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Black Philanthropy: Still working to uplift the underprivileged

Lisa Olivia Fitch | 2/2/2011, 5 p.m.

"To whom much is given, much is required," is a life principle Bernard and Shirley Kinsey, Mattie and Michael McFadden-Lawson and Leon Garr take to heart.

Bernard and Shirley Kinsey
"Too many of us have done well and not done enough to share," Bernard Kinsey said. "Not just share a check, but share contacts with Black businesses and organizations, share networks so others can break through."

"There is an 'I made it and you've got to make it on your own' attitude."

As a leader in the Xerox Corp., Kinsey helped form the company's Black Employees Association, which increased African American hiring from 121 employees in 1971 to more than 14,000 in 1991. Later, as COO and co-chair of Rebuild Los Angeles, Kinsey was responsible for generating more than $380 million in investments to help re-energize the inner city following the 1992 riots.

"If you are the only Black person in the boardroom, you must bring an original point of view," Kinsey added. "Otherwise, why do they need you? If the only reason you're there is to bring diversity, you lose influence and you are going to be compromised."

"Our responsibilities are to help the Black community create jobs and wealth," he said. "That's why we're in those jobs."

During their 44-year marriage, Bernard and Shirley Kinsey have raised more than $11 million for their alma mater, Florida A&M University, and $7 million for the United Way. They were one of the early supporters of the NAACP Image Awards and the Real Men Cook prostate cancer fundraising events. But they are most regarded for their extensive art collection.

The traveling exhibit "Shared Treasures of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey--Where Art and History Intersect," originated at the California African American Museum (CAAM) and features an eclectic mix of aged and yellowing slave-owner documents; modern, colorful oils on canvas; and triumphant sculptures depicting Black life. A mini-exhibit will be featured at an 8 p.m. event this Saturday at the Ebony Repertory Theatre.

"The full exhibition is now at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History through May first," Kinsey said of the more than 100 artifacts organized by the Bernard and Shirley Kinsey Foundation for the Arts and Education. "If your readers are planning a trip to D.C., they should visit."

The Kinseys will give a verbal and visual presentation to kick off the Ebony Repertory Theatre's Black History Month celebration.

"We are excited to be able to share with our audience the personal treasures of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey," said Wren T. Brown, founder/producer of the theater. "But we are more excited to be aligned with the living treasures that are Bernard and Shirley Kinsey."

Although the couple has received numerous accolades for their philanthropy, Kinsey is quick to remind that the struggle is not over.

"Our community needs a lot of help," Kinsey said. "When you think about all the wealth in this town... those with resources and contacts should share with others."

"I don't think our community is getting our fair share from corporations," he added. "Some do great work--Southern California Edison, Toyota--but what about the other thousands of businesses?"