By Jannette J. Witmyer
Special to the AFRO
The AFRO has received many donations through the fund established by the COVID-19 Local News Fund on GiveButter.com/TheAfro. And most those who have given have been kind enough to express great appreciation for the work the AFRO has done for over 127 years. Many of them said their first job was as paperboys and girls. Or that they’ve read the AFRO their entire lives.
The Steppin’ Out Bunch Executive Committee made their expression with the largest gift so far.
“The Steppin’ Out Bunch has been a faithful supporter of the AFRO for many years, and we appreciate their generous $1000 donation,” said AFRO Publisher Frances “Toni” Draper. “This represents the largest gift we have received to date, and will help fund our continuous coverage of the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on our community.”
It seems they were just happy to help the AFRO along.“We are very active in things, and when we see something, we just try to do it. So that’s why…we take care of the AFRO because the AFRO takes care of us. We have a relationship, you know. We like the Afro. We want it to stay,” President Mildred Harper enthusiastically explained. “We always did give to somebody. We are very active.”
The idea of the “Bunch” started in 2009, when a close friend told then recently-retired educator Harper about a group of retired teachers in the Detroit area who celebrated the start of the school year by throwing a party with fellow retirees, themed “School Is Open, But We Don’t Have To Go.” She could hardly wait to get the party started in Baltimore with her fellow retirees. The idea was to celebrate retirement and just have a really good time on the same day that students and teachers were returning to school.
To Harper’s surprise, the event turned into something much more than she ever imagined and provided the unexpected opportunity for her core group of retired Black female educators, The Steppin’ Out Bunch Executive Committee, to support students and organizations in the Black community through scholarships and other significant contributions. Since its inaugural event at The Olive Branch Restaurant in Pikesville in 2009, the party that started with 18 attendees has grown to 1,400 participants, relocated to The Forum and most-recently to Martin’s West, and made a lot of money for the group to “give back.”
“God did it,” Harper said. “We made money when we weren’t looking to make money. We put up $100 apiece when we gave the first one. Then, we paid our bills off, and we said ‘Woo! Look at this money! What are we going to do with this money?’ We decided then to give money back to [scholarships for] students. That’s how it [the giving] started”
As the group’s founder and president, Harper is also especially proud of their legacy of giving and activism. “The first time we made money we gave every Panhellenic group we could think of and all the other groups like 100 Black Men and Black women $1,000. We wanted to extend the olive branch… show how we can do this thing together. We feel that Black people should stick together and that we should support each other.”
Harper says that many members of those organizations buy tickets to her group’s always sold-out event, which also allows them to offer opportunities for healthcare enrollment seminars and leadership training to members, who, in turn, utilize the experience to support the community.
Most recently, in response to hardships created by the COVID-19 shutdown, the group is honoring the memory of a dear friend who recently passed away, Almie McIntyre Jr., by providing lunch and dinner from Colin’s Seafood and Grill to the staff at FutureCare Lochearn, for four consecutive Wednesdays, through June 3. Harper said, “We focused on FutureCare because they’re located in 21215, and that was at one time the heaviest hit area for the Coronavirus [in Baltimore City]. We wanted to give our support to Black people, and that’s what we did.”
Harper says that while there will be no “School Is Open, But We Don’t Have To Go” celebration for 2020, it won’t keep the group from continuing to find ways to give, stating simply, “That’s what we do.”
Please, join the members of the Steppin’ Out Bunch Executive Committee in their support of the AFRO’s COVID-19 Local News Fund by making a tax-deductible donation at https://givebutter.com/TheAFRO.