The statistics are stunning. According to some estimates, for every dollar of wealth owned by the typical white family in America, the typical family of color owns only 16 cents. And wealth creation (net worth), not just income, is the key to ensuring economic security and a better future for the next generation.

One of Kalamazoo’s newest efforts to address this racial wealth gap is the Kalamazoo Giving Circle. Its mission? To support local efforts that address the emotional, social and economic needs of underrepresented girls and women, helping them to reach their full potential.

The Kalamazoo Giving Circle emerged from conversations that Karika Phillips, coordinator of Kalamazoo County’s Center for Health Equity, had with staff here at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation.

"As a child growing up in Kalamazoo," Phillips explains, "I experienced despair, poverty, inequities and hopelessness. I attended Kalamazoo Public Schools and although I was class president at Kalamazoo Central, I ultimately dropped out. My saving grace was the option to graduate from Kalamazoo Adult Education. I went on to earn a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, and I’m currently a doctoral student at WMU.

"Throughout my life," she continues, "I was surrounded by a strong family and strong women who encouraged and motivated me to succeed. Their support continues to be critical to my success, and I recently began to ask myself how I could ever repay them. I decided the best way was to invest in our community. I began talking with the Community Foundation about this, and they introduced me to the concept of a giving circle."

According to Jeanne Grubb, a member of our Donor Relations team, there are several different giving circle models. "In working with Karika," she says, "we chose this model because it seemed to fit well with Kalamazoo. We want to reach out to a diverse community and bring people together to promote action and make a difference. When many people make small contributions to a giving circle, they can leverage their individual resources for greater impact. And a giving circle supplies information that helps its members make more informed decisions about how to use their charitable dollars effectively."

Although the emphasis of this giving circle is on gathering support from area women, all contributions are welcome, including those from businesses. The tax-deductible contributions from the members of the Kalamazoo Giving Circle are maintained in a fund at the Community Foundation, which serves as the fiscal sponsor. The foundation also processes and sends the grants that are awarded by the giving circle to area nonprofits.

"Ultimately," Karika Phillips says, "I would like the Kalamazoo Giving Circle to help decrease wealth disparities between women of color and other population groups. What that means is women of all races coming together to model, mentor, and give of our resources and time to young girls in Kalamazoo. I believe when we remove our own biases of race and class and come together around a common goal or mission on behalf of young girls, we can change a generation in Kalamazoo County. Collectively, we already have the capability, the resources and the background to do this. With this giving circle we can do more to show today’s young people that we care and that we’re united with them."