Freedom Riders: from Alabama to Africa

“How wonderful it is that no one need wait a single moment to start improving the world” Anne Frank

What an emotional week this has been. I have been inspired and motivated by storytelling so compelling that it brought on personal feelings of disbelief, astonishment, anger, compassion, and admiration. Tuesday night, I had an opportunity to meet Stanley Nelson the producer of “Freedom Riders.” Stanley had come to Saint Louis, at the request of Nine Network, for a private screening of his extraordinary documentary movie about the 1961 civil rights movement that eventually led to the 1964 Civil Rights Act designed to abolish segregation throughout America. The movie is so well done. It is a powerful reminder of the shameful acts of violence and hatred carried out against non-violent African-Americans and white supporters in Montgomery, Alabama and throughout the south. But it is far more than that. It is story of “heroism” of mammoth proportion. The film clips that we viewed left me with a sense of awe and admiration for the young people of that time. They sacrificed everything for what they believed was absolutely necessary as they faced almost certain injury or even death. Freedom Riders will be shown on PBS stations throughout the country on May 16, 2011.

I believe you will soon be hearing more about the movie Freedom Riders because Oprah Winfrey will feature Stanley Nelson and his movie. She has also invited all 150 living original Freedom Riders to her studios for one of her last televised shows. Of the 436 originals activists who rode on more than 60 bus rides only 150 riders are living today.

Then, early Wednesday morning I departed for Chicago to attend a three-day Advisors in Philanthropy conference. I was attending at the invitation of a friend, Chris Jacob, who owns a company called Cadeau. Chris is a wealth advisor and many of his clients are high net-worth individuals. My expectations of long days, boring meetings listening to financial advisors who would speak of sophisticated ways for wealthy people to avoid taxation via legal clever methods was totally unfounded. Instead, I found to my surprise, none of the speakers talked about such tactics. Instead, they spoke about their desires to benefit the people they serve. The entire two days was focused on the potential of philanthropy to benefit communities around the world. The two days of key-note speeches and multiple seminars addressed lofty topics like, how to teach our children and grandchildren to be philanthropist. For those interested in teaching children why giving is important I recommend I suggest that you search the website for stories told by children who want to help homeless people in the United States or those who lack water in Africa and throughout the world.

Another fascinating topic covered in these seminars is the art of storytelling. A fantastic “storyteller” himself, Scott Farnsworth, President of Sunbridge Financial Advisors, told us how an old letter from his deceased mother was a pivotal moment in his life leading to the creation of “precious moments.” Farnsworth teaches financial advisors and estate planners how to touch hearts, change lives, and connect families using elegant practical tools and systems for legacy building story sharing and deeper relationships. I had dinner with Scott and his two business partners. This year they are working with only three customers…each of these families have a net worth between $25million- $125million. The major challenge in every case is not how to protect the financial assets against unnecessary taxation. That’s the easy part according to the advisors. The hard part is getting the family to talk about family values, issues of importance to each person, distribution of wealth to benefit these issues of importance, structures to promote organizational accountability and family member participation. This theme was consistent from speaker to speaker and workshop to workshop. This was truly an inspirational opportunity to examine my own gift giving process and procedure. As a professional fund-raiser this workshop has challenged my skills and my strategies as I seek to demonstrate the potential impact that public media can play in collaboration with other organizations to benefit people in my community and beyond.   

“There is a wonderful mythical law of nature that the three things we crave most in life–happiness, freedom, and peace of mind–are always attained by giving them to someone else.” Peyton Conway

One of the interesting findings that I discovered in one workshop was research that indicated that 65% of high net-worth families questioned in the study say their greatest fear is that inheriting wealth will harm their children. And, there is ample evidence to indicate this is a legitimate concern. According to the study 70% of intergenerational wealth transfers fail by the end of the successor generation. The primary reasons for this failure are poor family communication and inadequate preparation.

Another interesting finding was learned from author Stephen Post, the director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Stony Brook University. In his latest book, The Hidden Gifts of Helping he extols the health benefits of altruism not just for the receiver, but for the giver as well. Giving, claims Post, extends life span, relieves stress, improves mental health, and helps the heart.

And so my take away from this past exhausting week is that the greatest human need is the feeling that our lives have significance. And one certain path to gaining significance is to be a “giver.”   

“You must be the change you wish in the world.” –Mahatma Gandhi

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