There was a sheer joy in helping another human being, and being able to compel people to feel.
Location: Brooklyn, New York
- Action Director – LatimerNOW – Lewis Latimer Historic House Museum
- Director – Museum of Impact
Twitter Handle: @monica_muses
What was your first charitable gift?
When I was a little girl I was a very sensitive person. I grew up sheltered, and was an only child from an upper middle class family in Brooklyn Heights. I was a Girl Scout and my mom took me to church faithfully. My parents taught me ethics and good values, and wanted me to be service minded.
During my youth, I was always lamenting the troubles of the world. It pained me to see some person or animal in need; therefore, I took service to a whole new level. One day, when I was in middle school, I was on my way from a Girl Scout function and I saw a homeless man on the train steps begging for change. I’ve never been one to walk past another human being in need like they didn’t exist, so I stopped to talk to him. I asked him what happened, and why did he needed money. He said he was down on his luck, recently robbed of his possessions, and that he had to beg for money in order to secure a place to stay at the YMCA. He seemed sincere and really in dire straits, so I told him I would help.
I stood with him for 2 hours in my Girl Scout uniform begging with him, imploring every kind citizen to donate to his cause and to help him get shelter. I used my Girl Scout uniform and wholesome youthful exuberance to raise $300. Most of the people that donated did so because I was a Girl Scout and because I said I was doing this for my badge work. After I gave the money to the homeless man, he stood up crying and hugged me. I asked him why he was crying, and he said it was because no one ever took compassion on his situation, enough to help him fundraise. Later on he confided that his situation wasn’t as dire as he first let on. Even though I was upset at his duplicitous story, I told him to keep the money and use it to better his station in life. Whether he did the right thing is irrelevant. For me, there was a sheer joy in helping another human being, and being able to compel people to feel humanity.
What is your charity of choice?
As a former classroom and museum educator, I am a fan of arts, culture and educational nonprofits. I have contributed to Words Beats & Life Divine 9 giving challenge on behalf of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.; I’ve participated in Giving Tuesday with Razoo; and I’ve supported Groundswell and the Philadelphia Stamp Pass.
Who inspires you to give?
My paternal grandmother. Mrs. Rita Montgomery, who lived in New Orleans all her life. My grandmother was a real life angel, a teacher, a deaconess, a mother, sister, daughter, wife and very loving person. She was a true pillar of the community, and always had a gift, dish or envelope full of help for somebody. In fact, she kept a room full of gifts in her house just to lavish on unsuspecting visitors. She was a Lifetime member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. and an incredibly generous person. She inspired my motto: Generosity is a Lifestyle!
What motivates you to give?
When I’ve learned something or benefited from an organization I’ll give back to them. When I see organizations doing real grassroots work – whether they’re helping children, battling social ills, diseases, or trying to build up a community – I’ll give. If there is anything related to arts, culture, civic engagement and millennials, I’ll give. If there is a charitable ambassador involved, and he’s cute, I’ll definitely give.
How do you give of your time?
I mentor several college students and young adults. I organize days of service (Book Drives, Community Clean Ups, Resume Clinics). Further, I serve on a plethora of boards for human service agencies, small businesses and my alma mater Temple University. I am a member of several service driven organizations including Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., and the Organization of Eastern Stars – Rose of Sharon Grand Chapter – Starlight Chapter No 5.
In addition, as Action Director of LatimerNOW at the Lewis H. Latimer House Museum I’ve become an ambassador for storytelling around STEM, Black History, and Lewis Latimer’s legacy, and for encouraging people of color to be involved in the arts and in leadership. Within this role I’ve spoken to groups, young and old, about Lewis Latimer and Museum Anarchy.
Most recently, I spoke with a group of elementary school students at Tree House Books in Philadelphia, PA, about Lewis Latimer and I narrated his signature poem Unconquered and Unconquerable. I encouraged their futures by exposing them to the possibility of becoming a Museum Director. During our time together I discussed my daily duties, how to manage a staff and historic site, and the many hats my staff wear. Most importantly, I expressed how being a Museum Director is not exclusively for certain people with certain privileged backgrounds; rather, it is something anyone can achieve, and be great at it, with the right motivation and inroads. This was a very meaningful experience for me; and at the end of the trip we donated $50 worth of books, MP3 players and school supplies on behalf of the Lewis H. Latimer House Museum to the Tree House Books.
What made you pursue this as a career?
I am a recovering fundraiser turned museum director. I got into development and institutional advancement because it was a challenge – and I love a good challenge. During my tenure at a special needs school in Philadelphia I raised $2.5 million dollars. (To God be the Glory!) I take no credit in that, but I bask in the glow of favor and provision from Jesus Christ. He can make a way out of no way, even for a fundraiser just starting out.
If you could start your own charity, what would it be?
I have started my own charity and it takes the form of an educational institution, it’s a museum. The Museum of Impact is the world’s first mobile social justice museum that explores activism, altruism and advocacy thru a creative lens. We celebrate movements of the people, and offer a culturally conscious space to encounter ideas, contemplate solutions, engage each other and take action! On Presidents Day we hosted an activist roundtable event at Raw Space in Harlem. The event gave insight into our upcoming exhibit, The Movement is Rising!, and programs.
What advice do you have for others to consider giving?
Every small act starts a ripple in the universe, and it magnifies to become a movement. Let your intentionality and passions guide you in giving. Never feel like you don’t have enough. If you have the heart and some money you are ahead of the game – nonprofits, causes and community groups need your help now more than ever. To quote Arthur Ashe: Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.
What trend in philanthropy is most interesting to you?
Crowdfunding campaigns. It’s fascinating how the public has sidestepped the middleman and connected directly with the needs. Crowdfunding is a great example of the community taking care of itself and prioritizing what the consensus feels is important or necessary. It’s a beautiful trend and I hope it thrives for a very long time.
What advice would you have for someone who wants to work in this field?
Network, Network, Network. Most of fundraising and prospecting is about who you know and how much they like you. It’s one part research and carefully crafted asks, and two parts emotional intelligence, extroverted charisma and being well connected.