A Homecoming for Black Philanthropy: Embracing Belonging – TJ Breeden ABFE’s Director of Programs First Harambee Experience

A Homecoming for Black Philanthropy: Embracing Belonging – TJ Breeden ABFE’s Director of Programs First Harambee Experience


At this year’s welcome session at Harambee 2023 I greeted attendees with my noticeable southern drawl. I said  “I not only want to welcome you to Harambee, but to North Carolina. I’m from here”.


I joined ABFE in May 2022, so like so many others, this was my first Harambee conference. And while I embraced this experience with the natural curiosity, jitters, and excitement of any first-timer, it was not lost upon me that as a new attendee and a new ABFE staff member that a sense of belonging was etched into each piece of the program design. This sense of belonging is at the center of my responsibilities as Director of Programs at ABFE, where content and discussions prompt action, and the good works of one organization informs the future works of another. And so, while I contributed to organizing the details and nuances of the planned week, admittedly I was unsure as to what to expect. The Homecoming for Black Philanthropy? A friends-giving for the sector, where each of us brings something to the proverbial table and shares in the tradition of our ancestors? One of the dopest parties for racial equity and social good you could ever hope to purchase a ticket for; featuring lectures and plenaries featuring some of the premier rising voices in the sector? Emphatically, my 2-and-a-half-day experience affirms “Yes” to all the above.



Affirming is how I would describe my overall experience at this year’s conference. I had the pleasure of moderating a few sessions and introducing speakers at the conference, but for the most part, I simply stood along the back wall and listened. Harambee convenes some of the most gifted Black leaders in philanthropy, who are not only deeply invested in the work, but who, in the spirit of collaboration and partnership, fully display the range of their knowledge and intellectual capital. The dividends issued through the constant flow and disbursement of information, insight, and experience is truly powerful to witness. Imagine leading a community-based non-profit organization and having the opportunity to engage with corporate funders, Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), and family foundations whose grantmaking interests align. Or serving on a foundation board and yearning for “safe spaces” to build peer-driven, independent, corporate communities of shared practice where you will feel empowered to initiate bold change. Or being a college student from Shaw University who perhaps joined us out of curiosity as the tenets of their social philosophy take shape, fueled by their desire to lead in spaces where racial representation and diversity-centered, equitable perspectives are scarce. Harambee made room for all, and all participated as their full selves.



Not to be overlooked is the beautiful and very powerful peer learning benefit, oftentimes experienced by simply being in proximity with so many inspiring changemakers. Again, here I am, speedily bouncing from session to session – in a work capacity, of course, but wishing that I could simply sit as a full participant, fighting back the urge to raise my hand during Q&A. The benefit of knowledge-sharing comes free with the price of admission, and my professional capacity as a director in the sector was no doubt enhanced, on many occasions because I happened to greet or sit next to someone as passionate, inspired, challenged, and committed as I was. I found Harambee to be a space abundant with opportunities for natural connection, where you’re first greeted with gratitude for your commitment before professional contact information is exchanged in the conference app. A place that reaffirms the need for our presence, brilliance, and gifts, whether they center on conversations around criminal justice reform and gender equity or are displayed through the screening of award-winning documentarians’ screening of the personal impact that our criminal justice system has on Black families. Harambee is a marketplace for ideas, support, and relationship. The strengthened sense of belonging; fortunately, I learned; is complimentary, shared through the passing down (and up) of tools and resources, from one to another.



The moment felt best served as an opportunity to encourage all 800 or so of us attending, both in-person and virtually, to leverage this moment to engage and build. Having stepped away for several weeks, it dawned on me that “I’ll see you around” was as much an invitation to Harambee 2024 as it was an offer to create space for engagement. Perhaps my lens is subjective, but I experienced Harambee from a unique perspective. As a lifelong North Carolinian, one with a heightened sense of the social challenges facing the place we were gathered, an appreciation for the founding of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) on an HBCU campus just blocks away from where we were convened. Not goodbye, but I’ll see you around in the webinars, events, conference tables, and board rooms where our work will no doubt intersect until the next time we come together at the Black homecoming. I’ll be there;  still seeking spaces for work and professional investment; and I hope to see you too for Harambee 2024!




In the meantime, let the learnings and vibrancy of the conversation propel and support your work as we commit to the full liberation and abundance of our people. Check out all of our conference videos here.