Seven-Figure Gift From Detroit Couple Spurs Discussion of African-American Philanthropy

A seven-figure gift to the Detroit Institute of Arts from former General Motors group vice president Roy Roberts and his wife, Maureen, has put a spotlight on the relative dearth of high-profile African-American philanthropists, Crain's Detroit Business and the Detroit Free Press report.

In recognition of the first seven-figure contribution to DIA by an African American, the museum will rename one of its galleries after the couple.

According to Chacona Johnson, president of the Detroit Public Schools Foundation, people typically don't associate African Americans with traditional philanthropy because the bulk of African-American giving historically has supported churches; indeed, it still does. And despite efforts by a growing number of cultural institutions in Detroit and elsewhere to cultivate African-American donors, it could take a generation or more before long-established giving patterns in the African-American community begin to shift. Still, the Roberts' gift has elevated African-American philanthropy to a new level, said the DIA's Nettie Seabrooks.

Roy Roberts told the Free Press that he and his wife are optimistic their gift will broaden the vision of African-American philanthropy. "We have four kids, six grandkids," said Roberts. "When they come back twenty-five years from now, what are they going to see, and what will it say about us? [The gift is] a way for us to teach our grandkids to get the best education possible, work as hard as you possibly can, and when you get a little more than you need to take care of your family, you give back."

Mark Stryker. "DIA Gallery Renamed for Big Benefactors: Ex-GM Exec Roy Roberts and Wife, Maureen." Detroit Free Press 05/04/2011. Sherri Welch. "The Color of Philanthropy: Black Donors Often Under the Radar." Crain's Detroit Business 05/08/2011.