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The president of a Black-owned theater in Minnesota describes the news from MacKenzie Scott that changed the nonprofit’s future

April 8, 2022, 9:10 PM UTC

Imagine being at the supermarket with lasagna and greens in your shopping basket and receiving a life changing call that a billionaire would like to give you $5 million. That is exactly what happened to the president of a Minnesota Black-owned theater in March of last year.

“It was a surreal experience,” Sarah Bellamy, the president of Penumbra Theatre, a Black-owned theatre in Minnesota that champions racial equity and social justice, told Fortune.

When she received the call that MacKenzie Scott and her husband Dan Jewett were going to extend an unrestricted grant to her worth millions, she was “elated.” 

“And the most odd thing about it was that I couldn’t tell the people I would normally tell, like even my father—Penumbra’s founder—didn’t know until we got permission to share,” says Bellamy, who spoke to Fortune for a new feature story about Scott.

This is not the only charitable donation that MacKenzie Scott has made that has been shrouded in secrecy. Since her 2019 divorce from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the mysterious billionaire has been gaining attention based on her philanthropy, as she gives massive portions of her wealth away to various organizations. Recently, Scott made a $281 million donation to the Boys and Girls Club, and $436 million donation to Habitat for Humanity. She set her sights on HBCUs in 2020, donating at least $560 million to 23 historically black colleges and universities. While Scott has been charitable across the board, there does seem to be intentionality about giving “no strings attached” money, and focusing on historically disenfranchised groups to promote racial equity.

Ultimately Bellamy is of the opinion that grand scale philanthropy efforts like Scott’s help to support racial justice and racial equity because they “power the people who have the expertise and skills to drive change and repair harm created by decades of deliberate disinvestment.” 

Following Scott’s investment, Bellamy has been able to hire “visionary leaders” to join her team and expand the Penumbra Center for Racial Healing. While Bellamy’s reality has changed, Scott has also shaken up the day-to-day lives of two other Minnesota-based businesses. 

“The other organizations I was in conversation with were First Peoples’ Fund and Arts Midwest, which were both recipients of MacKenzie Scott’s donations,” Bellamy told Fortune. “We discussed how meaningful and critically important the investment was and in particular at this moment in time.” 

Bellamy personally wanted to share a message with Scott on how “vitalizing and affirming” the donation was for her business:

“Thank you for seeing us,” Bellamy said. “Thank you for trusting us. Thank you for powerfully mobilizing your wealth to support communities who know what we need to be well but have historically not had access to the means to provide it holistically. You are changing realities for the organizations where you invest, for the people who rely on those organizations, and for donors everywhere who now have a new pathway to understand philanthropy.” 

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