Bennie and Flash Wiley: Giving Selma

Bennie and Flash Wiley were having dinner in New York with friends in January when the topic of the civil-rights movie Selma arose. “Some of the people there had been to a screening, as we had, and were talking about the film and how it was something every child in America should see,” Bennie recalls. “A couple of them followed up on the idea and said they wondered if they could make that happen.”


“One of our friends in New York was calling it pop-up philanthropy – an idea that emerged and had to happen quickly in order to be relevant,” says Bennie. It so happened that one of guests at the dinner sits on the board of Viacom, the parent company of Paramount Pictures. “Paramount told him that if he could raise the money, they would sell the tickets at a discount and accept any student that came to a theater and showed an ID. After my friends raised money in New York, they called and said, ‘What do you think about trying it in Boston?’”

After testing the idea with some African-American friends, the Wileys decided to do what they could. As a former board member of the Boston Foundation, Bennie knew that a Designated Fund might be a good vehicle for the project for several reasons:

·         Contributions to the fund would be tax-deductible;

·         The Foundation is a well-established entity that could quickly and responsibly process donations;

·         Donors would be comfortable sending their contributions to “an organization they know and trust and respect"

On Jan. 12, the Wileys created the “Students for Selma” Designated Fund at the Boston Foundation and quickly raised more than $120,000, making it possible for 11,000 students in Greater Boston to see the historical drama about Martin Luther King’s historic voting rights marches in Alabama in 1965. “We raised $100,000 in three days – all from African Americans,” Bennie marvels, noting that non-black donors later approached her and were invited to contribute as well. “Initially, we purposefully kept it African American because we wanted to make the statement that we cared that the history be told and that the next generation be the beneficiary of understanding what went on in the past. It felt really good.”

The movement quickly spread around the country, where black leaders raised a total of $2.5 million in 33 cities. More than 300,000 middle- and high-school students viewed the film for free at participating theaters and were encouraged to discuss it on social media under the #StudentsforSelma Twitter hashtag. 

Read the Boston Globe article here.