Giving Voice to Fuel Change: Celebrating Black Philanthropy Month in Fairfield County

Aug 29, 2017

Photo: Les Treize, a Bridgeport-based giving circle, gives back to the community by awarding scholarships to African-American youth.

August is globally recognized as Black Philanthropy Month – a time to celebrate the collective power of African-American communities and their allies to transform lives through the power of giving, and to raise awareness to inspire and strengthen this work.

It’s a conversation that is deeply meaningful in Fairfield County, where growing disparity between wealth and poverty have created the nation’s largest opportunity gap. In the face of this challenge, many African-American philanthropists are actively investing their time, talent and treasure to build more equitable, inclusive neighborhoods and address the most pressing needs of our communities.

We are grateful to not only these featured African-American philanthropists, but the many others working in our communities to break the trajectory of poverty, increase access to quality education, create pathways to careers and build up Fairfield County as a place where every individual has the opportunity to thrive.

Meet three African-American philanthropists shaping the future of Fairfield County

Black Philanthropy MonthNovelette Peterkin

Executive Director,
The Carver Foundation of Norwalk, Inc.

As the executive director of the Carver Foundation of Norwalk, a Connecticut nonprofit that is the city’s largest private provider of afterschool and summer programs, Novelette Peterkin is committed to partnering with both parents and public schools to “build lifetime achievers.” She is a member of the National Black MBA Association, has served as a panelist for the Norwalk Chamber of Commerce Leadership Institute and the Fairfield Leadership Development Roundtable, and received the Women of Distinction Award in 2013 from the Darien YWCA.

“I am passionate about giving every advantage to the most disadvantaged youth in Norwalk today. I can only hope that this important work will contribute in some small way to gradual social change tomorrow. As a Jamaican immigrant who came to the United States as a child, you might assume my passion arises from my ethnic heritage. It does not. I am just as passionate for the success of our Hispanic youth, and white youth, and Asian youth, as I am for our black young people. The alignment of my passion and purpose, and how I sustain that passion day-in and day-out, depends on my honoring and responding in-kind to the passion my students have for embracing Carver’s mission of Building Lifetime Achievers.

Our work to help close the achievement gap in Norwalk is financially under-valued and too often ignored as an impossible dream that no other city of Norwalk’s size and diversity has ever achieved. The transformative potential of giving is witnessed in the lives of Carver kids every day. Generous and believing people and institutions such as Fairfield County’s Community Foundation are changing Norwalk, if not society, from the inside out. I have the privilege of witnessing this transformation every day. We can absolutely close the achievement gap in Norwalk. Given the wealth in Fairfield County, the excellence of our teachers, and most importantly, the capacity of our young people to overcome serious challenges to achieve their dreams, Norwalk is the nation’s best chance at being the first to finally close the achievement gap and much more. Generous and even sacrificial giving is essential to make this happen. Giving already, each day, changes lives and is already influencing positive change for generations to come. That is the power and promise of giving.”

~ Novelette Peterkin

Black Philanthropy MonthEunice E. Sanderlin

VP and Committee Chair,
Les Treize, Inc.

Eunice E. Sanderlin serves as VP and Scholarship Selection Committee Chair for Les Treize, a Bridgeport-area giving circle founded in 1947 by thirteen professional women who sought to assist fellow African-American students in pursuing college degrees. Since 1992, when the group turned its funds over to the Greater Bridgeport Area Foundation for investment, Les Treize has awarded 470 scholarships totaling $580,341. The organization’s mission of encouraging academic achievement and mentoring college-bound youth aligns strongly with Thrive by 25, a youth initiative spearheaded by Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, which currently stewards Les Treize’s donor-advised fund.

“As chairperson of Les Treize Scholarship Committee and 2nd Vice President of the organization, I am very passionate about keeping the legacy of the thirteen original members alive. They had a dream which became a reality to help African-American youths continue an education beyond high school. With the financial assistance of Les Treize, there have been thousands of black young people who have received degrees in education, business, health and science, medicine and in so many other areas. Many have returned to their communities to encourage the youth that they, too, can make a difference. I feel so blessed to have been a part of Les Treize’s legacy in awarding scholarships to African-American youth.

When my committee interviews prospective recipients for a Les Treize Scholarship, one of the questions we ask is “How do you plan to use your degree upon graduation, and if you return to this area in what ways could you enhance the education, social skills and standard of living for the African American youth?” The reason for this question is to encourage and motivate our recipients to think about the importance of giving back to their community; and to think about how each of them could make a difference in today’s changing society.

~ Eunice E. Sanderlin

Preston Tisdale

Philanthropist & Activist

Currently an attorney with the firm of Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, Preston Tisdale’s legal career has focused on leveling the playing field for defendants facing racial and socioeconomic inequality. He was the first Director of Special Public Defenders for the State of Connecticut, and served the Division of Public Defender Services for 28 years – handling thousands of cases, and amassing an extensive trial resume. He now serves on the board of the Public Justice Foundation, and as a member of the Connecticut Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparity in the Criminal Justice System. With a passion for the arts and children as well as racial justice, Preston has held numerous civic leadership roles and is the recipient of a Distinguished Service Award from the NAACP. He is currently Chair of the Regional Youth/Adult Social Action Partnership; and sits on the boards of Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, the Bridgeport Public Education Fund, and the Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition. He is also Vice-Chairman of the Central Connecticut Coast YMCA, and serves as an Advisory Board Member for the Center for Children’s Advocacy and Family ReEntry.

“Coming from a family of social activists, the contributions of my mother, father and others to the civil rights movement and to the community profoundly influenced me. As a result, I developed a keen awareness of our ongoing need to pursue the improvement of society and the positive outcomes that this commitment can yield.

Given the steady roll-back of so many of the post-war initiatives that contributed to the well-being and uplift of countless lives, the power of giving to change lives in Fairfield County looms larger than at any other period during my life.”

~ Preston Tisdale

Together, building communities where every individual can thrive

Directly translated from its Greek roots, the word philanthropy means “love of mankind.” That love remains our most powerful force for good. Through civic engagement and the power of giving, lives are changed.

Black Philanthropy Month’s mission of raising awareness, strengthening and inspiring a powerful collective movement of giving aligns strongly with the vision on which Fairfield County’s Community Foundation was established: the belief that passionate people, working toward a common vision, hold a vast power and potential to create social change.

Each one of us holds potential to be part of this work, from amplifying and supporting voices of change to investing our time and treasure in the future of Fairfield County. Together we thrive.

Join us in fueling change in Fairfield County. Explore community initiatives, learn about ways to give and get involved in local philanthropy.