Legacy: Learning Your History To Build For The Future (Part 3)

March 29, 2020: It is Sunday morning at a time when I would already be at church, singing in the choir. I joined the choir at my church several years ago in response to a request to the congregation to help with services leading up to Easter. This was supposed to be temporary but I never left. It feels strange to be home on Sunday morning as churches are closed due to the need to shelter in place in response to the Corona virus. One thing to note is that my high school choir director/music teacher sits next to me in the choir loft. He was always one of my favorite teachers so things come full circle.

Now on to the blog post. I am a believer that each of us has a duty to leave a positive legacy in some form. As the African proverb says, “we never die as long as someone speaks our name”. It has been called by some the second death when a person is no longer remembered by anyone. There are many ways to leave a legacy. One is telling the stories of those who have passed on. It can be done through pictures or other memorabilia. I am not a collector of things but I have kept as much “stuff” as I can find of my ancestors to keep their stories alive. This is being written in the midst of the Covid 19 pandemic so what I am about to say is something to consider in the future. If you have the means, another way to keep the legacy going is to establish either scholarship or other endowed funds in your name or the names of others. One of my past students at Widener University raised funds to begin a commencement award in my name at the Center for Social Work Education. I raised the rest of the money to get that award endowed. At the same time, my then organization, the Center on Ethnic & Minority Aging, Inc., raised funds to endow a commencement award in the name of Mr. Hobart C. Jackson, Jr., a pioneer in the study of Black Aging from Philadelphia.

I have since endowed a scholarship in my name at the School of Social Work at California University of Pennsylvania and also worked with the alumni to endow an alumni scholarship for the School. I have also endowed a fund at the Community Foundation of Fayette County in the name of Edward, Queen Ester and Phyllis Thomas (my parents and sister) for arts programming at the East End United Community Center.

So how did I do this? Let’s be clear. I have no more money than the average person so this was not done through my money alone. It was done through requests made to friends and families and special events. Instead of birthday and Christmas gifts, I requested donations be sent to one of the funds named above. I continue to do this. The person gets a tax write off but more importantly, they are part of legacy building. I sent out a “blessing letter” asking people to contribute based on how they had been blessed. I have also used Go Fund Me as well. If the cause is worthy, others will contribute. This is one way that your life can have meaning for someone long after you are gone. Some religious institutions also have scholarship funds so this is another place you can contribute. We all have a duty to pay it forward for those who are to come after us. In the African American community, because we have historically not had generational wealth, each of our generations starts out with nothing. Please do your part, while you can, to help someone else along the way, no matter who they are. “Let the works I have done, speak for me”.

MSW Dr. Norma D. Thomas Scholarship Recipient School of Social Work, California University of PA

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