When Kieth Cockrell reflects on his life and the professional success he has achieved, his thoughts turn to others, those who supported him and nurtured him as a young student and athlete.
He remembers the teachers and coaches who helped lift him from poverty by encouraging him to pursue higher education. He thinks fondly of his grandmother, who raised him while working and living with diabetes, which she controlled through strict attention to her diet.
His appreciation for those who helped him succeed guides his charitable vision.
After working at Bank of America for 28 years, Kieth Cockrell was named president of Bank of America’s Charlotte region in May of 2021. He has served as the vice chair of the bank’s Global Diversity & Inclusion Council where he established several employee networks.
Cockrell serves on the board of many of Charlotte’s organizations such as the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance, Johnson C. Smith University, My Brother’s Keeper and the Charlotte Sports Foundation. He was named 2023 Chair of the CLT Alliance in December. Nationally, Cockrell serves on the board for the United Negro College Fund. He is also a board member for Foundation For The Carolinas, which supports nonprofit and corporate philanthropy through a range of innovative funds and giving options.
And thanks to the Foundation, Cockrell and his wife have changed how they manage their personal philanthropy, opting to use a donor advised fund, which makes it easier for them to manage their giving while maximizing the impact for the organizations and causes they select.
That giving, combined with the philanthropic work he does through his position at Bank of America, lets Cockrell build upon a legacy of giving back he witnessed as a child.
“I’m doing what I’ve been trained to do, which I’ve watched throughout my entire life, of people giving,” Cockrell says. “And I’m just very thankful.”
Learning the power of generosity
Born in New York, Kieth was raised by his grandparents, Anna and Charlie Cockrell. He remembers his grandmother as a “tremendous baker” who never sampled her treats, due to her diabetes, and instead asked Kieth to be the taste tester.
His grandparents weren’t wealthy, but Cockrell says they gave what they had to whomever needed help.
He recalls his grandmother making sandwiches for him to eat before his varsity basketball games, while his teammates ate at restaurants. The teammates preferred his food, however, so his grandmother started making sandwiches for them as well.
“They were givers. They supported the communities,” he said. “And whether it was food or when someone didn’t have money, they gave it because that’s who they were.”
Coaches encouraged Cockrell to go to college and gave him rides to practices when he didn’t have transportation. Teachers drove him to auditions and camps. One of those former teachers — Juanita Cooke, who taught him in 6th grade — remains a fixture in his life.
Cockrell attended Columbia University, where he studied engineering and met his future wife, Serena, with whom he raised three children.
Paying it Forward
The Cockrells were living in San Francisco when a Bank of America colleague introduced him to the American Diabetes Association, which Cockrell began supporting in honor of his grandmother. The couple also became supporters of the United Way. After moving to Charlotte in 1997, the Cockrells continued with their support of both organizations and expanded their charitable giving to other groups, including those supporting education and the arts.
Like most individual donors, the Cockrells used to self-manage their philanthropy, giving directly to chosen causes or organizations. Then they learned about donor advised funds managed by the Foundation For The Carolinas. The Foundation is one of the largest community foundations in the U.S., managing well over $3 billion in charitable assets held in nearly 3,000 charitable funds created by families, nonprofits and businesses.
The tax-efficient, donor advised funds let families tailor their giving to follow their philanthropic goals. The Foundation, in turn, helps families select organizations, counsels them on investment strategy and helps with maintaining and preparing financial records, among other administrative tasks.
Cockrell said the Foundation has helped to simplify personal philanthropy.
“Administratively, without question, (the donor-advised fund) is a tremendous benefit because we were doing it all on our own, including taxes, reporting and accounting,” he said. “The administrative burden has been greatly reduced.”
He and Serena also decided to align their fund with Foundation For Black Philanthropy, an affiliate of Foundation For The Carolinas, allowing them to highlight the impact of Black philanthropy while joining a network of Black philanthropists who are investing in our region.
Charitable giving is a family affair for the Cockrells, who shared their belief in giving back while raising their children. His son, Ross, is an NFL free agent who recently played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Daughter Ciera is studying law at Howard University School of Law, and his youngest daughter, Anna, is a track and field athlete who competed at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Cockrell said he is proud of how his children grew up to understand the importance of philanthropy and of caring for others. Now, the family takes time to discuss the causes and groups they want to support each year. Cockrell and his wife also have started talking more with friends to educate people about the giving options available for supporting the greater community.
“My wife and I, we have been the beneficiaries of a lot of support from many people over the course of our lives,” he said, “and so we are trying to support others who are just behind us, so to speak, on this journey.”
“I have been blessed,” he added. “My family is good. But I’ve got an obligation to help other families become better. At the very least, I can do that.”