Ebonie Johnson Cooper has a whirlwind life. One typical day found her leaving a lunch date with friends, headed to a business meeting and planning to conduct the Washington, D.C. session of “Defining Young Black Philanthropy.”
The panel discussions, she explained to the AFRO recently, are designed to help Black people, and particularly the under-30 crowd, to engage in charitable giving in an organized way.
In the age of social media, Johnson, like many other millennials, found blogging to be a creative outlet to express her interest with her online community of family of friends. But a year later, Johnson’s blog, Friends of Ebonie (FriendsofEbonie.com), has developed into a social responsibility and career enrichment haven for Black millennials pushing philanthropy and social causes.
Millennials is the label used to cover the segment of the population born between the late 1970s and the early 2000s.
“The social entrepreneurship portion of my career has been organic, part of my DNA… But I didn’t know earlier in my career how to balance my career with philanthropy and giving back,” said 29-year-old Cooper, who hopes her events will help bridge the gap for her and other young Millennials.
More than 100 Black urban professionals crowded into the foyer of the National Council of Negro Women headquarters in D.C. after work on Feb. 21 to talk philanthropy.
For the first hour, attendees mingled and enjoyed a happy-hour feast of mini-cupcakes and other hors d'oeuvres while visiting a series of tables lined with literature from non-profit groups such as Dreams Work Inc., A Legacy Left Behind, Black Benefactors, D.R.E.A.M. Life and TheMusicianShip.
In the second hour, there was a panel discussion moderated by David J. Johns, director of Impact, a consulting firm that specializes in charitable fundraising. It contained a diverse group of millennials with backgrounds in philanthropy and organizing including: Stefanie Brown-James, former African American national vote director for Obama for America 2012; Kezia Williams, chair of Capital Cause; Rita Lassiter, secretary of the National Urban League Young Professionals; Clarence Wardell III, research analyst for the Center for Naval Analyses, and co-founder of Tweenate; and Joshua Lopez; political adviser and former candidate for an at-large seat on the Washington, D.C. Council.
The conversation became a discussion on social accountability as it relates to the millennial population’s people of color and other successful community members. Among the questions to trigger lively debate that evening: What is philanthropy? Who gives? How can social media affect giving?
One of the hottest discussions surrounded whether African American basketball legend Michael Jordan, who celebrated his 50th birthday this year, should be held responsible, on a moral and social level, for the stampedes, riots and violent, robbery-related deaths that occur whenever the latest version of Air Jordan athletic shoe is released.
“Defining Young Black Philanthropy: D.C.” is just one of a handful of webinars and workshops headed by Cooper to provide resources and ideas for young people of color interested in giving.
Cooper’s philanthropic efforts come on the heels of her personal interest in arts and culture. She grew up a dancer and actress in Harlem and was taken on frequent trips to the Rockefeller Center and Lincoln Center by her parents.
“I’ve always had an affinity for the arts, so naturally I’m a supporter of them,” said Cooper. Her dream of a career in the arts faded with age, but she stayed connected, becoming a young patron of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, joining the junior board of New York Cares and becoming active in Black Benefactors in D.C.
For years, Cooper tried to find the best way to juggle philanthropy while finding her perfect career fit. She worked at the mass media firm Viacom doing international marketing of BET and MTV but quit to join the staff of 2008 Obama presidential campaign. She was unable to secure a position with his new president’s administration after the Obama victory.
Cooper, like many young, educated post-grads, hopped from job to job because of the crumbling economy, working at several non-profit groups over the next few years.
“Every job isn't going to be the right job, and that was a part of my career struggle,” said Cooper, who eventually went into business for herself creating Friends of Ebonie.
Today, Cooper is engaged in marketing and communications on a part-time basis while pursuing a master’s degree in public relations and corporate communications at New York University and building and refining the Friends of Ebonie blog. She hopes to brand the organization into the go-to site for non-profit groups eager to learn about the philanthropic habits of black millennials.
Philanthropy is traditionally associated with old, white, men, said Cooper. But Cooper is on a mission to change that perception.
“Just because you are on the receiving end of philanthropy, doesn’t mean you aren’t also on the giving end,” said Cooper.