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For Women’s History Month, the Arkansas Black Philanthropy Collaborative (ABPC) sat down with Beverly Morrow, who in a surprise announcement, was the first recipient of the Morrow Black Philanthropy Award that was unveiled at the 2023 ABPC Annual Convening. Born in New York, Morrow received a degree in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Rutgers University. Morrow and her husband, Curtis Morrow, moved to Pine Bluff shortly after completing their education and launched the only Black-owned McDonald’s franchise in Arkansas. In 30 plus years, they have owned and operated several McDonald’s restaurants and dove into community philanthropy—starting at home first. 

In conversation with Victoria Mays, Morrow shares her perspective on the importance of Black people identifying as philanthropists, her experience as a Black woman in philanthropy, and the future of Black philanthropy. 

The concept of legacy is powerful, especially within the realm of philanthropy. How do you envision the impact of the Morrow Black Philanthropy Award on future generations of Black philanthropists?

BM: I was surprised to receive the Morrow Black Philanthropy Award…. I didn’t know it was coming. But, you know, you do what you’re supposed to do. If you’ve been blessed, then you’re supposed to do things. 

When I was growing up, a philanthropist was a person who just gave tons of money, but philanthropy is so much more. It’s sort of like when you’re in church—you can give your money, your time, or your talent. My philanthropy comes more with time. Being a recipient of that award acknowledges that Black people…Black families are philanthropists. Hopefully, it’ll be a push for Black philanthropists and Black-led organizations to network and collaborate, which is the mission of ABPC. As far as legacy goes, my family hopes to leave a legacy of excellence and generosity.

Curtis and I retired eight years ago. For two years, we were in Florida—Brickell—overlooking the bay on the 40th floor. I’d rise in the morning and the sun would be shining and I’d just look at the water. Finally, I’d get up, go workout with my trainer, come back home to Curtis, and we’d go walk for 2-3 hours, and of course we’d eat.  We did that for literally almost a year and a half. And one day when I was walking around the Bay, I said, “You know God, this is really great. I mean this is living the life. But, I know I’m supposed to do more than this.” That was the same year that I got awarded from the Women’s Foundation [of Arkansas] Woman of the Year in Philanthropy. Then, doors opened and now I’m sitting here. 

There’s a beginning and there’s an end. We retired and it was just time to relax because working at McDonald’s all of those years was really stressful; thank God, we were in good health. We relaxed and enjoyed ourselves in Miami, but I couldn’t help but to keep thinking that there was more we could do. 

As a Black woman in the philanthropy space, what unique challenges have you faced, and how have you overcome them?

BM: Being a philanthropist, I’ve served on a number of boards and when you’re the only Black person, or the only woman, your voice is really limited. People don’t really hear you. You have to figure out ways to get your voice across. I suppose my way is simply talking to people individually, expressing what I need to say and hopefully, we’ll come together. 

Though I’ve experienced more than a few challenges, there is one that stands out in particular from my experience serving on a board located in the Arkansas Delta. At that time, the board was preparing to distribute money to local organizations and institutions. The funds coming into the organization were really low, and they were about to vote to take money away from the only Black institutions they were giving money to. And I was like, “Well, I don’t think that’s fair…. If we need to take away $10,000 and we have ten organizations, then we take [$1,000] from each organization.” We voted on it and they went with my suggestion and the next month they asked me off the board. 

In philanthropy, it takes time for people to hear you. To see you. It’s a commitment, and you really have to be that commitment. But once again, you know how they always say that the Black person has to work harder and you have to always be the one that’s consistent—it’s true. It doesn’t get easier, you just move to a different level, but it’s the same. You’re still going to feel that pressure that your counterparts don’t feel and have to continue to be one step ahead of everything. 

From my experience, when you start working on boards, you will find that it’s the same people on the boards or some extension from either their family or their business. You learn that there’s just a controlling power that’s regulated by a few people….  When you’re just the one, you don’t really have the power or authority to change things. So you have to either get others on board or work within that particular system to make the change. So many times when Black people get into positions, they want to do what White people do and get themselves in trouble and I’m like, “You don’t know the rules of the game. You have to know the rules of the game before you do anything.” 

It’s a balancing act. You have to be true to yourself too. One of my prayers in the morning is that my intentions are godly and that I’m not doing things just for me, but that I’m doing things that I’m supposed to do. Why am I doing it? Am I doing it because I believe in it or am I doing it so I can get accolades? You have to check your intentions.

Can you discuss a philanthropic initiative you’re particularly proud of and the impact it had on the community? 

BM: I would say being one of the founders of the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas (WFA). If you’re looking at impact, I think the WFA is doing a really great job. They are really intentional about equity. At one time, I was wondering if it would survive because it was floundering for awhile, but going from that initial $100,000 backing to what it is now, and going from one girl of promise to several Girls of Promise® and Tjuana Byrd Internship and the Women’s Hub Mobility…. They’re doing a lot of great work. Also, they’re doing Save10 and going around to different colleges and encouraging women  to start saving; of course, it’s open to anyone.

We, as Black people, really need to train our children to save. It doesn’t matter how much money. Like I used to tell people at work, “If you have a million dollars, but you spend a million dollars and 10 cents, you’re poor because you’re in debt. You have no savings, so when things happen, you don’t have any backup.” 

Start the kids off with 10 cents. A dollar. Something. It’s just about putting something back. 

Reflecting on your extensive experience, what are the key lessons in philanthropy and community service you’d like to pass on to the next generation?

BM: Find out what you're passionate about. If you’re passionate about it, you’ll be committed to it. Also, you really have to have the ability to work with people and be flexible. I think it’s the same thing as a job. When my kids started working, I told them that they needed to find something they were passionate about because they would have to do it for a long time. If you’re going to commit to something, you might as well be passionate about it. When you go into philanthropy, do it for the right reasons—you’re passionate about the cause and you want to help and serve a purpose. 

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, what advice do you have for Black women who aspire to make a difference through philanthropy?

BM: Once again, it’s finding what you’re really interested in and passionate about. Sometimes you don’t realize you have the capacity to make a change, but you have to get involved. We have to take that step to be involved. 

I’ve been on all types of boards, and they’ve been learning experiences. And out of them, I’ve been able to bring things back, at times, to my employees. When I was on a bank’s board, I remember there was a program that they had where every dollar they saved, the bank would contribute a dollar as long as it went to housing or education. If I hadn’t been on the board, I don’t think I would’ve found out that information. You can use boards as a learning tool to bring resources back to the community and help. 

Additionally, be sure you have some input for changing directions because ultimately, that’s what you really want—to give them a different view. Some people have these blinders on. Once, I had to tell a banker, “All Black people are not poor. There are some Black people who have money and that’s a whole market that you’re missing.” 

Boards need to see that Black people are intelligent and Black people do have ideas and have the capacity to help their organization. Also, your position is to show young Black people that they too can be in similar positions and hopefully make change. 

Finally, It’s not always about money. Look at how philanthropy is changing. When people are looking at organizations, they’re looking to see themselves. Many years prior, they would say, “I gave money to this organization,” but they didn’t care about results. People are looking for results now. Do your research. Don’t get on a board to just get on a board. Make sure the organization aligns with your values. 

Looking forward, what are your hopes for the future of Black philanthropy, both within your community and beyond?

BM: My excitement about ABPC is that it’s going to be the glue we need to get Black organizations together. Not that you have to give up your mission, but maybe there’s one area that we can collectively get around to make a great impact. For me, it’s education. Our education system is deteriorating right now and we have to find a way to make sure our kids get educated. If we don’t get these kids educated, we are so lost. In fact, I was talking to a friend of ours and I was like, “How do we get people in the community to be advocates for kids whose parents either don’t care, don’t know how to care, or don’t have the time to care because they are too consumed with working trying to make ends meet? How do we become advocates for those kids?” Teachers don’t pay attention to students whose parents aren’t involved. But if you’re an advocate for, say, Samuel over here, guess what, teachers are going to start making sure that whatever they’re supposed to be doing to help Samuel, happens.

How can we make that happen?

Simply, we have a lot of work to do because there’s so much potential within our community and philanthropy is going to have to play a major part in that. ABPC hosted a women’s circle event a couple of weeks ago that I hate I missed. I like giving circles because they’re grassroots and they let communities decide what needs to be addressed in their community. When we’re creating projects/programs that are community-led, this helps to increase the likelihood of the projects being sustainable—especially, the things that work. 



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