The Black Benefactors are saddened by the passing of Peggy Cooper Cafritz, a visionary in the arts, education and philanthropy, and co-founder of the storied Duke Ellington School of the Arts.Black Benefactors was honored to host Peggy for our 10th anniversary speaker series in July 2017.In a candid conversation moderated by her good friend and journalist Jackie Trescott, Peggy shared memories of her early life in Alabama, her experiences with racism as a young adult during the civil rights movement, and her approach to art collecting and the fire that destroyed her DC home, which contained one of the most extensive collections of African American art in the world. The most memorable stories she shared were how she co-conceived the idea of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts with Mike Malone, and life lessons from her father who told Peggy “to give until it hurts.” Today, the Duke Ellington School is widely known as a model for public education.
Peggy’s giving story strongly resonated with our members and guests. Black Benefactors member Jalisa Whitley recalls two key takeaways that stood out to her:
“That women in philanthropy should be extraordinarily bold and should ask to be connected to women more wealthy than you to expand your influence. To me, this spoke to Peggy’s spirit of being the driver of her destiny and her own biggest advocate. This boldness personified what Peggy represented for me. A woman who was unapologetically committed to using her platform and influence to make change. She started with a dream and made it into a reality as evidenced by Duke Ellington and her large philanthropic imprint locally.
Flowing from that, the second quote that stood out to me was, ‘Start with the building blocks. Build each block so well that when you build the house no one can tell you no.’ This is a lesson I carry along with me. It speaks to the importance of doing the small and foundational things with excellence and care. To be intentional and committed to the details of achieving the change you want to see in the world so that when you get to launch no one can deny what you’ve been called to do. I’m so thankful that I got to witness, if even for a short-time, the extraordinary fulfillment of what Peggy was put on this earth to do.”
The Black Benefactors are also appreciative of member Thelma D. Jones who introduced Peggy to Black Benefactors and made our event possible. In honor of Peggy’s legacy, consider purchasing a copy of her new book, Fired Up! Ready to Go!: Finding Beauty,
Demanding Equity: An African American Life in Art. The Collections of Peggy Cooper Cafritz. Purchase here.