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Martha Scott Smith credits parents for instilling a philanthropic mindset

In this second feature for Black Philanthropy Month, we talked to longtime United Way volunteer, Martha Scott Smith, to share her perspective on Black philanthropy. Smith is a retired Regional Director for the AT&T Foundation, a founding member of United Way of the Midlands’ affinity group, Women in Philanthropy and a member of UWM’s affinity group, Always United. Read her responses in this Q&A feature.

Can you explain the reasoning for joining/founding this donor organization?

As a founding member of WIP, I, along with the other founding members recognized the strength of time, talent, and treasure that resided in our city among a group of like-minded women. This group of women represented an untapped reservoir that could further advance and enhance existing efforts that focused on the welfare of women and children. For me, it was a “gift of bonding” that created some lasting friendships.

In what other ways are you a leader in the community?

I have always strived to live a life of service exemplifying the environment in which my brother and I were raised by our parents. In 2009, I was honored by the United Way of the Midlands as the first African-American woman to be named Humanitarian of the Year. I continue to be involved with organizations such as the Columbia Urban League, Inc., The Columbia (SC) Chapter of The Links, Inc., Always United Board and the USC Minority Advisory Board. I remain very interested and involved with the work done at our local HBCUs, in particular, Allen University and Benedict College. I chair our church’s foundation board, and of course, WIP remains close to my heart.

Why is it important for Black women to become philanthropists?

Throughout my life, I have witnessed and come to realize the awesome power of Black women. Whether talking about getting out to vote or nurturing a child, we are innately empowered so why not be the change agent? Black women represent that “quiet storm” that can change the landscape after the storm has passed. We have that power and the ability to release it. It then becomes imperative that we set the example for other black women, especially young black women who we can lead by example into lifelong philanthropy.

What are some ways people can be philanthropic without giving
monetary donations?

Many people think that unless you have lots of money to contribute you cannot be philanthropic. God gives each of us His special brand of time and talent to complement our treasures. Volunteerism is an infinite gift that is not tied to money and is always needed by organizations and individuals.

What does Black Philanthropy Month mean to you?

Black Philanthropy Month serves as an avenue of awareness and a symbolic reminder for those of us who have been especially blessed to give back. I believe each day should be a Black Philanthropic day because needs are ever-present.

Is there a specific Black philanthropist who inspires you? If yes, explain how.

My deceased parents will always be my inspiration for philanthropy. It was in their humble home, that my brother and I watched them share with neighbors and family often to their detriment. We learned that choice was not an option, but that all aspects of time, talent, and what meager treasure you may possess were on the table for sharing. My father was a painter by trade, and I so vividly remember him painting his beloved church as his gift of philanthropy. He probably did not even know the meaning of the word philanthropy, but he understood service and he lived, by example, his deep commitment of service to others. I remember my mother secretly sharing groceries out of the backdoor with struggling neighbors. Not looking for any recognition, they quietly and humbly lived a life of philanthropy through their service. This legacy of philanthropy was the precious gift they left to us, and we have been intentional in passing this legacy to our children and their children.

What’s a message you would like to send to young Black girls in the community?

My message to young black girls is simply Dr. Maya Angelou’s quote, “When you get, give. When you learn, teach.” We are obligated to give back and to show others both the way and the rewards.

Anything else you’d like to share regarding this topic?

In a world where basic needs are often a luxury, it is imperative that we “get over ourselves” and “get into the needs of others,” for it is in this space that you find a sense of peace and joy that is immeasurable.

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