Written by Larry Aubry

Julianne Malveaux’s column, “Did UNCF Make a Deal withthe Devil?,” begins, “When the Koch Foundation gave the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) $25 million, it set off a maelstrom of comments in cyberspace and real time.” The donation will provide $18.5 million in scholarships, $4 million will go to the 37 UNCF schools and the remainder to UNCF for their general support.

Malveaux: “It sounds like granting scholarships to further Koch government-reducing free market focus….Many see the gift as the cynical manipulation of a deep-pockets donor who gets much publicity with its gift.” This says it reminds her of Donald Sterling’s gift to the Los Angeles Branch of the NAACP. (Sterling also gives money to other Black organizations in Los Angeles, including UNCF and the Black Business Association). After Sterling’s racist ramblings, the NAACP returned his donation but the branch was in the process of giving him a Lifetime Achievement Award.

After pointing out Sterling is not the only basketball team owner who has racist views Malveaux asserts, “If the Koch brothers are the devil, then most of our organizations are making deals with the devil.” (They are.) “The need for funds, notwithstanding, are we for sale for the price of a table or a few salmon dinners? ….. Should UNCF president Michael Lomax send the money back?” Her response, “Only if someone steps up to replace it………Should (Lomax) lay down with the devil? Where is the angel?”

(One of the nation’s largest labor unions, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), has just severed ties with UNCF, pulling out of a scholarship program run jointly by the two groups. Lee Saunders, president of AFSCME said, “We are doing this as a result of your (Lomax) action as president of UNCF that is not only deeply hostile to the rights and dignity of public employees, but also a profound betrayal of the ideals of the civil rights movement.” Saunders said Lomax’s decision to speak at a Koch Brothers summit in California was a betrayal of everything the UNCF stands for. “Your appearance at the summit can only be interpreted as a sign of your personal support and the UNCF’s organizational support of the Koch brothers’ ideological program.”) This is what can happen if the only reason for accepting a gift is money.)

Malveaux dodges the complexities: Ultimately, Black people are the “angel” but what happens until the angel shows up? She feels the NAACP, UNCF and all other civil and social justice organizations should take the money. I disagree. Alternatives must be developed in the interim that call on Black organizations to establish common ground and craft guidelines for only accepting funding that preserves the integrity of their organizations and benefits Black people. This is a daunting challenge, but with mindsets again founded on moral and ethical values, Black organizations can create a new reality that unapologetically focuses on the needs of Black people.

Why do Black organizations rely so heavily on non-Black funding? The short answer is they don’t receive adequate support from within the Black community. The underlying reasons for this are complex and include race-based systemic factors, primarily slavery, that conditioned Blacks to think less of themselves-many are unable to affirm their own identity. (One of slavery’s most insidious by-products is self-hate.)

As mentioned, the NAACP and UNCF are, by no means, the only recipients of the Koch brothers and Donald Sterling’s gifts, most Black organizations accept such funds with impunity. 

All of this ties into Malveaux’s position, “Take the devil’s money” until an angel appears, absolves recipients’ of responsibility for accepting dirty money and is not in the best interests of the Black community. There is no magic wand, or angel, and developing alternatives to accepting gifts uncritically is a difficult process that will take time. Realistically, changing how Black groups accept funds will happen simultaneously with their winding down accepting corporate and other funds uncritically.

Malveaux’s position is problematic because it allows UNCF to lay down with the devil until a viable alternative is actually in place. As just mentioned, realistically, current practices and new remedies must occur at the same time. However, the crucial difference is gifts will no longer be accepted uncritically, a key departure from what happens now. Uncritically means Black organizations will no longer accept money that in any way compromises the integrity or tenants of their organization. Recipients of corporate and other funding sources must begin to behave differently and join other Black groups in developing unified, strategic responses for accepting any and all gifts.

Jullianne Malveaux’s column has already helped trigger a wider discussion on an important issue: How and why Black organizations solicit and accept funding has been a topic of considerable, though muffled, debate for a long time. Of coure, there is no quick or easy solution. Hopefully, the points raised here and AFSCME’s severing its relationship with UNCF will also serve as catalysts for a broad debate among Black people themselves about an issue that directly impacts Black organizations and indirectly affects the entire Blank community.