Vernon L. Odom Fund History
At the time of the last U.S. Census, approximately one-third of all Akron residents were in the city’s minority population. As this figure continues to grow, so do the needs of minority communities.
From a heightened state of poverty to a lack of educational resources, minority groups often have specific needs that cannot be met with generalized funding. In light of this reality, board members at Akron Community Foundation began meeting in the early 1990s to brainstorm ways the foundation could reach out to Summit County’s minority groups.
“It was important that we had diversity in all aspects of the foundation,” said Judge James Williams, a board member who spearheaded the project.
A string of discussions about Akron Community Foundation’s role in recognizing challenges faced by minority groups led to talks about starting a new fund. The fund would support nonprofit organizations serving the minority population in Summit County and promote racial harmony.
“We were seeing a lot of requests that were to be used for minorities, and (starting a fund) just seemed like a more straightforward way,” explained then-board chairwoman Ann Amer Brennan.
Thus, in 1993, the foundation established an unnamed minority fund with an initial endowment contribution of $50,000. A committee was immediately established to research the needs of minority groups and raise money for the endowment.
Shortly after that time in 1996, one of Akron’s most recognized civil rights leaders passed away. A classmate of Martin Luther King Jr., Vernon L. Odom spent most of his life serving the city’s minority population and encouraging racial harmony. As president of the Akron Urban League for nearly 30 years, Odom improved the lives of countless minorities through education, advocacy and mentoring.
This long history of service and inspiration to the minority communities of Summit County made Odom an ideal namesake for the foundation’s minority fund, Williams said.
“He devoted his life to the betterment of his community,” Williams said. “It was appropriate that the fund be named after him.”
The minority fund officially became known as the Vernon L. Odom Fund in 1997 and soon after awarded its first grants. Since that time, the fund has given nearly $160,000 in grants to improve the quality of life of local minority groups. Past grants have supported organizations like the Akron Inner City Soccer Club, Project R.I.S.E., and the Butch Reynolds Care for Kids Foundation.
“The fund is there as a solid reminder to all of us about the specific nature of problems that exist in the inner city and the need for continued effort to eradicate some of those problems,” Williams said.
In this way, the Vernon L. Odom Fund continues Odom’s legacy of investing in the success of Summit County’s minority community.