Business News for the Mississippi Delta

Pay it Forward

By Keith Fulcher

In 2022, half a TRILLION dollars were donated to USA-based nonprofits from Individuals; Corporations; Foundations; and Bequests. Individuals made sixty-four percent of the donations, totaling $319 billion! 

I’ve lived in the Mississippi Delta between Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Memphis for fifty-three years. Before me, four generations of my family called the Delta home. Life for my family over the past four generations hasn’t been easy! 

As influential as hardships were, what was just as influential was the generosity shown to my family. I often reflect on how life would be different if one act of generosity that supported my family had not taken place. 

My father, William Hershel Fulcher, was born in Yazoo City in 1935. He was the son of Ralph Fulcher, an alcoholic, illiterate sharecropper. Ralph’s life was impacted when his father was murdered in 1913 when he was twelve years of age and he had to work in the cotton mill to help support the family of six. Then, tragically, his mother passed away in 1916 and he and his siblings had to move in with relatives. Ralph only learned to write his name, as opposed to making his mark with an X, when he worked for the WPA as a fire fighter in Yazoo County. 

Times were extremely difficult for the Fulcher family. The ladies had to make do with flower sack dresses, and my father did not have shoes to wear to school until he was in the eleventh grade. However, despite how poor they were, Ralph still made it a point to be generous. When he hired a worker to add a kitchen to the family home on 14th Street, Ralph paid the man in advance, even though he had been warned it might lead to the man running off. Why did he do that? Because the man said that his children were hungry. When the man did run off with the money, Ralph didn’t yell, or threaten to chase after him. When ridiculed for what happened, he simply replied “The man said his children were hungry.”

What a lesson in philanthropy I’ve learned from my alcoholic, illiterate, sharecropping grandfather. Generosity! 

My mother, Josephine Nohra Fulcher, was born in Vicksburg in 1938. She was born to first generation Lebanese immigrants. Her father, Toufic George Nohra, had a difficult time providing for the family because of physical impairments due to mustard gas exposure while serving in France during World War 1, a problem that was compounded by his love of gambling and drinking. My mother and her siblings were selected each year by the Salvation Army to receive a free pair of shoes. I remember my mother telling me she hated it when it rained because the cardboard placed in her shoes to cover the holes became soggy wet. Probably the greatest impact of philanthropy on her siblings was provided by the Sisters of Mercy and Brothers of the Sacred Heart, who provided them with a free Catholic education.  

Both my parents were first generation High School graduates thanks to the support they received from many individuals, churches, and social service agencies that helped them along the way. It didn’t help that my father had undiagnosed dyslexia and epilepsy. One of their proudest achievements was to see their three sons earn a total of five college degrees. 

The lesson I’ve learned in philanthropy: Education is the key to improving a person’s socio-economic status. My children will never know what poverty feels like, which was a brutal reality for my parents just one lifetime ago. I credit caring individuals who unselfishly provided for their physical, spiritual, health, and educational needs and I’ve dedicated my life to doing the same for this generation of children. 

I’m very blessed to work for the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi since 2019 after an eleven-year career in the Catholic School system and a twenty-three-year career at the Delta State University Alumni-Foundation. All three jobs have afforded me to give back in philanthropic ways that were extended to generations of my Mississippi Delta family. 

The Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi is a $42 million in asset nonprofit that supports children living in eleven counties in northwest Mississippi, especially those who are living under the same challenging conditions my family experienced.  The Foundation’s goal is to have a generational impact on today’s children by creating Endowments that support the causes that matter in areas of children, education, and health.  Endowments at the Community Foundation will in perpetuity provide for the needs of children. 

If you have wondered how to give back to the needs of the children, I invite you to e-mail me or call 662.719.1732. The Community Foundation can help you fulfill your philanthropic goals.   

Keith Fulcher serves as President of Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi based in Hernando.