By Margaret Bernstein, The Plain Dealer

CLEVELAND, Ohio — A sold-out crowd of 200 is expected Saturday for a discussion of the black community’s history of philanthropic clout and ways to inspire more of it.   Virginia businessman Earl W. Stafford, chairman of The Stafford Foundation, will deliver the keynote address at the event, “Advancing African American Philanthropy: Building Tomorrow’s Legacy Today.”

The program, presented by the Cleveland Foundation. begins at 8 a.m. at Cuyahoga Community College’s Corporate College East in Warrensville Heights.

Stafford stepped into the national spotlight in 2009 by launching The People’s Inaugural Project, which brought 400 low-income people and veterans to Washington, D.C., for the presidential inauguration.

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Thousands of people offered to help, prompting Stafford to create, set to debut June 1. The Web site, a collaboration with actor and comedian Bill Cosby, will share inspiring stories, steer people to opportunities for volunteering and urge everyone to “use their talents to do a little good in life,” Stafford said in a phone interview.

In his Warrensville Heights talk, Stafford will discuss the important role black churches play in philanthropy and explain why blacks must contribute beyond the collection plate.

African-Americans are less likely than other racial groups to donate to formal charities, but the amount they give to churches is comparatively high, according to The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

The pattern is understandable, Stafford said. “Who teaches us to give? Who teaches us to get involved? Historically it’s been the black church.”

Black Americans also tend to donate to black institutions and for mutual aid, studies show. “We have a history of taking care of one another,” Stafford said. “Even though we didn’t have much at all, my mother would send a pot of something to eat down the street to someone who had even less.”

Black people have more access to wealth than ever before, but the black middle class no longer reaches back to help those less fortunate in the collective way it once did, he said. “We have to cultivate that now. As we have gotten more successful in life, we’ve somehow turned from that.”

His message will be a call to action, urging African-Americans to realize their responsibility to better their community. “We want to set the example for our young people that we are also contributors to society.”

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