

“We have been actively engaged with several presidents of HBCUs and developed some unique educational programs and partnerships with HBCUs,” Gonzales said. “That’s something we want to be able to grow — to better learn from them, partner with them, develop pipelines with them.”

RELATED: Collaboration committed to diversity in engineering | Partnership to help increase diversity in the real estate industry

To Be Welcoming

Another key initiative highlighted in the 2021 LIFT report is the adaptation of the ASU-Starbucks “To Be Welcoming” training. The original 15-course online diversity, equity and inclusion module was created in response to a racially charged incident in Pennsylvania in 2018. It has since been expanded and modernized by a dedicated group of ASU faculty, staff and graduate student fellows led by Bryan Brayboy, President’s Professor in the School of Social Transformation, Mako Fitts Ward, assistant professor of African American studies and Jessica Solyom, postdoctoral research fellow in the Center for Indian Education.

The group aligned to adapt the original “To Be Welcoming” training into three 90-minute sessions in support of  LIFT’s “Teach” commitment to help the ASU community understand the value of inclusivity in academic success. Three versions of the “To Be Welcoming” training will be presented to all incoming graduate students, staff and faculty. A version for undergraduate students is also in the planning stages for fall 2022. 

Multicultural Communities of Excellence

The LIFT report also highlights the progress made in developing ASU’s Multicultural Communities of Excellence. The convening spaces, long championed by members of ASU’s diverse student population, are now open across ASU’s four campuses.

They were developed in alignment with LIFT’s commitment to invest in inclusive and empowering spaces for students of color and allies of these communities. Multicultural Communities of Excellence also provide a sense of place and support for students of color to address histories of exclusion, according to the report.

Cassandra Aska, deputy vice president and dean of students at ASU’s Tempe campus, told attendees at the Sept. 24 AAAFSA meeting that programming around dialogue and study were in development for the multicultural spaces. Dialogue and programming around justice, equity and inclusion are also in focus in ASU’s Office of Inclusive Excellence (formerly the Office of Inclusion and Community Engagement) in the Office of the University Provost.

In alignment with the LIFT Initiative’s commitment to facilitate the universitywide effort for inclusion and awareness, Tiffany Lopez, vice provost for the Office of Inclusive Excellence, said a council of dean designees embedded in ASU’s various schools and colleges were working with faculty to advance the work of the initiative through faculty and staff hiring, curriculum evolution, and recruitment of graduate students. 

Evolving toward transformation

The efforts now to evolve curriculum is building on work and programming started by faculty and students in various schools and colleges across ASU, well before LIFT's launch in the fall of 2020. Earlier that year, with the help of ASU English Professor Natalie Diaz, graduate students in ASU's English Department took a big step in effort to build a more equitable and accessible department by inviting guest speakers to lead discussions around race, social and gender justice.

Realizing the potential of such discussions, Joshua Horton, English literature graduate student and co-president of the Graduate Scholars of English Association (GSEA), said he and others put plans in motion to incorporate what they learned from the discussions into the training pedagogy of graduate teaching assistants.

“The English department reaches more students than probably any other department in the university because we teach first-year writing, and everybody has to take that class. That also means (English graduate teaching associates and assistants) are one of the first experiences students have of the university,” Horton said. “It’s important that we have an understanding that different students have different needs. A lot of our students didn’t just go to school before they got to ASU, they survived it. Because there's not just one school system in this country, and not everybody has the same opportunities.”

Just getting started ...

The LIFT Report also chronicles the launch and implementation of several previously announced commitments such as the multi-college initiative The Difference Engine to help elevate equality across the United States, and the expansion and implementation of Staff Personnel Policy 601. The policy increases the number of hours of annually approved release time from 16 to 24 to allow all ASU personnel more time to participate in educational and professional growth opportunities and university mentor or mentee programs.

With work still ongoing, Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, vice president of cultural affairs, and Jeffrey Wilson, associate dean and professor in the W. P. Carey School of Business, have both committed to continuing their leadership roles as co-chairs of the Advisory Council on African American Affairs to see the LIFT Initiative through.

“It’s been exciting working with the council over the past year to bring these 25 actions to life,” Jennings-Roggensack said. “What’s also exciting is the president’s commitment to the LIFT Initiative. We are looking forward to seeing the expansion of LIFT and other initiatives that ASU will be doing to support Black and African American faculty, staff and students.” 

To read the 2021 LIFT Report and learn more about the LIFT Initiative, visit

Suzanne Wilson

Sr. Media Relations Officer , Media Relations & Strategic Communications