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Washtenaw United: Black Philanthropy Month and Faith-based charity

Rev. Mashod A. Evans Sr., Senior Pastor at Bethel AME Church in Ann Arbor
Bethel AME Church
Rev. Mashod A. Evans Sr., Senior Pastor at Bethel AME Church in Ann Arbor

WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw Countyto explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'


The Reverend Mashod A. Evans Sr. is the senior pastor at Bethel AME Church in Ann Arbor.


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and welcome to our weekly exploration of equity and opportunity in Washtenaw County. I'm David Fair, and this is Washtenaw United. We are a week into the month of August, and I believe many are unaware this is Black Philanthropy Month. Philanthropy. It's always been a part of the Black community experience, and the difference it has made through generations are innumerable. Our guest today can testify to that literally. The Reverend Mashod Evans Senior is senior pastor at Bethel AME Church in Ann Arbor. And thank you so much for the time today, Reverend.

Rev. Mashod Evans: Thank you for allowing me to be here.

David Fair: Philanthropy in the Black community, as I mentioned, has been passed down through the generations and will continue for generations to come. Do you believe this is under-recognized by the community at large?

Rev. Mashod Evans: I believe it is underrecognized that philanthropy as part of our, I guess, DNA in many Black communities. This is part of what we do and what we've been asked to do. The need for charity, which I know is different from philanthropy, has always been part of the African-American experience, because there has been a need, because the racism, the classism, and all the other isms, the economic and social needs of African-American communities are expressed differently. And so, within communities of color, there has always been sort of this understanding a need of helping those who are less fortunate, because the less fortunate may not necessarily be the other as someone that we don't know, but someone with whom we are well-acquainted. And so, when it comes to how within communities, charity is part of an understanding, part of a communal ethos, it is part of how we do what we do and how we live and engage life in ways. So, it has always been there. It has always existed.

David Fair: You said something really interesting to me. You said, you know, philanthropy is different than charity. So, how do you define those?

Rev. Mashod Evans: Well, that's a great question. My understanding of philanthropy is a deep need and desire to improve social systems through not necessarily very generous donations, but more likely when you consider what a philanthropist is or what a philanthropist looks like, that person may have means and resources, to the context of my culture and faith tradition, a blessing to someone else. Whereas charity is just a need and the desire to help is the expression of love. And how then do we make certain that our philanthropic effort are part of a deeper and greater understanding that all of us have the potential, regardless of our income or our savings or our amount of discretionary funds. We all can be philanthropists of having both a desire to bring about a change for a community, an organization, system.

David Fair: What role does charity and philanthropy play in how you counsel your congregation?

Rev. Mashod Evans: Bethel AME Church is an awesome, awesome congregation, which, for years, decades, has engaged in the work of charity, philanthropy, as a response to our faith teaching. As followers of Jesus Christ, it is our desire to emulate what Christ modeled, how He was able to meet the needs of others. And so, when it comes to counseling, I think Bethel has done this for decades. In fact, our church just celebrated its 165th anniversary. And so, for well over a century, the congregation has been engaged in this work of helping those who are in need. And when you consider the history of our congregation that many of our founding members, including our founding pastor, were formerly enslaved people. And they have the desire to help those, even though they themselves may not have been wealthy or have a tremendous number of resources. It was their commitment to make sure that other people were cared for.

David Fair: And the migration north from slavery wouldn't have been nearly as quick or successful if not for the charity of others.

Rev. Mashod Evans: I would say that that is a fair statement and an assessment. Absolutely. And so, when it comes to our congregation, that's part of our foundation and who we are. So, it is not a hard sell to encourage people to give. It is not difficult when it comes to helping to meet the needs of others. In fact, there are members who view our church--our faith community--as a place in which they can give and be assured that the resources that are given will also go to others, not simply for the bricks and mortars of sustaining the church building, but to make certain that the mission of the church, which is to meet the needs of the least, the lost, and the left behind, that the mission is fulfilled.

David Fair: Our Washtenaw United conversation with Bethel AME senior pastor Mashod Evans continues on 89 one WEMU. Obviously, your mission is faith-based, but I probably don't need to tell you right now in America, belief in God is at an all-time low. Overall, less people are attending churches, temples, synagogues, and mosques. Still, Black philanthropy and charity continues beyond the church walls and continues to have positive impact on the community. Isn't that just as important as the contributions made in the name of faith?

Rev. Mashod Evans: I would say it is important. Now, as a member who leads an institution that depends on the gifts of our congregants in order to make sure that our organization is sustained, there is an interest to make sure that those who give are giving to our faith community. But, for me, it is more important to make certain that our overall mission and the objectives of that mission are met. So, if members feel empowered by what they do and how they are connected to their faith community to make a difference in the greater community, then absolutely. I feel that we have met our mission, that we have modeled what Jesus gave us as far as an example, that we empower others to make a difference and bring about transformation and living in the world at large.

David Fair: And to that point, we as a society and community continue to deal with racially unjust systems that often thwart opportunity. We've kind of touched on it from a historical and generational perspective. What are some of the ways you see charity and Black philanthropy lifting people up right here in Washtenaw County today?

Rev. Mashod Evans: Well, within the context of what we do at Bethel, and I also know of other faith communities that are very much rooted in social justice. So, when it comes to how we live out our faith, especially in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, it is a given that those of us who name and claim Christianity under the banner of African Methodism. It is a given that we are also advocates for social change. But when it comes to addressing issues of justice, that is part of who we are, whether it is making certain that the needs of those who are underserved are met. So, in the context of what we do at Bethel each Sunday, we make sure that a portion of that which we receive goes to meet the people who are on the margins of society. And, unfortunately, because of issues of racism, many of those people are Black, Brown, immigrant. There are people who may not necessarily have the access or the need. But they are what we believe still part of God's beloved community, and those needs need to be met. When it comes to how we work that out here in Washtenaw County, it's everything from partnering with our local elementary school, make sure that the students who are parts of those schools are attending those schools. Have school supplies, making certain that we have places, for instance, have served as a vaccination site in partnership with the Washtenaw County Health Department, so that people will receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Because while, you know, COVID affects everyone, it affects, you know, African-Americans and many African-Americans in different ways, not because of the biology, but just because of sociology. That access to information and resources in certain communities is not equitable. So, as a church community, we say this is something we believe, and this is something we're standing behind, and we need you to work with us. There are congregants who will say, "Well, I may not necessarily have gotten the vaccine, but because my pastor mentioned it or because a church member said that they're having a vaccination clinic at our local church, the faith community, that makes all the difference." So, in 2022, I see the work that we do and how we partner with other organizations who align with our values, that is immeasurable. So, our mission is to meet the needs of those who are least considered the least, the lost, and the left behind.

David Fair: I would like to thank you for taking the time and sharing your perspective today, Reverend. I'm most grateful.

Rev. Mashod Evans: Thank you.

David Fair: That is Bethel AME in Ann Arbor's senior pastor, Mashod Evans Senior, our guest on Washtenaw United discussing Black Philanthropy Month. For more information, visit our website at WEMU dot org. Washtenaw United is produced in partnership with the United Way of Washtenaw County, and you hear it every Monday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community. NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.


Bethel AME Church of Ann Arbor


Pastor Mashod Evans is serving as the 2022 United Way of Washtenaw County Campaign Co-Chair along with Tim Marshall and Emily Moore Marshall. We are delighted to have his leadership and support.

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Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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