In celebration of Black Philanthropy Month, the Trust is featuring a series of conversations with Black philanthropists making their impact across the Chicago region. This article is the final in our series—be sure take a look at our previous interviews with James Reynolds, Jr., Graham Grady, and the Coney Family.
Teresa Prim and G. Sequane Lawrence have dedicated their professional and personal lives to serving their community and supporting youth and economic development in the Chicago region. Teresa is the owner and co-founder, along with Sequane, of Prim Lawrence Group, a community economic and real estate development consulting firm committed to the economic empowerment of financially disadvantaged people and to building the capacity of organizations to execute economic development strategies.
Sequane has spent a long career leading community-based institutions and is currently the president and CEO of Revolution Works, a 21st century workforce and economic development initiative. He is a former The Chicago Community Trust Fellow, and a member of the Trust’s African American Legacy (AAL)—a philanthropic and educational initiative led by African American civic and community leaders.
The couple recently opened a donor advised fund at the Trust, which has been instrumental in their giving to causes that advance Black youth and communities. They recently sat down with Meghan Lewit, communications manager at the Trust, to discuss their approach to philanthropy and why they live by a simple motto to “do good in the world.”
Meghan Lewit: How would you describe a philanthropist and who are philanthropists in your eyes?
Sequane Lawrence: I subscribe to the classic definition: a person who actively promotes the welfare of others, especially by donating money to good causes. There are numerous philanthropists who we admire such as Ed Gardner, Don and Liz Thompson, Dan and Bobbi Miller, Lester and Nancy McKeevers, MacKenzie Scott, and the list goes on.
Teresa Prim: I think it’s important to note that philanthropists are often people like us, who came from similar communities. People who have advanced in their careers and now want to make a positive impact. You don’t have to be a multi-millionaire or billionaire to be a philanthropist.
ML: How has your life experience inspired you to give back?
Teresa Prim: Our families’ values and practices have always been to “do good in the world.” I was raised in Milwaukee and have been volunteering within segregated and low-income communities of color since the age of 13 when my first summer job was at the People’s Free Health Clinic. Subsequently, both Sequane and I selected professional careers in government and the nonprofit sectors advancing youth development and community economic development, for which we have now worked for over 40 years.
Sequane Lawrence: I’ve never liked the term “give back.” Many of us never left our community in terms of our connection to the places and people that gave birth to us. I was born in North Lawndale in Chicago and raised in CHA Robert Taylor Homes as an adolescent and have seen and lived firsthand the segregation and severe challenges confronting the Black community. So, whenever we can, we want to financially support organizations doing good work in the communities with the least resources.
ML: What causes do you choose to support and why?
Teresa Prim: We primarily support strategic investment in initiatives that support Black youth and families. Broadly speaking, affordable and supportive housing, educational institutions, collective ownership models, noncustodial fathers, and family strengthening practices, rites of passage programs, violence intervention and prevention, and workforce development—all of which are under resourced given their potential impact on communities and the wealth and well-being of families. We support these causes not only with financial contributions but the commitment of our time serving on boards and committees. It is particularly meaningful to me to serve on the board of the Greater Chatham Initiative, which works to drive neighborhood and economic growth in Chatham and surrounding communities.
Sequane Lawrence: One of the most meaningful organizations I have been involved with is Fathers, Families and Healthy Communities, which does great work empowering Black fathers and families, and actually was founded with support from the Trust. We appreciate having our donor advised fund as a vehicle for our family to make contributions to programs and initiatives that we value but may not have been familiar with. A DAF at the Trust is such a simple, values-based and elegant model for giving. It is a good financial and business practice, but more importantly, it is a way to potentially catalyze other donors who, like us, see a donor advised fund as an effective and creative way to support critical work in the Black community.
ML: Why did you decide to partner with The Chicago Community Trust to fulfill your charitable giving?
Sequane Lawrence: I have a long history with the Trust and understand the value of working with the organization. As a recipient of The Chicago Community Trust Fellowship in 2010, which was a program to help nonprofit leaders enhance their skillset, I was able to study in a profound way a thriving democratic economy in the Basque region of Spain. Teresa and I traveled there and participated in eight hours of study per day, meeting with civic leaders, philanthropists, and other development practitioners like Deborah Bennett, [senior program officer] from the Polk Bros. Foundation, and the current Illinois Deputy Governor Sol Flores who traveled with us. For me, it was a transformative experience as a leader in the struggle for workplace democracy and a democratic economy in our region and around the country. I would love to see the Trust reinstate this program in the future.
I’ve also served on African American Legacy since 2018. My involvement with AAL reminds me of a Black family sitting around the table—we engage in deep, serious conversations about how to help our larger community, where we should be investing, how much, and how can we do more? The AAL has done a lot of good and can do even more.
Teresa Prim: Through my consulting firm, I have also had the opportunity to work with numerous funds housed at the Trust and recognize the success and impact of practicing philanthropy through donor advised funds and other Trust vehicles. I’ve served as a reviewer for the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities since its inception and understand the impact these small grants have had on creating safe spaces in Chicago during the summer months when violence often spikes. Sequane and I are proud to have recently contributed to the Fund ourselves.
ML: Can you talk a little bit about the spirit of giving in the Black community?
Sequane Lawrence: Unfortunately, there has been a lack of appreciation for the spirit of giving in the Black community. There is so much giving in the community, often to family members and individuals in times of need or to help them achieve something that may not otherwise be attainable—the purchase of a home or car, or a tuition payment. This type of giving is off the radar of formal philanthropic giving and is not acknowledged by the IRS as charitable giving.
ML: What advice would you give to others just starting their philanthropic journey?
Teresa Prim: To explore opportunities to invest, possibly in a unified fund with other donors to better leverage support and make a larger impact in the areas you care most about. It’s important not to underestimate the value of giving, it doesn’t take millions of dollars to make an impact. Also, consider doing it through a donor advised fund.