Black United Funds of New York

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(Readers, please note that CEMOTAP, The COMMITTEE TO ELIMINATE MEDIA OFFENSIVE TO AFRICAN PEOPLE, will host Kermit Eady as a guest speaker on "AN UPDATE ON BLACK UNITED FUND (BUFNY):
THE SPITZER CORRUPTION CONNECTION," on Saturday, July 22, 2006 at 2:P.M. Admission FREE AT CEMOTAP CENTER, 135-05 ROCKAWAY Blvd., South Ozone Park, NY 11420, Tel 718 322-8454).

Op-Ed Article--IN THE USA TODAY article by DeWayne Wickman, November 8, 2005, Urban League's New Mantra: Economic Development, Lance McCarthy, head of the National Urban League Orlando Affiliate states, “we have to advocate, provide direct services, and engage in business development. This is the civil rights movement of the 21st century.� McCarthy further states that, “we have to go from social services to business development.�  Marc Morial, the League’s National president says, “The new cutting edge of the civil rights movement is economic development.�  Here one can say definitely that there is nothing as new as an old idea presented to the uninformed.  

While we certainly applaud the League’s decision to expand its mission and take this bold approach, it would certainly have been in the best interests of Black people if the League had joined with the Black United Funds of New York and Pennsylvania twenty-seven years ago and engaged in economic empowerment efforts. BUFNY started in 1979 with its mission to “organize/harness the human and financial resources of Black people to participate in their growth development and empowerment and, in turn, society at large.�  BUFNY always knew that economics was the first and foremost need that Black people had not only in the United States, but throughout the African Diaspora. Why then did most Black organizations focus first on political and social issues, and not economics? No question of their importance; however, it appears to this writer that living in a society that brought Black people to this country for the sole purpose of building an economy and developing Capitalism as its number one economic ideological philosophy, economic power would have been at the center of all of Black America's, movements, i.e., how do we finance our liberation? I hope and pray that the Urban League, a United Way affiliate, will push ruthlessly in carrying out its new-found mission of building Black Institutional Power. The League's leadership, as well as our political leadership, must be strong and remain so, with a "Stiff Upper Lip", if they are going to succeed.

Earlier I used the term “ruthlessly�, and that is because people like New York State Attorney General, aka “wannabe-Governor�, Eliot Spitzer will be lurking and trying –by any means necessary– to destroy their efforts, as America is not in any way serious about Black people helping themselves and destroying the status quo. Black political leadership must take uncompromising positions on economic empowerment issues and methodologies, and must provide protection for its institutions and not let the “Spitzers� of the world and collaborating enemies within destroy, with impunity, what we build.

A June 6, 2003, New York Times article, Middle Man No More, New York City United Way Will Set Up Own Programs, by Stephanie Strom, was  interestingly, just one month after Mr. Spitzer threw out BUFNY’s original board and appointed his all-Black Republican board –all from Nassau County except one. The article begins, “The United Way of New York City has decided to create and fund its own social welfare programs, abandoning its long-standing role of funneling donations to its nonprofit groups.� Strom points out that, "The organization will continue to raise money through workplace campaigns, (i.e., payroll deductions) and other sources, but it will now use the funds for its own programs addressing issues such as homelessness, early childhood development, employment, and access to health care. Still uncertain, however, is the move’s impact on the three hundred nonprofits that it serves. Board member Susan I Burden stated that, while it would undoubtedly hurt some groups, the organization was planning to give them a transition of year." The article also noted that, “United Way Chapters in Atlanta, Minneapolis, Phoenix, and Columbus have also brought their social programs in-house.�

As we can readily see, Black United Fund of New York was far ahead in its understanding and commitment to the empowerment of Black people. Over a twenty-five year period, starting on 1979, with just $8,000, BUFNY had put into practice institution building through Black giving in New York that had not been seen since the days of the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey and the United Negro Improvement Association. BUFNY had built over 400 units of affordable housing; developed two technology centers; wired 98 Harlem housing units to be “tech-ready� for fiber–based, high-speed telecommunications services to support home-based businesses, online shopping, personal accounts management, distant learning and educational studies by adults and children, remote medical services, World Wide Web information research, telephone services, inter-group collaboration and coordination, and other services yet to come. It must be noted that on the fateful day of August 29, 2003 when vice president Larry Barton and I were inexplicably removed, he was in negotiations, on behalf of BUFNY and its for-profit subsidiary, the Harvest Information & Technical Centers, to begin the process of forming a franchise of the tech centers, much like Kinko’s, with enabling investments from a primary vendor.  While Harvest’s success was not absolutely guaranteed, Kinko’s growth from its first shop in 1970 in Santa Barbara, CA, to more than 1,450 stores in 10 countries and 21,000 “team members� (i.e., employees) serving more than 100 million customers each year worldwide was admirable, achievable, and in keeping with the BUFNY vision of economic growth and empowerment. Like Kinko’s, now known as FedEx Kinko’s, Harvest also provided document and information processing, printing, Internet and Federal Express services to businesses and individual customers. One can only imagine what great opportunities and potentials have been destroyed by the hand of Eliot Spitzer.             

BUFNY had also saved over $450,000 worth of Black-owned land in the Sea Islands area of South Carolina; purchased the first Black-owned, not-for-profit radio station in New York State, WCKL; was first to open workplace giving campaigns at major corporations, IBM, AT&T, Bell Laboratories and New York Telephone other than the United Way; negotiated the complete re-structuring of then New York State United Way campaign to form the State Employee Federated Appeal for payroll deductions; used signed City employee “pledge cards�, as petitions, which forced the re-opening of the dormant New York City United Way campaign to form the new Combined Municipal Campaign; (Mayor Ed Koch had shut down the United Way campaign due to “irregularities.�) became the prime recipient of employee giving in the public Health and Hospitals Corporation and New York City Transit Authority campaigns; opened the private hospital system long monopolized by United Way; established a BUFNY credit card with the People’s Bank of Connecticut –a story yet to be told; became the first Black organization in the country to manage one of the 2,500 worldwide Combined Federal Campaigns, and set fundraising records over United Way’s 31-year management history, for three years running; and brought about more pioneering achievements and changes that help shape the charity marketplace of today.

Interestingly, Mr. Spitzer, along with his inept board appointees, destroyed all this in less than two years after the May 2003 takeover and arrogant promise, “to make BUFNY flourish.�   In today’s market, BUFNY’s net worth would have been well over $100,000,000 in assets. BUFNY also had valuable assets in-house, such as computer and network systems, office and electronic equipment, a donated diamond ring, IBM shares of stock, and an important historical archive.  It is important to know what happened to the BUFNY assets and twenty-five years of history and goodwill. 

The history of BUFNY and United Way is one of irony and injustice.  The pioneering progress of BUFNY in the mid-1980s prompted the white-controlled Greater New York Fund to bring in Ralph Dickerson from Pittsburg, PA as the first Black to head the organization that formed the United Way of New York City. At that time, there were no Black executives in the Greater New York Fund.  Dickerson retired in 2003 with accolades and praise after helping “transform� the organization over to its new mission of, “helping the City's most vulnerable citizens become and remain self-sufficient.� Just like BUFNY's mission for the Black community and institutions. However, two years after retirement, the April 14, 2006 New York Times article by Stephanie Strom, "United Way says Ex-leader Took Assets,�  reported that, “An internal investigation conducted by the United Way of New York City has determined that its former CEO, Ralph Dickerson Jr., diverted organizational assets valued at $227,000 for his own personal use.�  The findings were turned over to Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. A United Way April 13, 2006 press release stated that they had “reached agreement with Mr. Dickerson on the total reimbursement of the funds….�  The injustice is that no such findings were made in the case of BUFNY, with an unending investigation by the vaunted Eliot Spitzer now over forty-four months old, yet the entire board was forced to resign and never given an opportunity to address any “internal issues�, as other organizations such as the World Jewish Congress are given –and without the organization being destroyed.

The blatant and discriminatory double standard used by Spitzer can even be traced right to the Bernard and Anne Spitzer Charitable Trust, a family charity on which the Attorney General sits as a trustee, as reported in the July 9, 2006, New York Daily News article by Douglas Feiden, “Family charity is regulated by Spitzer's office�.  The trust had to pay the Internal Revenue Service a $51,678 penalty in 2004 for “failing to make charitable gifts at the level mandated by U.S. tax law,� reported Feiden. One of Spitzer’s charges against BUFNY that prompted his seeming eternal investigation (no Certificate of Discontinuance has been issued) was that BUFNY “[fell] behind in honoring its financial commitments to designated grantees,� as stated in his May 3, 2003 press release on his takeover of BUFNY. No watchdog agency has taken over the Spitzer family trust!  There was no investigation!  Eliot Spitzer took care of that.  There is also irony with BUFNY and the Spitzer family trust that rewards the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that was caught spying on Black and minority organizations and collaborating with the racist South African apartheid government. One such victim of the ADL was the Black United Fund of New York! The ADL and World Jewish Congress are both alive and well taken care of by Spitzer, who made damn sure he took care of BUFNY real well.     

Even while BUFNY was already doing all and more of what the National Urban League and United Way Is proposing to do, it was severely criticized by the Attorney General for engaging in self-help efforts, accusing BUFNY of having “shifted its focus….� BUFNY, however, was practicing its approved mission of teaching Black people how to build using its own financial and human resources to practice self-help and community venture philanthropy.  The organization received its funding almost exclusively from giving within the Black community. The strong appeal of the BUFNY philosophy also won support from members of other ethnic communities, in addition to funds received from utilizing and leveraging its finances through financial institutions. The genesis of all of BUFNY's work came from the giving of Black people from sources traditionally under the near-monopoly control of the United Way in both the public and private sectors from the local to national level.  

We must carefully take a look at the United Way's possible involvement in the destruction of BUFNY. Did they have to get BUFNY out of the way so that they could initiate their “new-found� In-house policies and practices of direct service delivery programs? The United Way has slowly “morphed� from a staunch status quo advocate organization of “health and human services� and funneling donations to grantees to one for “self-sufficiency, housing help, and building economic independence, i.e., self-reliance�, which are the core mission programs of Black United Fund of New York. Even with their known crookedness and mismanagement, the white establishment protects their own and destroys the competition.  United Way lives on and is well taken care of, while BUFNY has been taken care of real well –thanks to Eliot Spitzer.     

When are we going to learn that no one will help us, if we don't help ourselves?  As stated previously and on numerous occasions, we must hold our political leadership accountable for their abandonment and ultimate destruction of our institutions. The Black United Fund of New York did exactly what America told Black people to do:  BOOT STRAP! Yet it was totally destroyed by the hands of Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and the silence of the sheep! WHY?

Kermit Eady is president and CEO of Eady Associates and The Empowerment Institute, and the Founder and former CEO of Black United Fund of New York. You can contact him at 917-642-1878 and by email at: [email protected].

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