Thursday, July 09, 2015

Make a promise.

The positive correlations between educational attainment and economic mobility are clear. But the rising cost of higher education makes getting a college degree seem more challenging for the very people who need it most. I say "seem" because while the list price of a college education has increased dramatically, the actual cost for students from families with low or moderate income has not changed much. How can we ensure those student see college as attainable and worth the effort? Make a promise.

Promise communities have a place-based scholarships that fund all or part of every child's higher education expenses.  The benefits include:

  • Increased economic vitality in the community
  • Increased enrollment in local schools
  • Increased enrollment in and completion of college
  • Improved elementary and high school academic performance
As you can imagine, these efforts can be expensive, particularly in larger cities like Kalamazoo, MI, and even in smaller ones like Arkadelphia or El Dorado, AR, But in very small towns, ensuring every high school graduate has a chance to get to and through college may not cost as much as you think. 

In very small, low wealth communities, many of the students will qualify for significant need based financial aid like Pell Grants. And if students receive academic and other scholarships as well, they may be able to cover much of their tuition on their own so that the promise scholarship is only responsible for gap funding. In these communities a well off, though not necessarily wealthy, individual may be able to make a life changing difference for people in her hometown.  

So consider working with a local community foundation or other entity to make a promise in your community.  It can be a game changer for the people and community you love. 

Monday, July 06, 2015

Speak up.

As a lifelong member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and as a human being, I was truly saddened by the recent killing of nine members of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. This was one of those occasions in which it is difficult to answer the central question of this blog, "So what can I do?"  As a society, we answered by considering removal of Confederate flags from public spaces, discussing reductions in gun violence, and making donations to Emanuel AME.

All of this is important and worthy work, but it does not address the core issue of racism and hate. We such a complicated, problematic, and entrenched understanding of race.  It is easy to understand why we shy away from dealing with it, but we must because racism results in part from our collective unwillingness to honestly address race. has numerous resources to help facilitate these important conversations.

We also must speak up when we hear friends or acquaintances say or talk about planning something cruel.  Sometimes silence isn't enough. There are times when we have to show disapproval in an effort to help stop something tragic from happening.  And if that conversation is too difficult or too dangerous, then it's time to talk with the police or other authorities.  Better to do that than to have to ask "So what could I have done" after something tragic has occurred.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Ban the box.

If you've ever applied for a job, you likely had to respond to a question about past criminal convictions. If you have none, you may never have thought much about the box.  But if you have a past conviction or care for someone who does, you know that checking that box means lost opportunity to contribute positively to society and one's family.

The Ban the Box Campaign  is a national movement to give those with prior convictions a fair chance to live decently, work productively, and provide for themselves and their families.  Here's how you can help:
Attorneys can also organize an expungement clinic to provide free legal assistance to those wanting to clean up their records.

Employers shouldn't reject qualified candidates who want to work because of a debt to society that has already been paid. Ban the Box so everyone has a fair chance. 

Monday, October 06, 2014

Change the world.

Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter using the hastag #SWCID.  

How will you make our world a better place?

* Health and education
* Economics, social entrepreneurship, and microfinance
* Food and water
* Energy and technology
* Women, children, and family
* Environment, land, and sustainability
* Faith

Your efforts change the world.

Buy eBook

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Celebrate Juneteeth, end slavery.

Today is Juneteenth, my favorite holiday. It marks the "end" of slavery in the United States in 1865 and feels particularly relevant because is linked, at least peripherally, to my great-great-granddaddy, Griffin Henry Belk.

But one cannot honestly celebrate Juneteenth these days without recognizing the slavery is not over in the United States or elsewhere. Today there are more people enslaved than at any time in human history. Many of those enslaved are women and girls; many are in the United States.

I often wonder why so many people sat idly by while people enslaved other people like my great grandparents and great-great-grandparents. Many of those people knew slavery wasn't right, wasn't just, but they did nothing. How will history look at us during this time? What are we doing to end slavery?

Here are some things you can do:

* Learn more about human trafficking (slavery). There are numerous websites where you can get reliable information. Try the FBI, DHHS, DHHS, or the New York Times.

* Learn the indicators of modern slavery and report suspected trafficking. The Department of Homeland Security tells you how to do this.

* Get involved. There are numerous organizations dedicated to ending slavery in the US and around the world.

* Spread the word. Post on Facebook. Tweet. Blog. Talk with those you know about what you've learned. Encourage them to get involved.

If you do, perhaps history will look kindly upon us.

"In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free - honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just - a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless." Abraham Lincoln's Second Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Send a girl to school.

Happy International Women's Day! One great way to celebrate is to invest in the women of tomorrow and the communities they'll create. You can do that by helping send a girl-child to school.

According to CAMFED, "When you educate a girl in Africa, everything changes. She’ll be three times less likely to get HIV/AIDS, earn 25 percent more income and have a smaller, healthier family."

Consider supporting CAMFED as they help girls all over rural Africa pay school fees, purchase school books and uniforms, and get a life-changing education.

And if you'd like other ideas for today and everyday, check out the So What Can I Do archives.

Enjoy the day!

"It is very important for young people not to be afraid of engaging in areas that are not common to the youth. Get involved in local activities, get involved in local initiatives, be involved in leadership positions because you can’t learn unless you are involved. And if you make mistakes that is alright too because we all make mistakes and we learn from those mistakes. You gain confidence from learning, failing and rising again." - Wangari Maatai

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sacrifice, save, serve.

Today is the first day of Lent and many Christians are giving up some luxury as a way of preparing for Easter and focusing their thoughts and prayers on Christ's sacrifice for us. If you are giving up something for Lent this year, and if that something costs money, consider donating your savings to a worthy local, national, or international service organization.

* If you're giving up pop for Lent, you could save and donate $30 to help a family use agriculture more self sufficient by supporting Heifer International (where I got this idea).

* If you're giving up desserts for Lent, you could save and donate $100 to help women and babies worldwide live through pregnancy and birth by supporting CARE.

* If you're giving up eating out for Lent, you can save $250 to help a family increase their income through microenterprise through supporting Microplace or Kiva.

Any amount helps your neighbors, your community, and our world. Search the archives of So What Can I Do for more giving ideas. Your sacrifice can not only strengthen your relationship with God, but also be a means of serving God's children.

Blessings to all!

Friday, January 06, 2012

Make it a day/life of service.

I remember one Martin Luther King day many years ago, when I was in grad school, that I spent in the lab. That wasn't too unusual because I generally went to the lab every day. But one of my colleagues (who was also working) asked me why I was in the lab on the King holiday. I replied that I thought Dr. King would want me to get my PhD.

I still think of the King Holiday as a day on rather than a day off, but now that I have finished school, I have a bit more time to be of service to others on that day. Readers of So What Can I Do are likely to feel the same, so I offer two resources to find local service projects for the King Holiday:

* Visit to find a service project in your area. Perhaps you'll prepare a vacant lot for a community garden or provide basic home repairs for a family or neighbor in need.

* Peruse the archives of So what can I do. Maybe you'll decide to donate blood (January is National Blood Donor Month) or sort products at a food bank or medical reclamation facility.

Most importantly don't let it be a just single day of service. Make a lasting commitment to make a read difference in our world. Happy birthday, Dr. King.

"He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8

EITC: Ask for it!

Tax time is upon us once again. You've got a couple of extra days this year - til April 17.

And here's another piece of good news: lots of folks, many of whom don't know it, will qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit. EITC can mean up to $5,751 in your pocket. That's money to pay bills, save for college or a downpayment on your home, or stash away for a rainy day. Find out if you're eligible or ask your tax preparer about it.

Remember you have to file a tax return (even if you're not required to or do not owe) in order to claim the EITC.

You've already earned it. Now go claim it.

"Next to being shot at and missed, nothing is really quite as satisfying as an income tax refund.” — F. J. Raymond, humorist

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Join the So What Can I Do blood donation team.

I went to the Red Cross blood center today and gave a pint. Regular readers and regular donors know that blood donation is a fast and easy way to save up to three lives. You never know when you or someone you know will need blood. So please consider donating blood, platelets, or red cells.

And if you do, you’re invited to join the So What Can I Do Red Cross Racing Team. Here’s how:
• Visit .
• After you register scroll to the bottom and click “Team Competition.”
• Enter the So What Can I Do team code: O?67SO .
• Remember to log your donations to win points and prizes.

Hope to see you on the team!

"Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." -Elie Wiesel, writer, Nobel laureate (b. 1928)

Donate Blood
Red Cross Racing

Friday, June 19, 2009

Celebrate World Free Your Mind Day – June 19th.

I spent this Juneteenth thinking about what my family would have been like if my great-great-granddaddy Griffin Henry Belk hadn’t walked off that plantation when he did. I expect it would have made a huge difference, because when Griffin Henry Belk left, he was able to travel (searching for his parents), purchase land (160 acres for $11 in Ozan, Arkansas), and generally prepare to provide for his wife and five children to come.

So I woke up Juneteenth morning and told my daughter about her great-great-great-granddaddy. Even though she’s only two, I expect it resonated with her, or will soon. But when I wished Kwadjo a Happy Juneteenth, I thought, “How is this holiday - my favorite one - relevant to him?” But thinking about Griffin Henry Belk made me realize how Juneteenth is relevant to each of us.

See, Griffin Henry Belk was enslaved, but he didn’t need the Emancipation Proclamation to know that he was free. He was already free in his mind. and since it’s most important to recognize and cultivate your own freedom, in honor of all those everywhere who struggle to be free, I declare June 19th World Free Your Mind Day! Now that’s something we can all celebrate with pride!

O happy day!

"There are two ways of spreading light; to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it." - Edith Wharton

Friday, June 12, 2009

Make Kiva microloans in the US.

I’ve written frequently about microloans - how the concept spread as a tool for economic development, how to lend and get your money back – sometimes with with interest, making a loan a no cost to you, etc. But my most popular post on the topic discusses microloans in the US. I’m pleased to report that there is now another option for those interested in making microloans in the US.

Kiva now offers the opportunity to make microloans in the US. If you’re in the US, this is a great way to help your neighbors move ahead through entrepreneurship.

And if you need a microloan, this means there are more people around to sponsor your business. Contact Accion USA or Opportunity Fund for more information on getting a loan for your small business.

If you join Kiva or are already a member, consider joining the So What Can I Do Kiva lending team. And if you happen to be connected with Swarthmore College, consider the Swarthmore College and Community lending team. Find a team that fits your style or start your own. You'll be amazed at the difference your group can make. Since its launch less than a year ago, the So What Can I Do lending team has already loaned over $5,000!

Microfinance and microlending are great ways to help others reach financial stability and promote economic justice. And it doesn't take much to get started. Happy lending!

He who postpones the hour of living is like the rustic who waits for the river to run out before he crosses. - Horace, poet (65-8 BCE)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Be the match: Join the Marrow Registry for free June 8-22.

Earlier today when I wanted to forward my post on cord blood donation, I realized that most of the links had gone dead. While updating them, I was pleased to learn about the upcoming Marrowthon from the National Marrow Donor Program. NMDP has set a goal of adding 46,000 new members to the marrow registry during this drive. Each new member increases the odds that someone with a life threatening blood disease will live, and live well – disease free.

Joining is easy: just take the eligibility quiz, fill out a form, and swab your cheeks for a cell sample. (I had to give a bit of blood for testing when I joined years ago– so now it’s even easier.) That’s it, you’re on the registry. Just keep your address updated so that if you ever match someone in need, NMDP will know how to contact you. If that happens and you choose to donate, your choice may well save someone’s life. Remember, it is a choice - there’s no obligation to donate even if you match.

Usually, it costs $52 to join. The fee covers the testing and maintenance of the registry and is tax deductible. But joining is free from June 8-22 during the Marrowthon!

Joining the marrow registry is just one way to help. Here are some other ways to get involved:

* Make a tax-deductible donation to the NMDP. It actually costs ~$100 to place one person on the registry so your donations help defray expenses.

* Spread the word. Encourage others to join, especially during the Marrowthon when it's free!

* If you’re pregnant, donate your baby’s cord blood. It’s free, painless, doesn’t alter the birth process, and can save someone’s life.

So think about the options you would want for yourself, your child, your spouse, or a loved one upon a blood disease diagnosis. Now consider joining the Be the Match Marrow Registry. You may be the one to save a life.

“Sickle cell is now a part of my past. One year after my transplant, I was pronounced cured. Stem cells saved my life. Thank you.” - Keone Penn, 2003, the first person cured of sickle cell anemia by umbilical cord blood donation from an unrelated donor, in a US Senate hearing.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Call 211.

Lots of places allow residents to call 211 to get local help with food, housing, employment, health care, counseling and other social services. But did you know that you can also call 211 to learn how give help?

When Kwadjo and I moved from Atlanta to Little Rock, we found we had lots to give away just before we were planning to leave. The organizations to which we normally donated would do scheduled pick-ups but the available dates were too far away. And we were too busy packing to make a drop off. So I called 211 to get find some organizations that could do an immediate pickup. Thankfully, it worked out well.

Wondering if your town has 211 for social services? Visit and search by city, state, or ZIP code. I was pleased to see that Arkansas also has 211. And like many other states and municipalities, Arkansas 211 also has a website (

So call 211 or visit your local 211 website next time you

• need social services
• would like to offer help
• want to list your organization’s services

It’s a valuable local resource and it’s just a call or click away.

"This is the miracle that happens every time to those who really love; the more they give, the more they possess." - Rainer Maria Rilke

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Build 1 Well.

One of the great things about Kiva, Prosper, and Donors Choose is that donors get to select the projects they fund. Giving is much more personal when you know the recipient of your gift and how it will be used. 1 Well has taken this concept and combined it with giving teams in a whole new way.

1 Well is a nonprofit that connects “socially conscious individuals, groups, and businesses” with residents of “communities in high need areas of the world” to “partner to build critical life-sustaining projects – wells, toilets, childcare centers, etc – that meet the basic needs of poor communities and give them the opportunity to work for a living wage.” For example:
* A 1Well project in Vachharajpur, India, provided clean drinking water for more than 550 villagers. Women have started small businesses because they no longer walk five hours a day to collect potable water.

* Another 1Well project in Sedla, India, provided irrigation water for more than 100 farming families, improving the quality and quantity of their crops, reducing their costs by 75 percent and providing jobs for those who would otherwise migrate in search of work.

Isn’t that a great way to make a difference? If you think so, then you can take financial responsibility for a 1 Well project 1 Well project. Sign up to be the social venture capitalist for a project that will raise $2,900 for a solar lantern manufacturing and repair facility in Haji Bhachudiwandh, Gujarat, India. Or manage the effort to raise $1,000 to build a classroom in Ica City, Ica, Peru.

You can sell baked goods, organize a road race, host a silent auction, or use other activities to raise money for the project you are sponsoring. When the project is complete, you’ll know you played a key role in making it happen.

So visit, select the project you want to fund, then choose the methods you will use to raise money for it. Your efforts will make a difference for years to come. (Thanks to Frank for the tip!)

"The way to get things done is not to mind who gets the credit.” - Benjamin Jowett, 1817-1893