Every February, the U.S. honors Black History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their sacrifices and struggles, which have shaped the nation to a large degree.

In celebration of Black History Month, we spoke with three United Church Funds (UCF) board members with their own long list of achievements and asked them which figures from Black History have inspired them and their work in advancing social and racial justice.

Edith Guffey, UCF Board Chair* and retired UCC conference minister, says she used to think that working for justice predominantly meant participating in marches, sit-ins or other public protests. But the work of Ida B. Wells, the investigative journalist who exposed and wrote extensively about racism and the horrors of lynching, often putting her own life and well-being at risk, reminded Edith of the power of the written word. “Ida’s work and life inspire me and remind me that I can be myself, and most importantly, I can find ways to be authentically engaged in advancing racial justice,” says Edith.

Edith adds, “In terms of my own work, I hope that the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference Racial Justice Initiative has made a positive and lasting contribution to advancing social and racial justice.” The initiative was started after the murder of Michael Brown, during the time that Edith served as Conference Minister. Promoting and advancing racial justice in the Midwest is particularly important, but it is challenging, Edith says. Many pastors and conference members have shared their deep commitment and courageously joined and continued the movement, even sharing their work with their German partner churches.

Gwendolyn V. Kirkland, a UCC minister, former UCF Board member, retired financial professional and current administrator of the Brown Endowment, says that the selfless acts of Oseola McCarty have inspired her in her 38 years of work in the financial services industry.

McCarty was a washerwoman from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, who was born in 1908. Despite making low wages throughout her life, McCarty ultimately became the University of Southern Mississippi’s most famous benefactor. Upon her death in 1995, it was discovered that she had established a trust and left a portion of it – around $150,000 – to provide university scholarships for deserving students, particularly those of African American descent, who could not otherwise attend due to financial hardship. In contrast to her largesse, McCarty herself lived a highly frugal life – never owning a car and walking everywhere she went, pushing a shopping cart nearly a mile to get groceries.

Gwendolyn says that during her own time working in financial services, she felt privileged to educate and empower many first-time African American investors on accumulating wealth by investing in the stock market. “My mantra was that the stock market was a racial equalizer,” she adds. “When they invested there was no ‘Black AT&T,’ so when they bought shares of stock, their money had the same potential for growth as everyone else. I hope I have made a positive contribution to advancing social and racial justice by empowering many African American investors to be responsible stewards of their financial resources.”

Lisa Hinds, Chair of UCF’s Investment Committee and Managing Director of Client Engagement and Sustainability at asset management firm, Xponance, finds inspiration from 22 trailblazing Black women who founded Delta Sigma Theta in 1913. The sorority strives to promote academic excellence and provides assistance and support to the Black community through established programs in local communities worldwide.

The organization’s first public act was the founders’ participation in the Suffrage March of 1913, a protest against women’s exclusion from political organizations. Throughout the over 100 years since their founding, members of Delta Sigma Theta have continued to fight for the rights of the Black community.

“These courageous scholars were steadfast warriors for civil rights in the U.S,” says Lisa “It is in their service I found my life’s purpose; it is their fortitude that enkindles my pursuit of a more just and inclusive world.”

Lisa adds: “There can be no greater accomplishment in paying it forward than in preparing the next generation of leaders. I am raising a spiritually minded, dynamic young woman who proudly stands in her truth as a scholar, athlete and activist. As she starts her journey to college this year, her work and witness for social and racial justice will continue the righteous work our ancestors began.”

* This interview was conducted in 2022. Edith Guffey is now a former UCF Board Chair after completing her terms in 2023.