“Like the Phoenix (an eagle-like bird from Greek mythology that perished, then rose from the ashes to fly again), Providence’s Bannister House has risen from near destruction on three separate occasions,” states Allan Shine, who was involved for many years in Bannister’s legal proceedings.
Founded in 1890 as the Home for Aged Colored Women (and later renamed to honor its founder, Christiana Bannister), the facility was established to serve former African American domestic servants.
The original home, in Providence’s Fox Point, was supported by East Side families for whom the domestic servants had worked. In 1974, with Housing and Urban Development funding facilitated by the late John Chafee, Bannister constructed a new, larger facility on land donated by Ebenezer Baptist Church on Providence’s West Side.
Its funding changed from private support to public funding, largely through Medicaid. Bannister soon encountered financial challenges, went into receivership twice, and ultimately was sold in 2015 to a for-profit entity.
With the sale, Bannister paid its creditors in full and was fortunate to have funds remaining. “The board had a series of long discussions about where the money should be held and the types of organizations and activities it should support to honor the history of Bannister House,” explains Jane Hayward, president of the Bannister board at the time of the sale.
The board members decided to partner with the Rhode Island Foundation and merge their funds with the Black Philanthropy Initiative, established at the Foundation in 2007 “for the needs and aspirations of Blacks in Rhode Island.”
The resulting Black Philanthropy Bannister Fund will support three areas which further the original focus of Bannister House to serve the African American community: scholarships for African American/Black students pursuing careers in healthcare; youth development and mentoring for African American/Black youth; and support of African American/Black community-based organizations.
“The Rhode Island Foundation seemed like the right place for the money’s financial oversight, with the Black Philanthropy Initiative being the appropriate partner,” says board member Brendan Kane.
“Bannister House served a tremendous need,” concludes Susan Johnson, a board member who earlier was the organization’s director of finance. And it has risen again, now addressing a need through the Black Philanthropy Bannister Fund.