Imagining Philanthropy as Compassionate Leadership

“How much a dollar really cost?” Kendrick Lamar asks in this track from his Grammy-award winning album To Pimp a Butterfly, in which he explores his own responsibility in alleviating the suffering of others. Donovan Livingston, staff affiliate for the Program for Leadership and Character and Assistant Dean in the Office of University Collaboration, used this iconic song as the centerpiece for his keynote speech at the annual “Heroes for the Homeless” breakfast on November 18. 2019.

A rapper and poet himself, Livingston thoughtfully engaged Lamar’s song to discuss what it means to connect across difference, especially when individuals possess different levels of access to power, privilege, and opportunity. Lamar’s song challenges listeners to question their own reluctance to give a single dollar, as well as the sociopolitical, economic, and spiritual consequences of turning a blind eye to those in need. Livingston asserted that a dollar has the potential to be more than just a dollar, when given compassionately and intentionally, and that this form of philanthropy has the potential to change lives as well as larger systems.

The event was sponsored by the Bethesda Center for the Homeless, located in downtown Winston Salem. Since 2018, the Bethesda Center has provided 126-housing insecure individuals with permanent residence and continue to increase that number.