10 year celebration: African American Foundation of Bartholomew County shares its plans to reach new goal

Carla Clark | For The Republic Mary Harmon, at left, looks on, as Tom Harmon holds up the art created for him by artist Louisa L. Aknin, at right, during the African American Foundation 10th anniversary celebration at the Commons, Columbus, Ind., Thursday, February15, 2024

It seemed fitting that jazz pianist Christopher Pitts opened his mini-concert at The Commons Thursday with love songs — especially on a night when the African American Foundation of Bartholomew County opened its heart to the community and more than 350 guests to share its 10th anniversary celebration in Columbus.

The gathering ranks as one of the largest local Black History Month events in years.

The free, gala evening spotlighted the foundation’s beginning with $10,000 raised by six local Black couples, along with The Heritage Fund — the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County providing a $5,000 match.

The nonprofit working to empower Black youth is currently aiming to raise $1 million in a three-year period. It has currently raised more than $400,000 — without a public campaign or open solicitation of any kind.

“The response has been amazing, absolutely amazing,” said Lori Thompson, the foundation’s board president. And I’m confident that with the help of this community, we will meet our objective. And this will enable us to more than double our endowment (of $220,000).”

Thompson highlighted other significant stats:

  • $53,000 in scholarships awarded to 33 students since 2019.
  • 80 students attending STEM camps.
  • 70 youth attending college fairs.
  • Sponsoring 86 youth to attend the Center for Leadership Development.

The foundation’s key initiatives include education, leadership development, health awareness, arts and culture, and economic and career development. The foundation “emphasizes the importance of investing in the next generation to build a stronger community, celebrating diversity and fostering collaboration,” according to its publicity material.

Foundation leaders said earlier in the month that they wanted Thursday’s event to be a multi-ethnic, community-wide celebration. It seemed every bit of that, with leaders in attendance ranging from Heritage Fund President and Chief Executive Officer Tracy Souza to Mayor Mary Ferdon.

Both praised the foundation’s far-reaching success. Souza saluted the visionaries who launched the foundation originally called a fund.

“The founders will modestly talk about how they are happy to give back to the community that helped them thrive both personally and professionally. But the community has said loudly and clearly that those founding families have in turn helped this community thrive. Each made the other better.”

The mayor acknowledged that she was especially impressed with the foundation’s emphasis on education, especially since she was the first member of her family to attend college.

“And I wouldn’t have made it without financial support from scholarships such as yours,” Ferdon said.

The mayor also applauded foundation leaders’ action beyond their planning.

“It’s always easier to sit on the sidelines and know that something needs to be changed and know that something needs to happen and be frustrated and angry when it doesn’t,” Ferdon said. “But stepping forward and providing the resources, the wisdom and the encouragement to achieve progress and change takes courage and takes commitment.

”I’m so proud to live in a city where people put action behind their words, such as those who created the African American Foundation to make that happen.”

The night also included the whimsical work of New York City artist Louisa Aknin, who painted caricatures of a range of local residents. Plus, she added a special, personalized painting for foundation leader Tom Harmon.