How did you come to be charitable? Were there influences in your life that got you started?
I come from a very charitable family on both my mother’s and father’s sides. My mother is a first-generation American from Cape Verde islands. She is one of ten children and my grandfather came to this country on a 27-day boat ride without knowing anyone or the language. Once he married my grandmother, together, they raised their children and they would throw fundraising parties to help support other families coming to America from Cape Verde. My aunt always left her front door open and always made enough food for people to come by and get a plate. My mother is a retired social worker and family therapist. It wasn’t uncommon for me to come home to a family or single mother and child(ren) at my house because my mom couldn’t find housing for them that night. I remember listening to her advocate fiercely for her families. “No” or “sorry we can’t” wasn’t something my mom would just bow down to. She fought relentlessly until the issue was resolved. My paternal grandmother also cared for her community. She would often give little odd jobs to those in the community who didn’t have much and pay them from her retirement income. My Aunt Terrie dedicated her life to women transitioning out of prison after retiring from the State of Connecticut after 30 years of service. Philanthropy has always been around me. It is all I know and as a result, it is all I can be.
What do you want Central New York to look like in the future? How can philanthropy be a part of that change?
Philanthropy etymologically means ‘the love of humanity’. I want Central New York to look like a place that exemplifies an overwhelming love of humans; that we honor one another’s suffering even if we don’t understand it; and that we find new and innovative ways of closing the wealth gap and collectively hold up community members that most need our support. Syracuse has the potential to be such an extraordinary inclusive community and economy. I want more of our efforts and focus to be on simply “the love of humanity” and take out all of the politics, rhetoric and other distractions that cause us to not consistently show love to other human beings. Although not always easy, it’s so very simple. Philanthropy is the foundation for everything good. It is more than just living the “Golden Rule” of doing unto others what you would have them do unto you, but taking it a step further in being intentional around doing unto others what they ask of you to. Meet people where they are without judgment or motive. Philanthropy is only effective when the people benefitting from it have a seat at the table and can lead the efforts. Philanthropy is about building up, not taking over. Simply because we are all human, we should strive to make love an action verb and do for others what they most need us to do. That’s how we transform communities!
Is there a quote that sums up or has shaped how you live your life?
At the end of my life I want to be able to say, I used all I had, to do all I could for everyone I was able to.
Tamika Otis is the co-founder and secretary of Black Women Give Foundation in Philadelphia and CEO of KABOD Consulting Group LLC.