Dr. Sol Brotman’s commitment to the community spans an incredible number of agencies and honors. He is a OneJax Silver Medallion Humanitarian Award recipient and has been president of three United Way agencies; he was the Founding Chairman of OneJax. Sol has served in leadership roles in additional areas such as cancer, veterans, the Jewish community, mental health, and human rights. A gracious nature, MENSA mind, and tradition of giving back have created a varied, effective, and steadfast philanthropist.
Q: What do you do in your daily life?
A: For more than 40 years, I have been a dentist and a teacher. Over the past two years, I have been transitioning to a new career. In addition to still seeing patients one day per week and educating health care professionals, most of my time currently is serving as Chief Dental Officer for Blue Cross affiliates around the country. I still love helping one person at a time, but am now able to improve the health of millions. It has been especially gratifying to work with some outstanding people during the COVID-19 Pandemic to identify and implement solutions to health care issues before they occurred. I also do almost everything my wife, Leslie, tells me to do.
Q: What do you like most about living in Northeast Florida?
A: The people. We have a great cross-section that reflects diverse backgrounds, experiences, thoughts, and opinions. Many outsiders look at this area and don’t appreciate the value of these differences. One of the great benefits of treating people here for 36 years is that I have had lengthy, in-depth conversations with Floridians who reflect the entire spectrum of our community. Hearing their fears and their successes has provided great insight into issues relating to both individuals and communities.
Q: What challenges concern you most about Northeast Florida?
A: Unfortunately, the list is long. Both Pew and the Hamilton Project have quantified how much more difficult it has become for people born at the bottom of the economic ladder to improve their position in life. This is especially true for people of color and women. Education remains the leading asset for improvement in incomes, quality, and length of life. We continue to fall short for many of the students who need us the most.
The second area is safety. How many people reading this interview worry about getting shot or attacked today? Probably very few, but for some of our neighbors, planning for their future is impossible due to more immediate concerns. There has to be reasonable hope of a better life. Other factors contribute to these challenges, too. Part of the solution is community leadership that understands the entire population’s complexities, not just a limited constituency.
Q: Currently, what issues are you putting your philanthropic resources toward?
A: Giving credit where credit is due, we asked ourselves the same question that Cindy and Dan Edelman considered. What are our interests, but more importantly, what are our passions?
Leslie and I looked at our charitable giving about a decade ago to see where we had given in the past. Not surprisingly, for us, it was education. We were comfortable with that pattern and have become more precise in our contributions. From early childhood to post-doctoral, we find specific needs. It’s just not money, it’s also our time that we give in a manner meant to help others in ways that money cannot. Some of those needs are in Jacksonville, and some are outside our community.
Q: Growing up, were there any lessons your family taught you about philanthropy?
A: Both of my parents were born during the Depression and had memories of that time. My dad went to live with his grandparents for a while when his parents fell upon hard times. My parents taught us the importance of working to make the world a better place for everyone.
In addition to their many good acts that people know about, they funded programs and scholarships anonymously. Many years ago, I became CFO of a family business and my mom, the CEO, asked me to figure out why it wasn’t more profitable. When I told her that 24% of the billable time was for non-profit work at no charge, she said, “Well, that’s something I’m not going to change.”
Q: How have you engaged your daughter, Elizabeth, in her philanthropic journey? What worked best and why?
A: Elizabeth learned by osmosis. Volunteering was often a time for the family to be together. Dinner table conversation usually revolved around a discussion of local and world events, and when her four grandparents got involved, the deeper we ended up. She started volunteering almost daily after class in high school, and that continued after she left Jacksonville.
In college, she mentored at-risk teens in a pilot program that a friend started in Baltimore and served as a national model. Even her first career was part of this journey. Elizabeth decided on international public health in order to help as many people as possible. She traveled around the world, including two years in Trinidad to build capacity and train individuals at all levels of health care.
After a career change and a job-related move to Little Rock with a newborn, I was extremely proud of Elizabeth and her husband, Alex. She was traveling almost every week, and Alex is a 4th and 5th-grade history teacher. They decided that they would each select three different ways to give back to their new community.
Q: We approach Thanksgiving 2020 during (a) height in the COVID-19 Pandemic, what does community mean to you at this moment in time?
A: Great question. Community has a much different feeling this year. Simple acts to slow community spread of a virus are huge. Many people don’t fully understand that social distancing and mask-wearing are keys to prevent stress on the health care system. By our community, being respectful of their neighbors, we reduce the chance of infecting first responders and health care workers.
Why should you or I put them at any greater risk? If that question doesn’t bother you, how about this one? Your spouse is infected, but local hospitals are running short on supplies and staff that might save their life. Was risky behavior worthwhile? Community may save my life or the life of someone I cherish. My spoken thanks have been supplemented by our increased financial support during the Pandemic.
Q: What advice do you have for future philanthropists?
A: David Stein is fond of saying, “The more money I gave away, the richer I got.”
There is a series of books called The Millionaire Next Door. The books’ primary goal is to describe the behavior of people who have amassed far more wealth than their incomes should have provided. An example was a schoolteacher who left an estate of $3 million to charity upon her death. The two traits commonly possessed by people who were able to save more money than the general population were their desire to expand their experiences by travel and to be philanthropic.
Philanthropists should be community leaders. Writing a check makes a person a donor. Understanding how issues intertwine and solutions occur changes a donor to a philanthropist.
Learn all that you can in finding your passion. Once you find that passion, don’t let go, but allow yourself to be an eternal student in order to find other passions as the world evolves.