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

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Follow through on your good idea.

I always like to be a bit ahead of the curve, so I was really pleased that I had already written about Muhammad Yunus’ Grameen Bank before Professor Yunus won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. But I was no where near as ahead of the game as Southern Good Faith Fund. In the early 80s, Professor Yunus visited Arkansas to help start the peer lending component of Southern Good Faith Fund. Yunus returned to Arkansas earlier this week to work on another iteration of Grameen and I got to meet him!

Professor Yunus spoke, took questions, and left us all inspired. I always enjoy hearing about how people follow through on their good ideas. Muhammad Yunus could have easily continued teaching economics especially after the banks in Bangladesh told him that no one would lend money to women who are poor. He could have given up, gotten angry, or just theorized about why his idea would work. Instead, he followed through on his idea and made it work.

How many times have you had a great idea and sat on it, only to see someone else implement it? It has happened to me more times than I can count. But when I hear folks like Muhammad Yunus speak, I’m encouraged not to let it happen again. I challenge us all to act on our good ideas. Who knows what the result could be? You could win a Nobel Prize, or maybe, even create a world without poverty.

”It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” - Charles Darwin

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Join the Doe Network.

I cannot imagine the horror of someone I love going missing. Hopefully, you can’t imagine it either, and never will. But for some of us, that horror is all too real. And the longer a person is missing, the harder it is to find them. That’s why there are so many unsolved missing persons cases. That’s where the Doe Network comes in.

The Doe Network is “a volunteer organization devoted to assisting Law Enforcement in solving cold cases concerning Unexplained Disappearances and Unidentified Victims from North America, Australia and Europe. It is our mission to give the nameless back their names and return the missing to their families.” They work in three ways:

• using their website to give the cases exposure
• organizing volunteers search for clues on these cases and making possible matches between missing and unidentified persons
• soliciting media exposure for these cases that need it

This process has been used to close numerous cases through finding the missing person and naming or finding an unidentified person. You can help solve more cases by volunteering with the Doe Network or its sister agency North American Missing Persons Network. Many states and other organizations have their own networks which can use support.

So if you are good at solving mysteries, if you never forget a face, if you want to reunite loved ones, consider joining the Doe Network. Someone will be very grateful for the closure your efforts can help bring.

"Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live." - Dorothy Thompson

Monday, April 13, 2009

Be a VITA volunteer.

It mid-April and that means tax season. If you’re one of those rare people who don’t mind filing your taxes (They really exist! I’ve met some!), consider volunteering to file taxes for others. The IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program trains and certifies people to file taxes for low- and moderate-income clients helping them take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and Credit for the Elderly. The EITC is particularly important - it is one of the largest antipoverty tool in the US but one quarter of qualified working people miss out on it each year. If you’d like to help hard-working families keep more of what they earn, consider becoming a VITA Volunteer.

VITA volunteers are trained through community organizations and nonprofits throughout the country (like Southern Good Faith Fund). According to the IRS, “VITA sites are generally located at community and neighborhood centers, libraries, schools, shopping malls, and other convenient locations. Most locations also offer free electronic filing.”

* To volunteer, call 1-800-829-1040 to find a VITA site near you. Then contact the sponsoring organization to get trained and volunteer your services during the next tax season.

* To file your taxes, call 1-800-829-1040 to find a neighborhood VITA site and see if you qualify for this free service. Hurry! It’s almost April 15th!

* The IRS also sponsors the Tax Counseling for the Elderly Program which “provides free tax help to people aged 60 and older.” As part of this program, AARP offers the Tax-Aide counseling program for senior citizens of low- or moderate- income. Call 1-800-829-1040 to learn more about TCE. To locate the nearest AARP Tax-Aide site, call 1-888-227-7669 or visit

These are great ways to serve your your neighbors and help them keep more of the money they earn and keep it working in your community. Happy filing!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Move greenly.

My family and I recently moved from Atlanta to Little Rock, and though the process wasn’t nearly as bad as I had feared (thank you, Kwadjo!) we did create much more waste than I would have liked – packing material, tape, household items, and all those boxes!

The process inspired me to find ways to move greenly, that is, in an environmentally responsible manner. (Yes, I finally succumbed to using the word green and not meaning a color.) So if you’re planning a move, consider these methods to reduce your footprint to only those required to get from your old home to your new one:

* Donate usable items that won’t make the move with you. Clothes, books, kitchenware, and other items are often gladly accepted by human services agencies. The key here is to start early. If you wait until the last minute, you may not have time to drop off the items and the agencies may not be able schedule a pickup on short notice. In many communities, you can call 211 to find a list of local human services agencies.

* Reclaim used boxes. You can often get them for free at grocery stores. Or try,, or

* Choose reusable plastic boxes. There are some great services now that deliver clean, sturdy, reusable plastic boxes, then pick them up at your new place after you move. Find them at,,, or other companies.

* Use biofuel for the move. A number of companies now promote their use of biodiesel fueled trucks for moving.

* Donate your boxes to They’ll make sure they get a second life. This is also a great opportunity for companies that go through a lot of boxes.

* Recycle your boxes once you unpack them at your new place. Check early to find out your new pick up dates or drop off locations.

These are just a few of the many ways to make your next move less painful for you and for our planet.

"Forever is composed of nows." - Emily Dickinson

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Give an inspired gift.

What do you give the person who has everything? How about the knowledge that their gift helped save a child’s life. UNICEF now makes this possible with their UNICEF Inspired Gifts. These are truly amazing gifts – every thing from Plumpy Nut which successfully treats malnutrition to antimalaria bed nets to water purification kits. Gifts are organized into three categories:

• Education and Play
• Immunization
• Water
• Nutrition
• Health
• Emergency

* Honor your favorite teacher with a school in a box and ensure that 80 children can continue their education even in times of emergency.

* Know someone who rides their bike to work? Celebrate their efforts with a bicycle for health workers that will enable workers to reach remote villages and serve the people there.

* Thank your child’s pediatrician with a vaccine carrier that keeps immunizations effective even in hot climates.

These items can make a life-saving or life-changing differences for a child. Want more evidence? Just watch . . .

Watch CBS Videos Online

”To find yourself, think for yourself.” - Socrates

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Join the Carnival for Change - Booth 14.

Welcome to the Carnival for Change where we explore the web for interesting items relating to social justice, health, education, and opportunity. Today’s entries are from the mailbag . . .

* Women for Women International is hosting an international conference call on their work and other ways to celebrate International Women’s Day. The call is March 5. More later on the holiday (March 8).

* Emily, a 12 year old girl from Pennsylvania has started a charitable e-greeting site. Visit and choose a $5 singing gram card to send to a friend. 100 cards are available for all occasions and Emily sings the greetings herself. Proceeds go to food allergy research. Way to go, Emily!

* Join the I’m in campaign from Starbucks and the HandsOn Network and pledge to volunteer five hours in your community. Every little bit helps!

* In The Trouble with the Alphabet: Through The Eyes Of Innocence, each letter is represented by a beautiful painting, a country and a way to help improve lives of the people there. Check it out.

Thanks for visiting the Carnival for Change! If you'd like space at the next booth, send your items to me with "Carnival for Change" in the subject. See you next time! In the meantime, subscribe to So What Can I Do (see sidebar) or follow us on Twitter (@sowhatcanido)

"We are continually faced by great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems." - Lee Iacocca

Friday, February 13, 2009

Bank Southern.

I don’t watch a lot of old movies (or movies in general, for that matter), so I saw It's a Wonderful Life for the first time fairly recently. Many of you already know the story - a guardian angel shows a depressed and suicidal banker how much worse his community would have been without him and helps him value his life and the positive difference he makes in the lives of others. I remember being struck by the beneficial role the bank played in the small town. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but the bank was a community development financial institution.

When my family and I decided to move to Arkansas (where I grew up), I took the opportunity to look for a position that made my interest in and commitment to social justice an asset. I consider it a blessing that I found meaningful work at Southern Bancorp.

Southern Bancorp is a community development financial institution and is the largest rural development bank in the United States. Southern channels profits from three community banks (with more than 40 locations) into three nonprofit affiliates. The nonprofits work with residents in the bank service areas to help them improve their communities. This model of social entrepreneurship is making a real difference for the people in the communities we work in, some of which rank among the poorest in the nation.

Southern excites me for two main reasons. First, our work focuses on rural areas in southern Arkansas and the Delta region of Arkansas and Mississippi. Because my mom is from southern Arkansas and my dad is from the Delta, I have family all over the region we serve. So it’s personal. More importantly, Southern is implementing an ambitious and innovative community development model that is proving to be effective, scalable, and reproducible. Southern’s rural hub development strategy is revitalizing communities by educating children, helping their parents find jobs and homes, and creating a myriad of good reasons for people to stay in or return to the towns they love. It’s helping turn dying towns into vibrant places to live.

If this work and these ideas inspire you as they do me, here’s how you can get involved:

* Open an account at a Southern bank branch in your area. By banking at Southern you’ll be supporting your community.

* Open a Certificate of Deposit at Southern. Your FDIC-insured investment will earn interest and support community development work. You can even choose to donate a portion of your interest earnings to the Southern nonprofits.

* Donate to Southern’s direct service nonprofit, Southern Good Faith Fund. Remember, your contribution is tax deductible.

* Search the web through GoodSearch and select Southern Good Faith Fund as your nonprofit. Every search generates a donation to Southern, so search often.

* Shop online through GoodShop for Southern Good Faith Fund. Every purchase results in a donation to Southern.

* Learn more about Southern. Start by perusing the website. You can also watch Delta Dreams. This 2007 documentary focuses on Helena-West Helena, Arkansas, where Southern first implemented its innovative community development strategy. And you may want to read Doing Development in Arkansas for an early history of Southern. It's important to note that Southern's development model has been significantly refined in the years since this book. It is this new strategy that is creating the real results we are seeing now.

*Spread the word. If you are from Southern Arkansas or the Delta or know someone who is, let them know about the many ways to support or participate in Southern’s community development work.

Isn't it nice to read a good story about a bank? Especially these days. Now you know why I'm proud to bank Southern.

” Just a minute — just a minute. Now, hold on, Mr. Potter. You're right when you say my father was no business man. I know that. Why he ever started this cheap, penny-ante Building and Loan, I'll never know. But neither you nor anybody else can say anything against his character, because his whole life was...Why, in the twenty-five years since he and Uncle Billy started this thing, he never once thought of himself. Isn't that right, Uncle Billy? He didn't save enough money to send Harry to school, let alone me. But he did help a few people get out of your slums, Mr. Potter. And what's wrong with that? Why...Here, you're all businessmen here. Doesn't it make them better citizens? Doesn't it make them better customers? said...What'd you say just a minute ago?...They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait! Wait for what? Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they're so old and broken-down that they...Do you know how long it takes a working man to save five thousand dollars? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you're talking about...they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn't think so. People were human beings to him, but to you, a warped frustrated old man, they're cattle. Well, in my book he died a much richer man than you'll ever be! - George Bailey, It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Lend a hand.

Have you ever tried to organize friends and family to help out a loved one in a time of need? It can be a challenge to respond to needs following a medical crisis, arrange meals for a new parent, caregiving for a parent, or support for the family of a deployed soldier. Lotsa Helping Hands can help make that process a lot easier.

Lotsa Helping Hands is a free online service that helps people organize “circles of community who are eager to help those in need.” Simply visit their website to set up private and secure network. Your community of friends and family can then sign on and sign up to lend a hand. Use it to

• Organize meals, transportation to doctor’s appointments, and home visits to someone dealing with a debilitating illness.
• Keep those who care up-to-date on medical progress or family activities.
• Securely share medical, legal, or financial information with designated people.
• Plan group activities, volunteer projects, school or religious events.

It takes only minutes to build your site. And once you do, your community members can sign up for tasks, receive email reminders of commitments, view a calendar of activities, and much more. Lotsa Helping Hands is certainly better than endless emails and phone tag. So when you need to get a group together for a set of activities, us Lotsa Helping Hands to facilitate the process. It makes lending a hand a lot easier.

"Forever is composed of nows." - Emily Dickinson

Friday, February 06, 2009

Show your love with a loan.

Valentine’s Day is almost here. Those who want to offer a token of love to their sweetheart have lots of options – chocolates, cards, flowers, and more. Now here’s one more option to add to the list of socially responsible Valentine’s gifts.

MicroPlace is a microloan service provider that has a special offer for Valentine’s Day. Make a $20 investment in microloans and honor your someone special with a free card and fair trade, organic Divine Chocolate Hearts from Ghana. Your sweet gets a treat, you get an interest earning investment, and someone else gets a chance to move out of poverty and make a better life for herself and her family.

So visit to open your account. You can invest in $100 increments anytime, but the $20 offer is only available until Valentine’s day. Send your gifts by February 9 if you want to chocolates to arrive on time. And if you’re getting married this Valentine’s day, don’t forget to spread the love!

Mmmm, chocolate! Mmmmmm, microloans!

"Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live." - Dorothy Thompson

Monday, January 26, 2009

Give the gift of learning.

Every now and then, I take a look at the archives of So What Can I Do to see how organizations have grown and developed since I first wrote about them. Donors Choose is a perfect example of why it's important to revisit organizations. When I first wrote about Donors Choose almost four years ago, they were only active in certain cities. But now, they are nationwide! Want to know why I’m excited?

We all know that many public schools are underfunded, particularly in low-income communities. But every child, regardless of family income, deserves a rock solid education that prepares her to take advantage of the many opportunities life brings. Even with dedicated, caring, and effective teachers, some classrooms still need help.

At Donors Choose, public school teachers from across the US, post the specific needs they have for their classroom, and then we, the donors, choose to fund them. Here in Arkansas, a teacher needs $419 to buy “5 sets of science materials including 10 dissecting pans, a dissecting kit, blood typing kits, and two anatomy videos” for her high school biology class. A teacher in Pennsylvania needs $230 to buy “30 glue sticks, 24 scissors, and dry erase markers” for her elementary students. And a teacher in Nevada would like to buy “8 copies of each of 3 different chapter book series - Freckle Juice, Judy Blume's Fudge Box Set, and the Ralph Mouse Collection” for $457.

You can help these and other educators and students by making a donation a tax-deductible donation of as little as one dollar to support a child’s education. Donors Choose collects the funds, buys the supplies at a negotiated best price, then, ships them to the teacher. I’m so glad this opportunity is now available to all US public school teachers. Ready to get involved?

* If you want to donate, visit to get started. The teachers will even send you a thank you note!

* If you need supplies for your classroom to register your class and request materials.

* If you want to help, then spread the word. Tell your friends. Forward this message to a teacher you admire. Encourage others to participate.

What a great way to give the gift of learning. - Give the gift of learning - Go

“Thank everyone who calls out your faults, your anger, your impatience, your egotism; do this consciously, voluntarily.” - Jean Toomer, poet and novelist (1894-1967)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Join the Carnival for Change - Booth 13.

Welcome to the Carnival for Change where we explore the web for interesting items relating to social justice, health, education, and opportunity. Happy Inauguation Day!

* CFED is currently accepting innovative ideas that will expand economic opportunity for low and moderate income people in the United States. Winning ideas will be showcased at the Innovation Summit later this year. Deadline for submission is April 3.

* Take the Small Things Challenge. For each click, Intel will donate 5 cents to Kiva and Save the Children. Now through Dec 31.

* Is there a child in your life? If so, check out this Razoo article, Raising a Charitable Child.

* Join Operation No Kid Hungry by texting SHARE to 20222 on your mobile phone to donate $5. AT&T will match the first $100,000 in donations.

* Here’s another store in the charity mall:

* The most frequent search leading to So What Can I Do this weekend has been What can I do to make the world a better place?. Here’s the post that is returned: Think Globally, Act Locally.

* This just in (the mail): CauseWired: Plugging In, Getting Involved, Changing the World.

Thanks for visiting the Carnival for Change! If you'd like space at the next booth, send your items to me with "Carnival for Change" in the subject. See you next time! In the meantime, subscribe to So What Can I Do (see sidebar) or follow us on Twitter (@sowhatcanido).

"Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does." - William James (1842-1910), psychologist and author

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Rethink “race.”

“Race” is one of the most intractable and troublesome concepts we humans have ever created. Many of us the term regularly, but it is rarely and poorly defined. The definitions, when they do exist, are fluid and arbitrary. And racial terminology is often used when we mean something else. It is perhaps no surprise that the concept of race often considered problematic. As I see it, we have two central challenges:

→ To recognize and live the fact that there is no biological or genetic basis for our social understanding of “race.”

→ To recognize and eventually move past our social and biological notions of race without losing or devaluing groups and group membership.

I don’t claim to have done or even know how to do both of these, but I am working at it. I arrived at these goals through my study of genetics and through life experience, and I find them liberating. They are another way I strive to “Be the change I want to see in the world.”

This work is hard, but all the evidence I see points in that direction. The following resources offer additional insight, and should be read and critically evaluated by anyone wanting to rethink "race."

* Race – The power of an illusion - The companion site to the 3-part PBS documentary.
* Understanding Race - An interactive website from the American Anthropological Society.
* Use and Misuse of "Race" in Biomedical Research - My most recent academic work on the subject.

The last article is particularly useful if you want a thorough explanation of the first paragraph of this post. There are of course, many other useful resources on the subject. If you have a favorite, please let us know.

“Herein lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here in the dawning of the Twentieth Century. This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.” - W E B DuBois, 1903, in The Souls of Black Folk

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Celebrate with service.

I am simply thrilled that Barack Obama will soon be the President of the United States. The Presidential Inauguration Committee recently launched to support President-elect Obama’s call to “Renew America Together.” Given that the inauguration is happening just after Martin Luther King Day, it is appropriate that we celebrate with service.

Just enter your ZIP code at to find a service opportunity near you. You can also organize your own service event and list it on the site. If you prefer, peruse the archives of So What Can I Do to find your own ideas. And please leave a comment letting us know about your efforts.

Service to others is a manifestation of our theme (by Ghandi) – "Be the change you want to see in the world." Enjoy! And happy inauguration!

“If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But, recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's a new definition of greatness.” - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, on 4 February 1968.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Start a “foundation.”

A good friend once told me the story of how she and her relatives lost their family land in Georgia. As I remember it, there was a small subset of the family that had taken responsibility for paying the taxes, but couldn’t afford to do so anymore. They made some efforts to rally the rest of the family, but it was too late and they soon sold the land. My friend got a check for her share of the sale price. It was a windfall, but not a happy one. Given what her ancestors went through to obtain, develop, and work the land, she hated to see her family gone from it so quickly. It wasn’t a huge check – I’m guessing less than a thousand dollars, but given its origin she vowed to do something very special with it.

If you ever come into or accumulate a sum of money, especially one that is meaningful to you, consider starting a foundation. Here are some ways you can participate in long-term charitable giving with less money than you probably think.

* Contact your local community foundation. They may be able to help you set up a scholarship or donor advised fund that will allow you to direct your charitable giving and reduce your taxes. This is especially powerful if people pool their resources. When a dear friend and classmate passed unexpectedly a few years ago, her colleagues, friends, and family established a fund to support her favorite organizations and activities. It has been a nice way to honor her.

* Open a Calvert Giving Fund for as little as $5000. The principle is tax deductible and you direct your earnings to your favorite charities. Calvert says theirs is “the only 100% Socially Responsible Donor Advised Fund”. That means your principle is doing meaningful work as well.

* If the sum is a bit larger or if you are pooling it with others, you can start a foundation. The Council on Foundations has a helpful guide to get started.

Of course, these aren’t the only ways you can give. You can simply make a donation to your favorite organization, or invest in microloans and let them permanently revolve. Regardless of the method you choose, make sure you use the money in a way that is as meaningful as how you received it.

”What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?” - Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948)

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Keep your land.

I’ve written before about my great-great-grandfather Griffin Henry Belk. He had been enslaved and after his freedom was acknowledged, he spent several years searching in vain for his parents. Eventually, he settled on 160 acres of land in Ozan, Arkansas that he purchased for $11 (that’s right, eleven dollars). His descendents still own the land we call the Belk Estate. My mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother were born there. Now that I’m back in Arkansas, I look forward to visiting this spring. I haven’t been there since I was a child, though I clearly remember the pond and forests that cover much of the land. My grandmother always talked lovingly of the five acres she grew up on.

You don’t have to read much of this blog to recognize that I generally think it’s better that resources are spread among many people rather than being concentrated among just a few. For that reason, I am a big promoter of people keeping their family land. It can be a challenge as families grow in size and members move away and lose contact and interest in the land and the taxes associated with it. But given the history behind the land and its value, it can make even more sense to keep it and make it useful. Here are some resources to help you do just that:

* Get in touch with land preservation organizations like the Federation of Southern Cooperatives
Land Assistance Fund or the Arkansas Land & Farm Development Corporation that can help you keep your land. They may be able to help you use land trusts, and other legal tools to help maintain your interest in the land.

* Visit the Forestry Service (or similar office) in your state. Many of them have programs designed to help people develop uses for their land (cutting timber, starting an organic farm, opening a campground, etc.) that can provide income to pay the taxes.

* Talk to your neighbors. If you all are in similar straights you may be able to work together to keep your land. For example, the members of the Sapelo Island Cultural and Revitalization Society were able to get zoning regulations instituted that favored them keeping their land as homesteads rather than allowing massive development on their high value (and gorgeous) land.

* Talk to your relatives. Some of them may not even know about the land. Others may have interesting ideas about how to use it. I know of a family in Arkansas that built several cabins on their land. They use them for family vacations and rent them out to others who want to visit or have a gathering. You may be surprised at the options. Be sure to talk about them all before you sell, because it’s hard to get it back once it’s gone.

Land is a limited resource, so it would probably be better if no one owned it. But since that's the model we're using, it's better that many of us have a share and that we use it wisely and sustainably.

"Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony." - Mahatma Gandhi