Contributing to Dr. King's legacy News | The Community Foundation of Greater Memphis

News News

Contributing to Dr. King's legacy

Thoughts from outgoing Board chair Terri Lee Freeman


(Jan. 18, 2021) As our nation, our Foundation, and the National Civil Rights Museum commemorate the birthday and lasting legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., our outgoing Board chair Terri Lee Freeman shares her thoughts on the Community Foundation's recent progress and its role in ensuring Dr. King's vision become reality in Memphis and the Mid-South. Freeman, president of the National Civil Rights Museum, leaves Memphis this spring for Baltimore and a position at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture.

I have had the pleasure of serving as chair of the Community Foundation for Greater Memphis for nearly two years. During that time, I have seen incredible growth in both the overall assets under management, but far more importantly I have seen incredible growth in the Foundation's activation of its mission. Like all community foundations, our community foundation provides a simple, useful, and community-based vehicle for individuals and groups who want to incorporate philanthropy into their personal commitment to their community. But during my time, I have seen the Community Foundation serve as a leader around issues that require private philanthropic support. I have watched the Foundation take seriously its role in establishing an endowment in perpetuity for Memphis and Shelby County. I have participated in conversations about the Foundation's commitment to support not just the immediate needs of those impacted by COVID-19, but to support those nonprofit organizations that do the hard work and heavy lifting that often do not get much philanthropic attention. 

I have led board discussions that implore the Foundation to make real its commitment to equity in grantmaking and to lead in this realm. I have cheered the Foundation as they made a sustaining gift of $40 million to Memphis' sole historically Black college, LeMoyne-Owen College. And I have watched as the leadership of the organization has committed to supporting nonprofit leaders of color and have put their money where their mouth is by securing a banking relationship with Tri-State Bank, as well as diversifying their asset investment managers. These actions give life to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s words about philanthropy, when he says, "Philanthropy is commendable but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary."

Martin Luther King's quest for justice was not just a quest for little Black boys and girls to hold hands with little white boys and girls, but importantly included economic justice for all people, particularly Black people. The Community Foundation for Greater Memphis is moving to contribute to Dr. King's legacy. While certainly there is a long way for us to go to achieve racial equity, I am proud to have served the Community Foundation as it leads this philanthropic charge.