$1 Million Gift To Naacp Raises Hope Of More

November 25, 2009|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,brent.jones@baltsun.com

Observers say the $1 million donated by Tyler Perry to the NAACP on Monday might spark several other hefty donations from wealthy black philanthropists, gifts that could help revive the civil rights organization as it continues to face questions about its relevancy.

Perry's donation marks the largest gift from an individual in the Baltimore-based organization's 100-year history. Maxim Thorne, the NAACP's senior vice president, said he hopes it will mark a shift in black charity.

Thorne added that throughout the years, the NAACP has depended primarily on donations from foundations and middle-class supporters, but money from wealthy minorities "just hasn't been available."

He said Perry could serve as an example for other entertainers and athletes. Million-dollar donations are usually targeted at education or cultural institutions that the donor has a connection to, Thorne said.

"Already we're starting to see a wave of excitement from our community and see this as a great sign as a young, successful black man stepping up," Thorne said. "For entertainers and others, we're hoping they do the same. My sense is there's such a buzz about this that it will resonate and lead to change in our fundraising efforts."

The donation comes at a time when the NAACP is attempting to remarket itself after launching a 100-year anniversary campaign this year. With critics questioning the need for the civil rights group in the aftermath of Barack Obama winning the nation's presidency, overall donations and membership have declined.

Lester Spence, a Johns Hopkins University professor who specializes in black politics, said he does not believe the donation will make the NAACP more relevant to the average person, but wealthy minorities may be more apt to give if it directly benefits them.

"You've got this large class of black entertainers and athletes who have a significant amount of real wealth that they don't quite know what to do with," Spence said. "If something like this ends up becoming a tax write-off, I can see entertainers separate from their politics doing this more if they recognize what the benefits are. Some people believe entertainers should have a responsible to the black community. I understand that, but the only way we can expect them to do something like this is if it benefits them personally."

NAACP leaders say Perry's donation will be used to support its Second Century campaign, which targets equality in education, health care and criminal justice heading into the next 100 years. The money will be distributed over four years, according to the NAACP.

Perry said in a statement that he credits the work of past NAACP leaders with helping pave the way for his success in the entertainment industry. He made his film debut in 2005 with "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," which he wrote, directed and starred in.

Eight of his nine films have debuted at No. 1 at the box office, and he has also written and produced cable television shows "Tyler Perry's House of Payne" and "Meet the Browns."

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