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The Voice of the Black Community
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Of dreams and reaching mountaintops
Crisis Assistance executive on black philanthropy
Published Thursday, August 1, 2013 1:39 pm
by Valaida Fullwood, Special to The Post

In observance of Black Philanthropy Month, interviews in this series feature African Americans engaged in multiple facets of philanthropy and focus on interests and concerns, 50 years after Martin Luther King’s iconic “I Have A Dream” speech. This is an abridged version of the interview. 

Men Tchaas Ari is chief program officer at Crisis Assistance Ministry.


Chief Program Officer, Crisis Assistance Ministry

• Black philanthropy is . . . The key to eradicating poverty and all of the other ills plaguing the African American community.     

• What can you share about the history, mission and services of Crisis Assistance Ministry?  

Crisis Assistance Ministry was created in 1975 as a place of financial recovery for families in urgent financial crisis.  Its mission is to provide assistance and advocacy for people in financial crisis, helping them move toward self-sufficiency.

• Tell us about your work and responsibilities at CAM. 

As the chief program officer, I am responsible for developing, planning and directing the operations of all client programs.  It is my responsibility to ensure that the provision of services is done in a manner that is dignified and in accordance with our goal of helping customers reach financial stability.  

• What are some of the issues that CAM is focused on addressing in 2013? Are there trends or patterns that you’ve observed of late? 

The customers that we serve were the first to feel the effects of the Great Recession and they will probably be the last to feel the recovery.  It doesn’t help that our state has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and has just made significant cuts to unemployment benefits. Two years ago Crisis Assistance Ministry underwent a strategic planning process to ensure that its services focused on helping people reach financial stability.  A direct result of that planning has caused us to focus on building strategic partnerships with other organizations working to  help customers become stable.  Through these partnerships we are able to expand our reach into the community and help more persons become financially stable.  

• What are some of your thoughts on where America stands 50 years after Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech?  

It seems that the racial barriers that divided  our country 50 years ago have been replaced with socio-economic/class barriers. 

• When it comes to society or our community, what is your “dream” or aspiration?  

According to a 2012 Nielsen study, African Americans’ annual buying power will reach one trillion dollars in 2015.  My dream is for that money to circulate in the African American community a few times.  This would stimulate the economy in our community and improve its infrastructure.  

My ultimate goal would be for African Americans to collectively invest a mere 1 percent of that (i.e. $10B) annually.  From this collective pool we would be able to address many of the ills in our community and, ultimately, the ills of the world at large. 

• In terms of your philanthropic endeavors, what’s your “mountaintop” or highest achievement to date? 

I would have to say that it is giving of my time to teens in the Y Achievers mentoring program.  This program focuses on curtailing the drop out rate at three local high schools.  This year, all of the high school seniors that participated in the program graduated from high school.

• How can readers play a part in addressing the critical needs of people struggling with limited resources?  

I encourage them to find a cause that is dear to them and make a contribution of their time, talent and treasure.  I would also encourage them to find opportunities to formally and/or informally mentor someone less fortunate than them.  Studies have shown that the key to getting out of poverty, is to have significant interactions with someone who is not living in poverty.  

Valaida Fullwood is author of “Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists.” Follow her writing at valaida.com. 

Go to blackphilanthropymonth.com to participate in strengthening African American and African-descent giving in all its forms.

Visit thecharlottepost.com for further information on the series.



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