In 2011, Hunter Lewis, co-founder of global investment firm Cambridge Associates, was interested in purchasing land untouched by chemical herbicides and pesticides to use for an organic farming operation. Lewis found his oasis in the Black Belt of Alabama, which is named after its fertile black soil.
“The Black Belt region is rich in history and culture. It has played a crucial part in the formation of America, going back to Native American settlements, Antebellum Mansions, Plantations, Civil War sites and the Birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement; these time periods have all shaped the history and culture of this region.” Cooper Holmes, Director of the ABBF
While establishing his organic farm, Lewis became active in the communities surrounding his land, Marion and Greensboro. He saw a need to help this underserved region of the country. The 4th most impoverished county in America by median household income is in the Black Belt region. 2 of the 9 most impoverished counties, and 5 of the 23 most impoverished counties are also located in this 12 county region.
Originally named for it’s rich black soil, the 12 counties that comprise the Black Belt of Alabama were once booming and prosperous. Today, poverty and a lack of resources are systemic. Because of this, Lewis founded the Alabama Black Belt Foundation (ABBF) in 2016 to help advance Alabama’s Black Belt region and to improve the lives of those living in one of America’s poorest areas. ABBF is a private operating foundation but Lewis also created a philanthropic arm of ABBF that seeks to support the best public charities in the region. ABBF partners with these organizations and finds additional funding for their programs. The added funders and attention help raise the profile of the work being done by these public charities; this ultimately improves the lives of those throughout the Black Belt region. ABBF is also committed to promoting and facilitating regional tourism throughout the Black Belt by partnering with local communities and tourism departments. Increasing tourism in the Black Belt would provide a tremendous economic boost throughout the region.
Below is Hunter Lewis’s personal statement on his commitment to the Black Belt Region:
“When I was very young, I visited my great aunt who was working in the Kentucky Mountains bringing healthcare to the people living there for the first time. I well recall how the children had no shoes, were often hungry, and generally had intestinal worms. The infant mortality rate was very high. The people of this region lived in shacks that used tin cans for roof shingles and old newspapers for wallpaper to provide protection from the wind.
Later, I met Martin Luther King and was the last person to interview him for publication. I also vividly recall what Bobby Kennedy found in his trips to the Mississippi Delta. Conditions may be better today for minority populations living in the poorest counties in America, but there are also new threats such as widespread dumping of the most toxic chemicals and coal ash. The Alabama Black Belt Foundation is committed to helping the region address these challenges and is working to create new opportunities for the community to flourish.
Lyndon Johnson spoke of eradicating this half a century ago. Foundation support from outside the Black Belt is absolutely crucial to getting the job finally done."
Recently, Jada Yuan of The New York Times visited Montgomery, the capital of Alabama. She met an energetic and hopeful 24 year old Lyft driver, Marcus McNeal, who described his living conditions: “’My mom is 62 years old and makes $8 an hour [as a nurse’s assistant], and that is the most she has ever made.’ Their house has too much dry rot to install insulation, and they haven’t been able to afford replacing the bathroom sink that fell out of the wall.” If this is what life is like for many in the Montgomery, just imagine what it is like for many people in the Black Belt. We invite you to come visit our work in the region and find out.
Mike and Gillian Goodrich Foundation: The Black Belt of Alabama is a culturally rich area but largely under-resourced. The Mike & Gillian Goodrich Foundation looks for opportunities to support education, community development and access to health care. According to Mike Goodrich, “Our families have a long history in the area, and we are glad to invest in a wide range of projects that support the citizens of the Black Belt.”