Time for blacks to be seen more in charitable works

Melody "Mimi" Booker, 43, died June 6, 2007, after a brief battle with gastric cancer.

But that is not the end of her story. Jessica Ann Clark, Booker's mother, wanted to do something in her daughter's name to honor her memory as well as help conquer the disease that took her life.

She asked some friends to help raise money for cancer research and found those friends more than willing.

"My spirit told me it was time for me to carry the torch," Clark said of her volunteer and fund-raising efforts for the American Cancer Society.

As I listened to Clark, I reflected back to a Sunday afternoon a few years ago when a girlfriend and I decided to go to an Alzheimer's Walk at Keeneland Race Course. Former University of Kentucky basketball Coach Tubby Smith was there signing T-shirts and welcoming folks who were donating money for that worthy cause.

But, as I looked around, I saw very few African- Americans.

"Sometimes, unless it touches you or touches someone you love, you don't really hear the call to help," Clark said. "But when it does happen to you, the compassion is overwhelming."

Neither my girlfriend nor I had been directly affected by Alzheimer's. We went to the walk because we wanted to help.

Clark contacted friends who are bikers, motorcyclists who used that passion to raise money for the American Cancer Society in Booker's name. Clark doesn't ride and neither did her daughter, but that didn't stop the bikers from eagerly offering their help.

According to research conducted a few years ago by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, black people need to do more charitable work outside of the church. The report said about $9 of every $10 donated by black people is given to their churches.

According to papers published by the Center on Philanthropy, there is no racial difference in the percentage of giving, when income and education are considered. Blacks, however, tended to volunteer with or donate to a religious institution rather than secular organizations.

In a big way, in the form of a united effort by local motorcycle clubs, that is changing in this region. Adrienne Mason of the Fantasy Queens Motorcycle Club said other fund-raising events are planned in surrounding counties since the clubs have united to support other causes.

Hundreds of riders showed up in 2007, Clark said, and she is hoping even more show up Sunday when the second Ride for a Cure will be held in Lexington.

The bikers, members of local motorcycle clubs, have united under the banner of Bikers of the Bluegrass to perform various philanthropic activities in the region.

Tim Mitchell of the Lexington Barons Motorcycle Club said the bikers will meet in the parking lot of Lexington Mall on Richmond Road at 3 p.m., and pledge at least $10 for the privilege of riding on a nearly 60-mile trek through the Bluegrass, ending at Douglass Park on Georgetown Street.

The group will avoid downtown so that streets with heavy traffic flow won't be affected, he said.

In the park, around 4:30 p.m., an American Cancer Society volunteer will speak about the need for more funding for research and development in the fight against cancer.

"Everyone can't be a research scientist," Clark said, "but anyone can help by giving a pledge. It's a beautiful thing to do."

Volunteers will be there to take pledges, which can be dropped off by individuals.

I don't think we should wait for a personal connection to get involved with philanthropy. Alzheimer's hasn't skipped past the African-American community. We suffer with cancer, too.

If what Clark said is true, if we all tend to be energized into charitable activities because of a connection to a particular disease or issue, then more black people should have been at the Alzheimer's Walk that day.

I was happy to hear that Clark was trying to do her part to expand black philanthropy. And I was very pleased to know several local biker clubs were willing to follow her lead.

"This isn't about me," Clark said. "This is about all of us wanting to give back to the community. They are the foundation behind me."

I'm sure Clark wouldn't mind if we put our money in that hat as well.