"Strange Fruit" and the Magic of Out-of-the-Blue Donations

As someone for whom fundraising is an important part of my job, one of the best and most mysterious occurrences is the seemingly out-of-the-blue donation. I always wish I could ask the donor what motivated them to contribute at this particular time or amount. Especially when there is no obvious trigger.

The RFC received one of these donations recently from a new donor, Jonathan. He wasn’t in our database or on our email list and we haven’t mailed any recent appeals, so I had no way of knowing what inspired his gift. I emailed him a thank you and figured that would be the end of the story. Instead, I received the following lovely email from him:

I know that responding to donations is sort of a routine (but important) thing, and I don't mean to steal time from your valuable work... but I'd like to share a little.

A week ago my union (United Federation of Teachers in New York City) sent out a newsletter, and in it boasted , "The late Abel Meeropol, a UFT member and a long-time teacher at DeWitt Clinton HS in the Bronx, wrote the lyrics to Billie Holiday's famed song ‘Strange Fruit.’” Nothing more, no context. So I decided to write a little about the song, and a little about Abel (seriously, they didn't even mention that it was an anti-lynching song).

And as I finished writing, it felt incomplete. I tried to look up a BLM organization that supports children of victims... [and I also donated to] the Rosenberg Fund for Children. And I closed my post with an appeal for donations (not that anyone listens to me, but it couldn't hurt).

My mom did some work once, not sure with the Fund or with the campaign for exoneration. She may have donated money she couldn't afford - that's what she does. But she's not so well now. And after I published the piece and sent the donations I called her to tell her about it and the smile I heard on the other end of the phone was so big I couldn't tell if I'd donated because it was the right thing to do, or just to make my mom happy.

That's it. Not much of a story. But thanks for letting me tell it. Here's what I wrote

And I'm glad I finally contributed something to the Rosenberg Fund for Children. You'll hear from me next year, too.

I love everything about this exchange, from Jonathan’s interest in sharing the context and history of “Strange Fruit” to his decision to donate to organizations supporting children impacted by racism and political oppression to learning that, like so many in our community, he’s the second generation in his family to support the RFC and other efforts to create a  more justice society.

But most of all, I loved this, “after I published the piece and sent the donations I called [my mom] to tell her about it and the smile I heard on the other end of the phone was so big I couldn't tell if I'd donated because it was the right thing to do, or just to make my mom happy.”

Here's to doing the right thing and making our moms happy. I’m grateful for both and for everything else that inspires people to support our work.

I encourage you to read Jonathan’s blog (you'll find it here) and, if you’d like, share what motivates you to support the RFC by leaving a comment below. I’m so grateful to all of you,

Jenn Meeropol

 

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Comments

Recipients of RFC grants document cases of injustice unknown to most Americans through the media. This monthly listing is the best source of information on battles for justice waged all over our country by courageous people. Someone needs to write a book about RFC recipients' struggles (state by state) over the last 20 years of the RFC's existence.

The Rosenberg Fund for Children IS the book!
The pages are the chapters, the stories are the victories of hundreds of kids that managed a smile in their shattered lives.
BRAVO RFC,
BRAVO Jenn,
BRAVO to everyone who has donated .
I'm proud to be just a small part of the story.

Julius in Ohio

Aside from Kinderland, there was a wonderful small (50 kids) camp - children of mostly NYC Communist parents. It was in Wilmington Vt. Does anyone reading this remember Higgley Hill? Thanks, Ellen K. (formerly Levine)
kaufmann@crocker.com

I'd be so happy if my words prompted anyone else to donate. Thank you.

Dear Jenn,
I've been a long-term contributor to the RFC and in addition to the great work you folks are doing there are two other reasons why I contribute:
- In the late 60's Ann Meeropol, your grandmother, directed a mime play about a naive fellow who was drafted into the Vietnam War. and had to engage in the atrocities of war. I had the honor of having the lead in that play that traveled around NYC. I suspect that Abel wrote that powerful play which was very well received.
- My grandfather was imprisoned in a Siberian labor camp for anti-czarist political activities. He managed to escape and make his way to the Lower East Side. The toll of his imprisonment greatly affected our family.

Thank you for the great work RFC has done over the decades!

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