The Role of Black Feminism in Empowerment

As we move from African American History Month to Women’s History Month, I wanted to share an interview with author and activist Dr. Alexis P. Gumbs, who is using black feminist thought and history in a variety of empowerment workshops for women and girls around the country.  The video is about half-an-hour, but it’s worth watching as Dr. Gumbs shares some interesting perspectives on history and the black feminist movement.  Particularly compelling are her thoughts on what some African American women would do with their lives if they had more access to resources that would change their economic situations.  Do you agree with Dr. Gumbs?  Share your reactions in the comments below!

Watch Empowering Force of Feminist Teaching on PBS. See more from Black Issues Forum.

The Daily Rundown — The Latest News Affecting Women & Girls in Our Region

Purchase CNBC photoIn today’s rundown: How women and men think about retirement.  |  Dating violence on the rise at local colleges.  |  The dividing line between a healthy and not-so-healthy D.C.  |  A local middle school forms an all-girls robotics team with the help of some special mentors.

— Are women more worried about retirement than men?  CNBC posed the question to African American Giving Circle co-chair Donna Purchase and her daughter Deborah.  Click here to watch the story and find out how retirement concerns are affecting them.

— A career fair in D.C. for older workers drew thousands of resume-toting people to Nationals Park Stadium earlier this week.  More than 3,000 showed up for AARP’s “Promoting Yourself at 50+” event.  About half the people at the career fair were under the age of 50.  Click here for more.

— Dating violence is on the rise at local colleges, according to statistics from the FBI and universities in the Washington region.  Five out of eight local universities have seen an increase in sexual assaults.  They’re also reporting an increase in stalking and harassment.  Click here for more.

— The Anacostia River is the dividing line between District residents with poor diets and those with healthy diets.  At a conference earlier this week local officials found that residents living east of the river have access to fewer grocery stores and have a higher rate of obesity.  They also found that women in the District are more likely to be obese than men.  Click here to read more.

— D.C.’s Howard University Middle School has a new all-girls competitive robotics team.  The girls are getting started with help from the SpelBots — the campus robotics team from Spelman College in Atlanta.  Click here for the story.

D.C. Government Slashes Funding for Some of the City's Most Vulnerable Women

Days after the District made the shocking announcement that $20 million had been cut from the homeless services budget for the 2010 fiscal year, advocates and organizations that provide shelter for the homeless are still reeling. One of The Women’s Foundation grantee partners is reaching out for help – as winter approaches and the organizations that assist the homeless face a crisis.

Calvary Women’s Services was notified Monday, September 28, by The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness (TCP) that contract funding for Calvary would be cut by nearly $75,000 beginning October 1st.  These funds support safe housing and other services for 150 homeless women each year.  TCP is an independent, non-profit corporation that coordinates DC’s Continuum of Care homeless services.

Calvary is one of many social service providers notified of cuts to their existing contracts. Emergency, transitional and supported permanent housing programs were all targeted as the city attempted to close an ever-widening budget gap.  The impact of these cuts on the overall homeless services system is going to be severe, with some housing programs reducing their services and others likely closing programs. 

Although these cuts may provide some immediate relief to the city’s budget problems, the real impact of the cuts will be felt by those in need of safe housing and support services.  Women who have already lost their jobs in this economic crisis will have fewer services and housing options available to them. These cuts will make women who are already at-risk much more likely to end up living on the streets or in unsafe situations.

The women who come to programs like Calvary are survivors of violence, women struggling with mental illness, and women working to overcome addictions.  At Calvary we make sure they have access to all of the services they need to address these challenges – in addition to providing a safe place to live.

We know that programs like ours work.  Every five days a woman moves out of Calvary and into her own home.

We have always relied on the support of both public funding and private donations to make our programs possible.  In the past, supporters have helped us close gaps like this one, and I am hopeful that the community will step up once again.  But I am also concerned that this gap may be too wide for our generous donors to close.

The coming months will be challenging ones for organizations like Calvary, as we try to find ways to continue to provide women in this community with critical, life changing services.  More so, they will be challenging months for women who need services like ours, as they face closed doors and reduced services at programs across the city.

 You can make a difference.  Support Calvary – or another agency facing these cuts – today. 

 Volunteer, donate or learn more at

Kris Thompson is the Executive Director of Calvary Women’s Services, recognized as a 2009 Leadership Awardee by The Women’s Foundation.  Learn more about them on their Web site or on Facebook.

Weekly Round-Up: News and Analysis on Women and Poverty (Week ending September 25, 2009)

Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, a national foundation-led initiative, is excited to collaborate with The Women’s Foundation to bring you the latest news and analysis on women and poverty.

Spotlight is the go-to site for news and ideas about fighting poverty.

For daily updates and links to past articles, check out “Women and Poverty.” It’s a new section of our site with a comprehensive collection of recent news and analysis on women and poverty.

Along with these daily updates, continue to visit for our weekly rundown of the top news stories on women and poverty every Friday.

Here’s this week’s news:

• Andrea Castaneda is one of several mothers participating in a Head Start program that seeks to help impoverished families replace unnecessary trips to the emergency room with home care, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

• Deborah Stiell, a 55-year-old low-income grandmother, has cared for her three grandchildren their entire lives. She tells the Detroit News that, like many grandparents in her situation, she struggles to pay the bills.

• The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that thanks to increased state funding, a clinic run by the University of Tennessee College of Medicine’s obstetrics-gynecology department has been able to reach out to more low-income patients, resulting in a 20 to 35 percent increase in patient visits.

• The Boston Globe celebrates the achievements of Elisabetta Mitrano, who lifted her family from poverty by opening a salon that would allow her children a better upbringing than she had.

To learn more about Spotlight visit  

To sign up for our weekly updates with the latest news, opinion and research from around the country, click here

The Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity Team

Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity is a foundation-led, non-partisan initiative aimed at ensuring that our political leaders take significant actions to reduce poverty and increase opportunity in the United States. We bring together diverse perspectives from the political, policy, advocacy and foundation communities to engage in an ongoing dialogue focused on finding genuine solutions to the economic hardship confronting millions of Americans.

WPI releases personal reflections from giving circle founders, including African American Women's Giving Circle!

Personal reflections from women founders of the early giving circles are included in a new booklet just released by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

Among the 18 interviews in Women’s Giving Circles: Reflections from the Founders is Lynn McNair’s story of her involvement with the African American Women’s Giving Circle at Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

Check out all the stories and learn more about Lynn’s personal experiences with the giving circle here.  These stories complement existing information about giving circles and add a personal connection to this vibrant form of giving.

Andrea Pactor is Associate Director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.  She has worked with the Women’s Philanthropy Institute for four years and helps to further understanding of women’s philanthropy through research, education, and knowledge dissemination.

829 posts later, a bittersweet farewell. #inspired #transformed

November 22, 2006, when I posted my first post to this blog, seems like a lifetime ago (not in a bad way).  And I know now that anyone who says that a job is just a job has never worked at The Women’s Foundation.

For when I was handed the reigns of this blog, and given the responsibility of managing The Women’s Foundation’s communications and marketing, I had no idea that what I was truly being handed was a genuine community–a community committed to changing our region by investing in women and girls.

I know, I know–it sounds like a marketing pitch. A line. A brand. A lot of nonprofit mission mumbo jumbo. 

But I guarantee you, I’m not a good enough salesperson to be able to sell something I don’t believe in.  Just ask my mother. 

Have you seen my gameface?  No. 

Because I don’t have one.

But in this position, I’ll admit, I did get a marketing platform, a brand, to draw upon.  And it made my life easier–not because it was a brand, but because it was true. 

So, on my last day as The Women’s Foundation’s Director of Communications, I thought I’d unveil a bit about the brilliant tool that Susan Hasten and her colleagues at AXIS Communications put into my hands a few months after I came on board, and prove to you that it is, in fact, who we are here at The Women’s Foundation.

At least from my perspective.

For more than two years, the post-in note on my computer has had four words that have defined not only my work, but The Women’s Foundation.  Writing and speaking and thinking to and from them has not been a challenge.  For they speak for and to who we are. 

Here’s how:

The Women’s Foundation is, indeed, a community.  I have been honored to get to see it work from a number of perspectives.  And so have you. 

Our donors give not only from their bank accounts, but of their time and talent to change our community.  From Rainmakers to members of the African American Women’s Giving Circle to 1K Club members to Washington 100 members to the folks at Hobo International who donate the handbag centerpieces at our annual luncheon, our donors are thoughtful, smart, savvy, and commited to social change. 

They want to roll up their sleeves and get involved and they do.

Michael Colella has been taking the pictures that have enabled us to demonstrate the power of our work for years, as a volunteer, 100 percent of the time.  His commitment to our work and our mission extend beyond what I can convey here.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I’m not sure even that would do it.  And in the meantime, he’s kept me laughing even when we were working way after hours and ready to throw up our hands the night before the luncheon.

The Bivings Group, which developed and helps manage (pro bono mind you), helped me figure out how to blog effectively, grow this site, and made our online votes and tons of other online initiatives possible.  Their knowledge, patience with me ("I can’t get the photo to upload!") and dedication to our work has astounded me every step of the way.

Jennifer Cortner (a board member and chair of our communications committee) and her colleagues at EFX Media have worked tirelessly to bring our work to life on video, while Jennifer has served as a mentor, teacher and friend to me as I made my way through video posting, luncheon production, and print layout (Wayne, Jessica, and Roberto, thanks for not killing me over those Community Update layouts). 

And now we have RP3, which has stepped in to support our print publications, luncheon theming and countless other aspects of our work (again, pro bono).  They are creative, committed and their understanding of and ability to reflect our mission and work back to us with their beautiful layouts, design and concept ideas has done nothing but floored me since I first met Beth and Kristi.

And, of course, there is The Hatcher Group, which supports our media outreach.  From Angie–who has taught me more about media, writing op-eds, press releases and just generally getting the word out, while also being a tremendous mentor and friend, to Josh–who came in and showed me everything I ever needed to know about social media in two hours or less, their impact on our work cannot be overstated.  They are constantly thinking about how they can help us promote our work and the interests of women and girls thorughout our community and it has been a true pleasure to work with them. 

And in addition, a few years ago, they said, "We’d like to work with your Grantee Partners (at no extra charge), to help them with their media capacity."  Ever since, we’ve picked a few partners each year to work one-on-one with them, resulting in stories like this one on The Art League and one on Fair Fund in the Washington Post–among many other positive outcomes that emerged from their work.

Then there is the staff of The Women’s Foundation: my colleagues and, now, good friends.  My colleagues are smart, hard working, mission-oriented people for whom I have the greatest respect.  They are also kind, funny and good-hearted.  Some of them microwave Tootsie Rolls, but hey, we all have our issues. 

In any case, it has been a pleasure to work with them, and to coax them into the crazy online world that is the blogosphere, Twitter and Facebook.  They have been patient with my antics, and eventually downright supportive.  Some, we could say, took that ball and ran with it (Gwen) in ways that even I hadn’t fathomed, and have made significant contributions to the thinking and dialogue around issues impacting women and girls in our community.  (Even if it was "age-inappropriate.")

A few samples of their posts can be found here, here, here, here, and, here, and pretty much all over the place.  Their writing, thinking and work daily makes me proud to have worked alongside them. 

It has been a priviledge to know and work with these committed women and men and to see this side of my community. 

Many, many times I have been asked how The Women’s Foundation has managed to have such superb media coverage, outreach and publications, and my answer is always that it’s because we have an extensive network of true partners standing behind us, committed to our work, our message and our mission. 

It is these people, and those I am sure I am forgetting to name, who, very honestly, have given The Women’s Foundation its voice in our region.

Broadly, this refers to The Women’s Foundation’s ability to connect Grantee Partners with resources, women to other women to make their community activism and giving more effective, and to make connections between the women and girls who need support and those who can help provide it.

In my work though, it has meant building connections through the online, offline and various worlds of communications.  And it’s been great, great fun.

Starting when Donna Callejon, our former board member and social media guru and mentor to me, said, "You have to go on Facebook." 

"Ugh, really?"

And so we did.  425 Cause members later, I’d say we’re pretty connected.  (Not to mention that I’ve reconnected with almost my entire high school debate team, but that’s another story.)

Then it was Twitter


But 605+ Followers later, she may have been onto something.

Then she said, "Can we please take ourselves less seriously sometimes?  I know our work is serious, but do we always have to be?"

We listened, and tried out this and this.

Then she said, "And can the blogs please be shorter?" 

Mostly, we ignored her on this point. #verbose

And here is where I get to talk about our Grantee Partners and the women and girls whose lives they transform each and every day.  Lives like Linda Butler and Christine Walker and the women and girls served by Polaris Project and other local organizations fighting human trafficking.

Their stories are endless, and so is their impact.  It will go on for generations, ebbing through individual lives, families and communities. 

In my work, I have had the privledge of learning about and telling their stories, over and over. 

It has been an honor to do this, and inspiring beyond words (Yes, even for me). 

In telling the stories of how our Grantee Partners are changing lives through jobs in constructionrehabilitation after prison, and helping prevent and help women and girls gain freedom after being trafficked, among countless others, I knew that I was only doing half of my job. 

That as part of The Women’s Foundation’s mission to raise the voices of women and girls, that we had to also raise theirs.

I was inspired to start office hours around communications and marketing, to learn about their needs and stories and challenges and to try to help ways to foster awareness of their work despite small budgets, lean staffs and workloads that were spiralling further and further out of control as the recession deepened. 

And from that, I was astounded to see that despite these challenges, their voices rose.

They started blogs, like this one, this one and this one.  They started Facebook pages and then began to Tweet, here, here and here.

Just to name a few.

And in that process, I was truly and genuinely changed. 

I went from being content writing and talking about this work to wanting to do it. 

I was inspired by more of our Grantee Partners than you can name, and not a small group of donors and members of the larger community around The Women’s Foundation, but it was the day that I wrote this that I knew that the next step for me would be to go into direct service. 

So I applied to graduate school and will begin a full-time Master’s program in social work this fall. 

And thus, 829 posts later, I find myself saying a very bittersweet farewell, to a community that has connected me to the leaders and visionaries and philanthropists that have inspired me to make a change

Personally and professionally.

So as you can see, it is much more than a branding platform. 

It is who we are.  It is truly, and genuinely, what we do.

As of close of business today, Lisa Kays is no longer the Director of Communications at The Women’s Foundation, but is honored to have been for the past (nearly) three years.  She is currently a full-time student pursuing a Master’s degree in social work.

Giving circle reminds me that "we are they"…

There is something about being with a group of women and sharing the collective spirit of a common purpose that turns delight into magic and conversation into revelation.

On Sunday, I had the pleasure of attending a recruitment event of the African American Women’s Giving Circle. Though a little warm outside, the heat was no match for the cool conversation and comfort of good company.

Held at the home of Claudia Thorne, one of the circle’s co-chairs, the meeting reminded me more of a neighborhood cookout than a recruitment event!  The pot-luck table was spread with all manner of sumptuous foods from catfish and chicken to lasagna and Thai noodles – a temptation to even the most disciplined of “weight watchers.”

More than 20 women gathered together on the screened porch – old friends, new friends, and Grantee Partners– a.k.a., friends in the making.

Out on the lawn, a brother and sister duo from the Cultural Academy for Excellence (CAFÉ) Positive Vibrations Youth Orchestra regaled us all with their steel pans.

If that had been all there was to the day, it would still have been a perfect way to spend an afternoon!

But again, there is something about being with a group of women and sharing in the spirit of a common purpose that turns delight into magic and conversation into revelation.

This was my revelation.

We are all challenged about how to make adjustments to our spending and saving habits to insulate the best we can from the effects of the economy.  And often, one of the first ways we do that is by pulling back on our philanthropic giving.  Because for most of us, giving is a “luxury,” something we do when we are in a place of abundance.

As a donor myself, I have to admit that I have been tempted to “rethink” my giving in order to feel more “secure” in otherwise uncertain times.

But yesterday, as I sat and listened to the stories of appreciation and gratitude, from the Grantee Partners attending the event, the voices and visions of so many of our Grantee Partners and the communities they serve, echoed in my head.

The grants made to the organizations in our community working on behalf of women and girls are anything but luxuries.

The work being done by these organizations, and so many like them, often on already shoe-string budgets, are the heart and life blood of our communities.

They cannot be separated from us or our priorities, even when resources are tight.

Sandy Jibrell, one of the founding members of the AAWGC and member of The Women’s Foundation’s board of directors, spoke about her motivation for participating in the giving circle for what is now her fourth year.  And while I know that I will not capture the eloquence and passion with which she spoke, the message is still an important one:

We are one community. When a woman is able to care for her family and see her children succeed, we all succeed. When that woman stumbles, and those children slip through the cracks, we all lose. Because we are they.

From the time he was on the campaign trail, President Obama talked about not being able to separate what was happening on Wall Street from what was happening on Main Street.  And maybe we all agreed in spirit, but perhaps Main Street and Wall Street were just too far away to feel the real weight of that sentiment.

As we sat on that porch in Cheverly, Maryland, we felt the inextricable tie to Prince George’s County (where CAFÉ is located), to Anacostia (where Ascensions, another AAWGC Grantee Partner, is located), to NE Washington, D.C. and all of the other places that have been touched by grants from the AAWGC.

The ties that bind us to these organizations and these communities are not defined by a proposal or a grant period.  And ultimately, their impact is not about a set of metrics or a report.

It is about how all of us will either rise together or fall together.  Because we are they.

Their survival is our survival. Their challenges are our challenges. Their successes are our successes.

And in times of economic crisis, it is more important than ever to make sure that these organizations have the critical support they need to continue doing what they do.

So when people ask me if I am sure that this is a good time to be recruiting for giving circles, or soliciting donors, my response is, absolutely!

Now, more than ever. And I say that not as a member of The Women’s Foundation staff, but as a donor and someone who knows more than ever that we are they.

So I thank this group of dynamic women for the wonderful food, the good company, and the very important revelation.

Nicole Cozier is The Women’s Foundation’s Philanthropic Education Officer.

Giving circles proving a powerful way to give more by giving together–without breaking the bank.

As donors try to think of a way to maximize their gifts at a time of such great need througout the country, a lot of attention is falling upon giving circles as an innovative way to give a lot–as a collective, without breaking the bank–as an individual.

MSN Money recently featured a piece called, "How to give away $500,000," highlighting the African Women’s Giving Circle as one example of how giving circles allow individuals to pool their resources and make their personal gifts go further.  Not to mention have fun and forge inspiring, powerful new friendships.

Additionally, PhilanthroMedia had a post recently on how a giving circle lets everyone be a philanthropist.

And, while not a giving circle, featured a story yesterday on how women in Erie are pooling their funds through the Erie Women’s Fund.  Each woman gives $1,000 a year over five years, resulting in their first grant of $50,000 to the "Listen, Mentor, Act Poverty Reduction Program."

If you’re in the Washington metropolitan area and are interested in learning more about getting involved in this growing trend that can help your individual philanthropy have a bigger impact through the power of collective giving, click here.  We have two giving circles currently recruiting new members.

Lisa Kays is The Women’s Foundation’s director of communications.

Where is the real power in The Power of Giving Together?

Last week, seeing the story of the African American Women’s Giving Circle gave me such a professional high.  Nothing I had been involved in to date had been deemed so newsworthy as to grace the front page of The Washington Post!  So I was thrilled to be connected to this. 

As I read the story, I was enthralled with the description of the circle gathering place, the spirit of sisterhood shared by the participants, the commitment to community, and the excitement of nurturing their own philanthropic spirits.

I was thrilled with the tone and appreciation of the article, but couldn’t help but find myself wishing that all 20 of the amazing women in the circle could have shared the spotlight.  I know that a newspaper has limited real estate and that not everyone could be pictured or quoted, but knowing all of the dynamic and wonderful women who make up this group, I really wished that we could somehow reflect that collective spirit more clearly.

Then I glanced at The Women’s Foundation logo with our tagline, The Power of Giving Together.  And it made me wonder: Where is the power in “giving together”?

In the first few months that I was at The Women’s Foundation, I saw very clearly the power of the multiplier factor in giving together.  In a flash, a single contribution of $1,000 could be turned into $1 million

That is pretty darned powerful!

But as I reflect on the African American Women’s Giving Circle and the Rainmakers Giving Circle, and indeed all giving circles, I am struck by something else. A deeper, more subtle power…the qualitative power of the collective.

In North American, there is a lot of focus on individualism.  It seems that our entire culture is built on it. So I did a little research on the subject of individualism and found this:  "Individualism stands for a society in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after himself or herself and his or her immediate family only."*

Individualistic cultures like the United States (highest score = 1st rank) and France (10th rank) emphasize mostly their individual goals. People from individualistic cultures tend to think of themselves as individuals and as "I," distinctive from other people and emphasize their success/achievements in job or private wealth and aiming up to reach more and/or a better job position.

Now clearly this is not the sum total of the North American experience or values. But the basic elements are undeniable. Looking specifically in the world of philanthropy, some of the oldest and most established foundations derived from the wealth of an individual or of a single family.  When we traditionally look at donors, we tend to look at the individual.

From this perspective alone, I can understand why the draw is to identify with a single person or a few people. But a giving circle is really the antithesis to that.  It is about the collective, not the individual.

That is what makes giving circles so powerful and unique. And in fact, we can generalize that even more to say that The Women’s Foundation is really the antithesis to that with our overarching emphasis on collective giving and our inherent belief in The Power of Giving Together, whether through the giving circles, the 1K Club or Washington 100.

I think that most of us can recognize that power from a fiscal perspective, but perhaps not as much from a cultural and philosophical perspective.

Looking at the definition from the same source on the collective, or collectivism, I found this.  Collectivism "stands for a society in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong cohesive groups, which throughout people’s lifetime continue to protect them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty."*

Collectivistic cultures have a great emphasis on groups and think more in terms of "we".

The sociologist in me is fascinated by this juxtaposition of the social pull in our culture to the individual and the increasing popularity of giving circles that exists only as a collective. But more importantly, the humanist in me is really heartened that we are redefining philanthropy in such an amazing way. There is no question that the sense of individualism is a critical part of what has made North America what it is today.

But, to me, there is always room for the “we,” and if we are to move forward, truly move forward in a way that supports the “global village” that we are creating, we are going to need to find the balance between the individual and the collective.

But for today, I am thrilled to work with women who put the “we” back in philanthropy.

Nicole Cozier is Philanthropic Education Officer at The Women’s Foundation.

Source: "Cultures and Organizations – Intercultural Cooperation and its importance for survival" Hofstede, Geert (1994)

Giving circle's example should inspire greater action on behalf of policymakers.

Imagine my delight yesterday at opening the Washington Post to see a front page article on our African American Women’s Giving Circle. The title of the article said it all, “A Circle With a Deep Center: Black Women Pool Resources in Grass-Roots Effort to Alleviate D.C.’s Social Ills.”

Unfortunately, my delight was tempered upon noticing the article printed just above it, which detailed the Bush Administration’s most recent attempt to limit women’s access to birth control.

An interesting juxtaposition—local women joining together to support organizations providing health care to disenfranchised communities in Southeast D.C., right next to federal efforts to further limit access to health care, particularly for the underserved.

And we wonder why we’re not making headway on health care in the United States?

Earlier in the week, there was an article contrasting federal support for HIV/AIDS programs globally and domestically. According to the article, the District of Columbia has the highest prevalence of HIV infection of any jurisdiction in the U.S. at about 1 in every 20 residents. The DC Department of Health states that women account for nearly one-third of all newly reported HIV/AIDS cases, with African American women accounting for the majority (9 out of 10).

Similarly, a women’s health report card published by the National Women’s Law Center gave D.C. a failing grade in its efforts to meet the health care needs of women. The neighboring jurisdictions of Maryland and Virginia did not fare much better, both receiving unsatisfactory grades.

I am truly inspired by the efforts of the African American Women’s Giving Circle because together they are making critical investments to improve the lives of women and girls in D.C. where others have turned a blind eye.

However, it is disheartening to think that their efforts are not fully supported on a much larger scale by our government, policymakers and other key decision makers, who have the ability to truly enact widespread change and to make  a systematic difference in the lives of women and girls and their health and well-being. 

Because, in the end, it truly does take a village.

Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat is a program officer at The Women’s Foundation, responsible for grantmaking in the realm of health and safety.  She has more than a decade of experience as a policy advocate on reproductive health issues impacting the low-income and uninsured.