A fund that supports local African-Americans in education, leadership and other areas — and has had a broad community impact in its five-year existence — is trying to grow again to ensure long-term sustainability and assistance.

The African American Fund of Bartholomew County has begun a two-year matching campaign. An anonymous local couple has agreed to match contributions up to $20,000, so their gift could help the fund grow by $40,000 or more, said Tom Harmon, one of the fund’s founding members.

Currently, the African American Fund has a balance of about $125,000, partially the result of an original five-year commitment from six local African-American families to create and grow the fund, Harmon said. The founders, combined, pledged to raise $10,000 each year, he said.

“We want to be able to provide enough money annually to do all the things we want to do, and we want to do them on a larger scale,” Harmon said.

Story continues below gallery

The fund launched in 2013 as an effort to improve the quality of life for local African-Americans by focusing on five key areas: education, leadership development, economic and career development, health awareness and arts and cultural events.

Six families — Tom and Mary Harmon, Gil and Dawn Palmer, Dennis and Paulette Roberts, Charles and Lorraine Smith, Don and Shirley Trapp, and Ben Downing and Lori Thompson — raised the initial $10,000, which earned them an additional $5,000 from Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County. By early 2016, the fund had grown to more than $80,000.

“It’s picked up interest from a number of folks in the community,” said Tracy Souza, president and CEO of Heritage Fund, which administers the African American Fund of Bartholomew County.

Where the money goes

The funds have been used to support a variety of events and initiatives, including:

Martin Luther King Jr. Day activities in Columbus

Langston Hughes Project

Arts for AIDS

Leadership Bartholomew County scholarships

Networking session with the Cummins African American Affinity Group

Film showings at YES Cinema (including “Selma” and “Hidden Figures”)

Healthy cooking classes

Laws Foundation Lecture Series

Racism workshop

Columbus Enrichment Program

“We feel like (the fund) promotes diversity. It’s about diversity and working together in the community. We seem to have a lot of momentum in this community toward that right now,” Harmon said.

Last year the African American Fund of Bartholomew County was a recipient of a Diversity Award from IUPUC during Martin Luther King Jr. Day activities in Columbus. The fund was honored for promoting diversity efforts in the community, said IUPUC Vice Chancellor and Dean Reinhold Hill, who presented the award to Harmon as a representative of the fund and its other founders.

Hill said the fund has had broad success and plays a key role in the community.

“It’s an important piece of the overall philanthropic efforts in Columbus,” Hill said.

The African American Fund has opened important dialogue in the community and fostered greater understanding through the movies, speakers and panel discussions it has supported, said Diane Coup, community outreach coordinator for Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center, which operates YES Cinema.

“It has been able to expose children and adults in the community to issues that are important to African-Americans,” Doup said.

That helps to make local residents better people, she said.

“Any time we tackle a subject and talk about it together, it helps us embrace each other’s differences and how much we all have in common,” Doup said.

About the collaborators

Harmon noted that the African American Fund of Bartholomew County also collaborates with a lot of community organizations to achieve its initiatives. Some of those are:


Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.

Columbus Area Multi-Ethnic Organization

Black Lives Matter

Foundation For Youth

Interfaith Forum

YES Cinema

Columbus Area Arts Council

The fund works to collaborate with other organizations to expand understanding and impact, Harmon said.

“The more you understand about other people and their cultures and history, the more likely you are to be engaged and communicate together,” Harmon said.

The support the fund has been able to provide in the community and to residents is what spurred the anonymous local couple to approach the founding members about supporting the fund for the first time through a matching campaign, Harmon said.

“They were impressed with the work of the fund,” Harmon said.

By reaching out to past donors, about 25 percent of the fundraising goal — about $5,000 — already has been met, Harmon said.

Souza said a broad, public fundraising campaign wouldn’t be conducted. However, anyone can contribute to the fund.

How to contribute

Gifts to the African American Fund of Bartholomew County may be made online by visiting the Heritage Fund website at heritagefundbc.org/donate/. Type “African American Fund” in the fund field.

Gifts may also be mailed to Heritage Fund at 538 Franklin St., Columbus, IN 47201.

Founding families

The African American Fund of Bartholomew County started in 2013 with the support of six local families:

  • Tom and Mary Harmon
  • Gil and Dawn Palmer
  • Dennis and Paulette Roberts
  • Charles and Lorraine Smith
  • Don and Shirley Trapp
  • Ben Downing and Lori Thompson
Author photo
Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at johannesen@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5639.