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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

Don’t Blame APF Funding Disparity on “White Racism”

By Donald V. Watkins

©Copyrighted and Published on June 30, 2019

On June 28, 2019, I published an article about the Alabama Power Foundation, Inc. (APF). The article highlighted the “winners” and “losers” in APF’s award of grants to community service organizations, churches, and educational institutions in 2017.

An analysis of APF’s IRS Form 990-PF for 2017 graphically illustrated the disparity in funding between recipients that serve mainstream Alabama communities and those that serve the needs of the state’s Black Belt counties, minority communities, and underserved rural areas.

The disparity in grant awards was not a one-time glitch for 2017. It is a part of a trend that is reflected in APF’s IRS Form 990-PF for tax years 2016, 2015, and 2014.

APF is funded by donations from Alabama Power Company shareholders. Because Alabama Power sets its own rates, the ratepayers in Alabama indirectly contribute their fair share of money to APF as well.

Alabama Power enjoys a protected monopoly position within the state’s regulated utilities industry. Blacks in Alabama make up 26.2% of the state’s population and nearly 25% of Alabama Power Company’s retail customer base. Yet, APF awarded less than 5% of its direct grants to non-profit organizations that serve the needs of the black community.

APF's Funding Disparity Results from a Failure of Black Political Leadership, Not White Racism

Alabama Power Company is led by CEO Mark Crosswhite. He is a smart, ethical, fair-minded, and progressive corporate executive with proven skills in leading and growing a $6 billion a year publicly-owned, monopolistic utility giant. Crosswhite has also done a lot to advance equal employment opportunities for blacks and women within the upper ranks of Alabama Power Company’s senior management team.

Additionally, APF funds hundreds of deserving community-based, service-oriented non-profit organizations around the state. Myla Calhoun, a Tuskegee native and highly accomplished attorney from a very distinguished family, is the overly qualified and very capable president of APF. Ms. Calhoun is a graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, and The University of Alabama School of Law. She is the perfect person to head APF.

The disparity in APF’s award of grants, when compared to the racial breakdown of Alabama Power’s “captive” retail customer base, is a direct result of the failure of Alabama’s black elected officials to perform their job in an effective manner. For decades, these officials have advanced and protected Alabama Power’s monopoly position in the state, while seeking virtually no community reinvestment from the company for their political constituents.

Typically, these public officials DO NOT study Alabama Power’s 10-Q and 10-K regulatory filings with the U.S. Exchange and Securities Commission to track the company’s financial growth and net profits. Likewise, they DO NOT study APF’s annual IRS Form 990-PF to see how much money APF allocates to various categories of deserving recipients.

These insightful documents are published online and can be easily accessed with the click of a button. Yet, these officials appear to be too lazy or disinterested to access them.

So many deserving organizations in political districts represented by black elected officials missed out on equitable funding from APF over the past four years because too many of these public officials spent their time and energy pressuring APC for campaign cash and jobs for their friends, lovers, mistresses, and relatives, instead of APF grants for deserving service-oriented organizations that would lift the quality of life in the communities they represent.

Black public officials are elected to serve the interests of their constituents within the halls of government and in the boardrooms of corporate America. However, most of these officials abandon the political interests of their constituents as soon as the swearing-in ceremony ends. 

Too many of today’s black public officials are preoccupied with traveling to conferences in America and abroad, begging for free tickets to concerts and sporting events, issuing feel-good proclamations on symbolic subjects, and posting photos on Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram in an effort to project an image of perceived power. When they do fight for something, it is usually a battle for front-row seats at entertainment events, or skybox tickets at major sports events, or VIP treatment at commemorative events that celebrate the courage of civil rights icons from the 1950s and 1960s. 

As a result, black communities in Alabama and across the nation are suffering terribly from a lack of effective leadership, a lack of basic government services, and a lack of corporate reinvestment in the black community.

In Alabama, this lack of leadership has resulted in APF funding animal welfare programs in an amount that is greater than its funding for social services in Alabama’s poorest Black Belt counties. For example, the Selma and Black Belt Region Abuse Sanctuary, which is a shelter for victims of domestic and sexual violence, received only $300 in 2017. In contrast, funding for animal safety and welfare programs for dogs, cats, horses, fish, and wildlife in open habitats and in zoos totaled $222,775 in 2017.

The disparity in APF’s funding for colleges and universities was even more glaring. Auburn University, The University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Samford University were awarded nearly all of the money allocated for institutions of higher education. Their collective grants represented more than 25% of the $9,679,493 APF awarded to all recipients in 2017, not just colleges and universities. In addition, APF has committed $2,500,000 in funding for Auburn University and UAB in future years.

In contrast, the aggregate amount of money awarded to Alabama State University, Alabama A&M University, and Tuskegee University, which are Alabama’s flagship HBCUs, was only $100,000 in 2017. Spelman College, which is a flagship HBCU in Atlanta, received $5,000.

The total funding for the Selma and Black Belt Region Abuse Sanctuary and the flagship HBCUs in Alabama and Georgia was a mere $105,300. In contrast, the animals at the Birmingham Zoo, alone, received $113,000 in 2017. Furthermore, the Birmingham Zoo animals are guaranteed another $300,000 in APF funding in future years, while the flagship HBCUs are not guaranteed any grant funding.

My Message to Alabama's Black Public Officials

My message to Alabama’s black elected and appointed officials is this: Please stop using “white racism” as an excuse for your dismal failure to adequately represent the political interests of your constituents, educational institutions, and communities. No white person is stopping you from preparing yourself for a productive, constituent-focused, mission-oriented meeting with Alabama Power Company CEO Mark Crosswhite or Alabama Power Foundation President Myla Calhoun.

Stop complaining and start helping qualified and deserving non-profit organizations in your communities compete for APF grants.

If you can find the time or interest to request a meeting with Mr. Crosswhite or Ms. Calhoun, please have something of substance to say to them that positions your constituent organizations as genuine “partners in progress” with Alabama Power Company. Otherwise, you are wasting their time and yours.

Above all, please stop “hustling” Alabama Power Company for trinkets for yourself and tangible economic benefits for your relatives, lovers, and mistresses. When you engage in this type of irresponsible political behavior, your constituent organizations lose out every time.

PHOTO: Alabama Power Foundation President Myla Calhoun (left) with Alabama Power Company CEO Mark Crosswhite (right).

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Donald V. Watkins
Donald V. Watkins
Jun 30, 2019

I try to present sensitive subjects in an honest light. We cannot solve societal problems if we don't define them properly. Blacks cannot complain about APF funding disparities if we are not applying or competing for these grants, or if we are requesting too little money. Today's article is a wake-up call for black political leadership and community-based services. As a race, we are being left behind in the wake of America's economic prosperity because our political leaders are silent on the things that matter.

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