by Diverse City Fund volunteer Rachel Cohen
On Wednesday, December 5, I had the pleasure of joining the Diverse City Fund community in celebrating its third round of grantees at CentroNia learning center in Columbia Heights. I was excited to participate in my second grantee celebration, having had the opportunity to meet many of the last round of grantees in July, and the night was even more inspiring and energizing than I could have imagined. The third cohort of 17 organizations led by change-makers of color are teaching health and nutrition, working for equality for the LGBT community, empowering young mothers and the Salvadoran community, and much more. I cannot wait to see how they all put the $45,000 of grants into action to build a stronger, more socially just Washington, D.C.
When I arrived at CentroNia, the crowd of grantees and over 100 supporters had already filled every seat in the auditorium and had begun to overflow into the hallway. The energy in the room was fueled, quite literally, by the amazing food provided by Zenful Bites, as well as the music of DJ India. The sharing of family-style dinner, and the display of diverse talents of the Fund’s supporters, echoed the values of sharing and community, and the love that drives the Diverse City Fund community.
The celebration was all about hearing the voices of our city, from past and present grantees to the inspiring spoken word performed by Shauntrice Martin of the Children’s Art & Literacy Program during the event. After Shauntrice’s poetry we had the opportunity to hear directly from a panel of recent grantees, describing their work and how they plan to use their Fund grants. The leaders of the Build a Community Park project spoke – in English and Spanish – about their commitment to empower the Mt. Pleasant Latino community through the physical work of constructing a new neighborhood park where many people gather near the 7-Eleven. DeVonna Abdul-Rahim of Tyunin’s Breakthrough celebrated receiving her second grant from the Fund, which she will use to expand her programs to empower young, low-income mothers working to build better lives for their families.
Grantees spoke about their work building community from the grassroots up, creating places where people can gather, build relationships and share their visions for the future. Hearing directly from the leaders of these organizations, and seeing how they share common goals and a common determination to make change, drove home the importance of this work and the real difference that the Fund is making throughout our city.
The outpouring of support for the Fund was a highlight of the evening. Speakers asked us all to dig deep and find something each of us can do to support this work, whether we can donate time or money, become sustaining monthly donors to build the community, or host a house party to meet the grantees and spread the word about their work. One Board of Instigators member announced that she and her fiancee will ask guests at their wedding to give to the Fund in lieu of gifts, and dozens of guests committed to giving at high levels, and getting their friends to give, in the year to come. The Board also announced that a donor has committed to match funds raised in December up to $7,500, increasing the impact of every gift that we make in the coming weeks.
In addition to honoring the recent grantees and growing the Fund, the evening was a chance to recognize and celebrate the volunteers who make the work possible. A representative of the grantmaking team, a group of volunteers who spent countless hours poring over applications to decide which projects to support, spoke about how privileged she feels to be part of this work, experiencing the love and energy that goes into the entire grant-making process. For many involved in this work, being part of the Diverse City Fund is an opportunity to work with the movers and shakers that are “making light and heat in DC,” as one speaker put it. It was appropriate that we ended the evening by singing “This Little Light of Mine,” raising our voices together to shine brighter than we could alone.
I left the celebration excited to be a part of something that is big and growing. The strength of support for the Fund was visible in the event itself, from the volunteer cooks and performers to the donations from local business Coffy Cafe to the team effort that went into setting up and cleaning up the event. As one speaker explained, “The number of grantees is great, but the number of contributors really speaks to the belief in the process.” It takes a community to make change, and the Diverse City Fund has an amazing one. 2012 was a banner year for the Fund: over $130,000 in grants was distributed to nearly 60 organizations, the number of donors doubled, and the network of grantees continued to grow by leaps and bounds. Following an inspiring evening of community, energy and love, I hope we will all stay tuned to see that momentum continue into 2013.