Our Origins

Marvin Weissberg

Our Founder

The Weissberg Foundation is informed by the vision, values, and experience of our founder Marvin Weissberg. Throughout his life, Marvin was a keen, sympathetic observer of the human condition, a friend to those in need, and deeply engaged in his community and the world.

Marvin’s worldview was shaped by his early years in Depression Era New York and war-time Washington, D.C. As a teenager in 1940’s Washington, he encountered both the influx of energy and idealism of a world capital on war footing, and a provincial, racially stratified city. After graduating high school at 16, he enrolled in the University of Maryland for free (a privilege extended only to the District’s white residents). At 18 he entered the Army, where he built bridges—and traveled the country—as the war had ended.

In 1953, Marvin returned to DC and launched a career in real estate, where he was among the first to realize that Northern Virginia would play a central part in Washington’s economic future, acquiring land and developing one of the first office buildings in Rosslyn with much more to follow. He immersed himself in Washington’s cultural, civic, and political life. He was a member of Theatre Lobby, Washington DC’s first racially integrated theater, alongside students from Howard University. 

As an intrepid traveler and life-long learner, Marvin’s interests and commitments ranged beyond municipal, even national, borders.A founding board member of The National Democratic Institute, he traveled the world as an election observer, building personal bonds with international activists and political leaders. These experiences led to the Foundation’s development of the Weissberg Program in Human Rights at Beloit college in 1998.

In 1988, Marvin established the Weissberg Foundation to deepen his philanthropic efforts and enlarge their impact. The founding and early board members included his daughters, Nina and Wesley, his close friends Marty Heyert, Timmy Napolitano, and Wally Babington, and his beloved partner of 17 years, Judith Morris. As the Foundation enters its fourth decade, it strives to stay true to the deeply humane, humble, and fundamentally optimistic ethos that Marvin modeled.

On May 17, 2021, Marvin Weissberg passed away, peacefully, at his Annapolis home, at 94. 

Marvin hopes the foundation will bond the family across generations and help family members find their moral compass through shared learning, dialogue, and engagement around building a more equitable world.

Weissberg Family

The philanthropic work Marvin initiated is being continued by his family. Four family members currently serve on the Board of Directors and Marvin’s descendants engage in Learning and Action Journeys throughout the Commonwealth to learn about Virginia’s racialized past and present, the roots and impacts of structural racism, as well as current power building efforts of Black, Indigenous, and Communities of Color to dismantle structural racism in Virginia. Marvin’s grandchildren continue his legacy of learning through their engaged participation in a curated NextGen program focused on race, power, identity, and social justice philanthropy.

Our Wealth ORIGIN
AND ACCUMULATION STORY

A growing number of foundations are exploring the genesis of their assets and how those origins directly or indirectly contributed to the very issues their philanthropy attempts to address today. The Weissberg Foundation is one of those foundations.   

We acknowledge that the commercial real estate investments that provided the basis for the Foundation’s corpus, and helped transform Northern Virginia into the region it is today, may have contributed to the displacement of Black, Indigenous, People of Color and low-income communities. 

In March 2022, the Foundation formally committed to: 

Our exploration is ongoing; Staff and Board have been engaged in the process of identifying the facilitators, research partners, and community advisors to partner with us on our journey. We plan to continue sharing our journey and our learnings as we progress.   

While our exploration is ongoing, Staff and Board did not feel the need to wait until we reached the end of our learning to begin utilizing what we do know to inform our work. Our knowledge of the tie between land, land ownership, and wealth building from pre-history through today and our knowledge of Virginia’s history of Native land theft and public and private destruction of Black wealth related to home and land ownership have led us to a focus on building the economic power of Black and Indigenous individuals, organizations, and communities, particularly through land ownership and land stewardship. Our Economic Power Building work, launched in January 2024, encompasses four strategies: LandBack, Justice for Black Farmers and Black Food Sovereignty, Wealth Building through Homeownership, and Reparations for Black People. 

We invite you to learn more about our Economic Power Building portfolio, as well as our Organizing, Political, and Narrative Power Building portfolios.

We are indebted to the many foundations who have shared their wealth origin journeys, formally and informally, with us: 

Below is a partial list of resources that have been helpful to us on our journey:

Tamara Copeland
Tamara Copeland

(she/her)
Chair, Independent Trustee

In 2019, Tamara retired as president of the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers where she envisioned and implemented “Putting Racism on the Table”. Currently, she co-facilitates The Onion Dialogues, a racial justice training. In 2018, her memoir, Daughters of the Dream: Eight Girls from Richmond who grew up in the Civil Rights Era was published. Her latest book is REVEALED: A Once a Week Reading on Racism, Prejudice and Bias. She loves walking and traveling, having visited all fifty states and countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America.