August is Black Philanthropy Month! We asked our donors how they came to be philanthropists.
Here’s what Barry Wells had to say:
How did you come to be charitable? Were there influences in your life that got you started?
My charitable values were instilled in me by my mother and her religious beliefs and by my undergraduate studies at St. John’s University. My mother was a devout Catholic. Her religious convictions and modest upbringing as one of nine children in the deep South motivated her to give more than any other factor. During my preadolescence years, my mother encouraged me to volunteer to work in a daycare center during the summer. She wanted me to learn at a young age that it was better to give than to receive. Well, I gave, but I also received a lifelong lesson in return.
As undergraduate students attending a Catholic university during that time, we were required to take some courses in religion. St. John’s was founded on Vincentian values, which stem from the ideals and works of St. Vincent de Paul, who is the patron saint of Christian charity. He was a French Catholic priest who dedicated his life to serving the poor. Those Vincentian values that I learned about in the classroom reinforced the beliefs, ideals, and morals instilled in me by my mother during my childhood years.
What do you want Central New York to look like in the future? How can philanthropy be a part of that change?
I want Central New York to look like a place of real opportunity. A place where children can obtain a quality education regardless of their family’s race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, income, or disability. I want Central New York to be a caring, welcoming, and inclusive community where income inequality is almost non-existent. A place where people who want to learn and have a good work ethic have every opportunity to do so. And, ideally, I want Central New York to be a place where people receive fair, just, and equitable treatment in education, health care, housing, financing, criminal justice, and all facets of society. In short, I want Central New York to do all that it can do to achieve the American promise to form a more perfect union.
And, in my opinion, philanthropy can address many of the issues and problems hindering our march toward forming a more perfect union. I subscribe to the 21st-century vision of philanthropy as adopted by the Ford Foundation. And that is a vision that moves from charity to justice. Broadly defined, generosity is helping those in need, while justice is about solving the problem that created the need.
What do you feel are the greatest needs in our community right now?
There are several problems in our community that need our attention, including, but not limited to, curbing gun violence, reforming our criminal justice system, closing the racial wealth gap by promoting homeownership and home equity for households of color, creating more equitable health care, confronting emerging and elaborate forms of housing discrimination, and reducing poverty rates among the Black and Latino communities in the City of Syracuse.
Is there a quote that sums up or has shaped how you live your life?
“Service is the rent we pay for being. It is the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time.” — Marian Wright Edelman
Barry L. Wells is the former Syracuse University Senior Vice President of Student Affairs and former Special Assistant to Chancellor Syverud. Wells began his career as inaugural coordinator of Syracuse University’s Office of Minority Affairs in 1976 and has been a committed leader in student and academic affairs, particularly dedicated to advancing principles of inclusion and diversity.