Washington Area Women's Foundation

AskHer Series: Kristi Matthews-Jones, Director at DC Girls’ Coalition

The following interview is with Kristi Matthews-Jones, Director at DC Girls’ Coalition

DC Girls’ Coalition (DCGC) works to elevate and amplify the voices of young women, girls, femmes, non-conforming, and young women/girls of color of trans experience in the District of Columbia. DCGC, comprised of  youth-serving and advocacy organizations, adopts and fights to implement policy recommendations that centers their leadership and addresses their needs. 

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your organization?

Kristi: I have been working in DC on advocacy and organizing since 2006. I have worked with several communities in DC, including people who are homeless, youth, returning citizens, retail workers, and immigrants. DCGC is a coalition of youth-serving organizations managed by a Youth Advisory Board made up of young girls of color, young transgender girls of color, and gender non-conforming youth of color. We work on multiple campaigns in DC. Our campaigns focus on increasing youth agency with education, healthcare, housing, improving mandatory reporting, Police Free Schools, and creating a youth-centered complaint process. We also have a long list of demands from our Youth Taskforce that focuses on increasing social and emotional support for youth, improving school environment, and addressing the root causes of youth violence. Our coalition is run by our YAB and the youth in our network. They make all the final decisions for the coalition. The foundation of our work is that young girls of color, transgender girls of color, and gender non-conforming people have the final say in our work because they are who we were created to serve and uplift.

What inspired you to pursue your organization’s work, and what continues to motivate you in your work today?

Kristi: I have always been a strong advocate for young people. In college, I ran an afterschool and summer program for refugee children and youth in Greensboro, NC. I also served as one of the first Lead instructors for the Black Swan Academy. Since I was young, youth, particularly those of color, have a deep connection with their communities and hold the solutions to issues impacting us within their minds and experiences. I felt drawn to this work and this organization because it combined all my passions. My passion is working with youth, building coalitions, and dismantling racism. What continues to motivate me is our Youth Advisory Board. Our current and former members are very strong advocates who have pushed me to do more, be more, and work harder.

What have been some of the most rewarding experiences you’ve had while working with your organization?

Kristi: I think the highlights would be our very first Town Hall around the pandemic. Our YAB members were very good at leading the conversation, holding space for other youth of color, and demanding results from adults in the room. Next would have to be our Candidate forums. Each one we have organized not only allowed youth to ask important questions but was well attended by those running and others in the community. I also think a highlight would be our healing circles. Youth in our network and our Youth Advisory Board felt the city needed to address the social and emotional needs and create a way for us to address them as a community. Creating a community-based solution in such a volatile time showed their strength and power. Creating a staff position for our Youth Ambassador has also been very rewarding. Our current ambassador started as a member of our Youth Advisory Board. She now manages our social media, leads our board, and helps with all aspects of our work. Lastly, our Youth Summit. Each year, they are so well attended, but this year, we were able to triple the numbers, have more city leader representation, and increase media. The youth speaking out directly about their issues and solutions on media outlets showed our impact.

In what ways has your organization grown or evolved since its founding?

Kristi: We have grown our youth network, increased the support we offer to our youth, increased our relationships with city leaders, and created strong partnerships with other organizations. We have become one of the leading groups in training young girls of color, transgender girls of color, and gender non-conforming people of color. We have increased youth representation in various aspects of advocacy and increased the opportunities for youth to engage with allies, leaders, and various members of the community.

How has your organization maintained a sense of purpose and focus on its impact, and what effect do you hope your organization will have in the long term?

Kristi: The fact that our Youth Advisory Board manages us helps us maintain our purpose. Our young girls of color and gender non-conforming members of color have held us to a very high standard. They have helped make sure we remember our values and practice them on a daily basis. Our Youth Ambassador has also helped keep us focused on our long-term goals and what is important to the organization. I hope that organizations will show that having those directly affected leading your work increases actual solutions to root causes instead of managing symptoms of problems. I hope our organization increases people’s ability to trust youth and their experiences and, most importantly, their knowledge.

If you could describe your organization using one adjective, what would it be and why?

Kristi: Innovative, because we are constantly helping our youth develop the new ideas they have to address issues in their community and increase youth support for our work.

How do you like to unwind or spend your leisure time?

Kristi: I like to color, watch random shows on TV like Golden Girls, Abbot Elementary, Different World, and Big Bang Theory. I also like walking my dogs and playing cards and games with my wife.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us or want people to know?

Kristi: Doing this work comes as second nature because I feel it so very much aligns with my life’s Motto: “Each person comes into this world with a specific destiny. They have something to fulfill; some message has to be delivered; some work has to be completed. You are not here accidentally. You are here meaningfully. There is a purpose behind you. The world intends to do something through you.” I truly believe this work is a part of my destiny.

Learn more about the DC Girls’ Coalition and their work here!

Our #AskHer series is an interview series featuring gender-expansive leaders, as well as Washington Area Women’s Foundation’s partners, community members, and supporters who work tirelessly to advocate for and serve women and girls of color throughout the Washington metropolitan region. Each curated conversation seeks to shine a light on the organization and the leader and the work being done in our community and for women, girls, and gender-expansive people of color.