Kristi Matthews Testimony On Behalf of the DC Girls’ Coalition

Chairman Phil Mendelson Committee of the Whole

Agency Performance Oversight: All Education Agencies March 9, 2021

Good Afternoon, my name is Kristi Matthews and I am the Coordinator for DC Girls’ Coalition. The DC Girls’ Coalition works to elevate and amplify the voices of young women, girls, femmes, gender non-conforming and transgender girls/women of color in the District of Columbia. DCGC, comprised of youth-serving and advocacy organizations, that adopts and fights for the implementation of policy recommendations that centers youth leadership and addresses their needs. We are currently managed by our Youth Advisory Board made up of young girls of color and gender nonconforming people of color ages 11- 22 years old.

Today, my testimony will focus on the following issues: mandatory reporting, increasing consent at 16 within education, youth centered approaches to responding to the pandemic, and police free schools. The first issue I will testifying about is mandatory reporting. We know that there is an issue with under-reporting issues of neglect and abuse that are serious for youth and children of color. I personally have been told of many incidents in which youth have shared issues with abuse and neglect and were not taken seriously or believed. We also know they are over-reporting issues that are not at a level of abuse or neglect for youth of color. Within our coalition we have many stories of youth having CPS called to their homes because they came to school late or missed breakfast without anyone talking with them first and seeing if there were reasons for these incidents. We are requesting that DCPS first address the issue of reporting by first making it clear to youth what leads to a cps call and who mandated reporters within their schools using placards within schools. We are also asking that children and youth receive regular classes or training on issues that will lead to mandated reporting.

Another major issue we are working on is consent at 16. We know that there are many youth who are navigating government systems without adult or family support. This becomes a difficult task when you are trying to transfer to a different school, apply for college, or even simply confirm your graduation credits when you are under 18. We are asking that youth under 18 have access to the education records so they can navigate their own education success. We are also asking the DCPS ensure that individual schools enforce their current policies that have been created support Youth who are transgender or gender nonconforming. The policy we are advocating be enforced is the one that states that youth has the right to be called by the gender they have self-identified as. This includes keeping two records of students’ education records (one with the gender assigned at birth and one with the gender they self-identify as). We also support more training of staff to ensure youth who are transgender or gender nonconforming are able to have a safe and healthy school experience.

I will now talk about the pandemic and the need for youth center responses to issues. We co-hosted with several organizations two youth centered town halls about the impact of the pandemic on youth. One of the most common themes was the negative impact on youth and their education access. We are concerned about issues within distance learning, in-person learning, sanitation of schools, recreational/gathering activities, and social and emotional support. With distance learning one of our biggest concerns is connectivity issues in Ward 7 and 8. We have heard from many youth who have lost connection to their classrooms, dealt with frozen screens, or inability to connect at all. We have seen youth fall behind due these concerns. Our next biggest issue is around social and emotional support. We know we are all struggling with social distancing. Children and youth are trying to manage learning and loosing the socialization that occurs within schools. Many youth have talked about an increase in anxiety, depression, and fear with social learning. We are seeing youth being frustrated with the process of learning and being punished for that frustration. DCPS needs to increase social emotional support for youth. There needs to be more resources put into community based healers, counselors, and emotional support entities. I have included the full list of our demands at the end of testimony.

Lastly, we support Black Swan Academy’s Police Free School demands. We are asking that instead of funding for the policing of youth we could make investments in social and emotional support. MPD currently receives over $13 million to police and criminalize our youth in schools. Less than half of this budget could ensure 80 schools received additional clinicians. We support the funding or criminalizing youth to be invested in the mental health of young people instead. We believe we should be increasing community based mental health support, increasing counselors within schools, providing training to teachers to increase their skills at social and emotional learning, and providing more psychologists to support schools.

Thank you for allowing me to testify. I welcome any questions you may have.

Full list of COVID-19 demands:

Focus on online learning and access to technology, including:
  • Improve internet services in Ward 7 and 8
  • Increase online tutoring resources
  • Improve communications with students and families during distance learning
  • Provide distance-learning tutorials for students
  • Ensure distance-learning includes activities and lessons off of technology that are interactive
  • Increase online opportunities for co-studying
  • Increase supports for youth with special learning needs or disabilities
  • Incorporate distance learning adjustment times within the school year
  • Ensure all youth have access to computers, printers, and scanners at home.
  • Provide support for parents who must work and cannot stay home with children.
  • Provide high-quality classroom instruction, including:
    • Incorporate hands on learning opportunities and ensure children can interact with one another safely,
    • Ensure students in learning cohorts are on the same learning level
    • Incorporate outside learning opportunities
    • Ensures students who need aides are able to get support and remain safe
    • Limit in-school time to two or three days
    • Create a code of conduct for following safety protocols that all staff must sign and be held accountable to.
  • Require sanitation protocols, including:
    • Ensure that students and staff are able to be tested for COVID-19 regularly and ensure strong contract tracing
    • Provide free masks, gloves and sanitizer to all students, staff, low-income residents and those at higher risk of contracting COVID-19
    • Ensure all schools have an assigned nurse and access to larger healthcare teams.
    • Develop youth-specific hotline to call if they have symptoms of COVID-19
    • Create cleaning stations outside of each room in schools including bathroom
    • Test every school for ventilation safety and take the necessary steps to ensure it works properly before opening schools
    • Ensure that anyone who enters the school building goes through a sanitation process
    • Increase the number of deep cleanings for each school
  • Rethink, but prioritize gathering times, including
    • Develop spaces to create decorative face masks during school
    • Develop a protocol for walking hallways
    • Create virtual interactions between classes and during lunch,
    • Host activities outside
    • Complete virtual assemblies
    • Develop creative ways for students to practice after school activities.
  • Prioritize social emotional support and mental health, including: Incorporate games and virtual hangouts in lesson plans and school activities Create spaces in school for youth to hangout in a safe way to ensure youth are still getting socialization and emotional support from peers
    • Develop a plan to address how to deal with trauma during the COVID-19 pandemic
    • Ensure every school has fully equipped mental health support staff in schools and virtually that meets national standards, including counselors, social workers, behavior techs, therperist and other clinicians
    • Increase mentors within the school
    • Reach out to community-based partners to help with emotional needs of students
    • Develop mental health check-ins and self-care check-ins that can be incorporated into the class daily
    • Develop creative ways to provide safe hugs during crises
    • Remove police presence in schools and do not rely on security personnel or punitive disciplinary measures to enforce safety protocols or
    • Develop student-based safety protocols that do not rely on police or security officers.

Testimony to the Committee of the Whole, Education Oversight Hearing

Hello Chair Mendelson and DC Councilmembers. My name is Martine Gordon. I am a resident of Ward 3, a working mom, and Vice President of Programs at Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

The Women’s Foundation is a community-supported foundation that invests in the power of women and girls of color in the region.

I want to talk today about educational infrastructure. DC has demonstrated a commitment to building up its overall education infrastructure. And while we know there is more work to be done, our public education system has a foundation on which to continue to build. In our current reality of pandemic and economic crisis, the question for parents with school-aged children is not if their kids will be able to return to school. It’s “when?”.

We do not, however, have an infrastructure like that for early education. We do not have the level of public investment needed to ensure infant and toddler classrooms will be able to re-open or stay open or to ensure early educators will be available to return to work.

The early education sector needs stronger public investment because, while early education is a public good, it is in crisis. As a society, we have relied on parents paying significant sums and early educators earning poverty wages to finance the system.  Personally, I will share that childcare costs for my family in 2020 equated to about a quarter of my income. On the other side of things, the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment reports that the poverty rate for early educators in DC is 34.4% – 5.8 times higher than for elementary school teachers.[1]

The system doesn’t work for early educators, and it doesn’t work for families.

While DC has invested more in prek, in particular, than other jurisdictions across the country, it is time we dedicated the level of public funding necessary to create an early education infrastructure that meets our economic and education needs. Fully implementing the Birth-to-Three law can help set up that infrastructure.

I want to acknowledge the emergency response funding that Council and the Administration dedicated to early education programs. I also want to recognize OSSE’s leadership, during a time of public crisis and internal transition. I look forward to learning of OSSE’s updated child care subsidy plan, and hope that OSSE and intergovernmental partners are provided with the funding and support needed to make it easier for eligible families to obtain and retain their child care subsidies and for programs to receive subsidy payments timely and in a way that allows them to plan[2].

Like many, I also eagerly anticipate additional federal support for early care and education. My hope is that the emergency funding coming to DC will be turned quickly and provide flexibility to programs[3].

Thank you so much for allowing me this time today. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.


[2] For example, paying subsidies to programs based on enrollment instead of attendance to allow for stronger cash flow for programs and expanding the number of allowable absences for children to be able to stay home if sick but still keep their subsidy.

[3] If the funding is used to provide grants to licensed providers, I urge OSSE to ensure grant applications are simple, do not create unnecessary burdens to programs and that smaller programs and family child care providers have support in completing applications.

Sharing Some Personal News…

It is with a heavy but joyful heart today that I share with you my decision to step down as President and CEO of Washington Area Women’s Foundation this summer. To say this has been my life’s work is an understatement. The work of the Foundation has been very personal for me and will always hold a very special place in my heart. This team and place have been my family and my home, and it has been a joy to work with people so talented and unwavering in their mission to make this region, this world, just a little better.
Looking back on my 13 years at the Foundation, I am most proud of who we are right now: a community-supported foundation investing in the power of women and girls of color. Centering our mission in gender and racial equity is necessary and right. While too often unsung, the work of women and girls of color have advanced human rights and gender, racial, and economic justice in our communities for decades.
For the past six years, I have been on a personal racial equity journey, examining my role as a white leader in our community. I have pushed myself to become comfortable with the uncomfortable, to challenge my own assumptions and privilege, to acknowledge when I make a misstep, to learn from my mistakes, and to push other white leaders to do the same.
2020 was full of challenges for all of us—from managing through a pandemic and the countless ways people are grieving a multitude of losses, to the blatant and rampant systemic racism from which we can no longer turn away. On a personal note, in July my younger brother suddenly and unexpectedly passed away, leaving me utterly shattered and searching for solid ground and deeper meaning in the chaos of our time. I have slowly come to realize that sometimes grief can bring clarity.
I’ve always felt that I’d know when it was time for me to step aside. That time is now. The Women’s Foundation is a strong and respected community leader in the fight for gender, racial, and economic justice and is positioned to further advance its mission and pursue exciting opportunities in the months and years ahead. We have been intentional in shifting our work and centering the voices and lived experiences of women and girls of color, starting with the launch of the Young Women’s Initiative and more recently affirming a new mission statement that names the power of women and girls of color in our community. Deepening our commitment to women and girls of color and prioritizing their leadership in all aspects of our work is critically important to living out our values as an organization.
Different times call for different leaders. I am humbled to stand on the shoulders of the three leaders of The Women’s Foundation who came before me. Each of us built on what the others accomplished, creating stepping stones for those who followed. Now is the time for our next leader—someone who is deeply committed to our mission and our community and who will build upon our accomplishments while forging new paths and realizing the potential before us.
My resolve to dig deeper and be a better ally in the fight for racial justice will not end with my departure from this role, and my commitment to The Women’s Foundation and its mission will always be a part of my heart and soul. It is my fervent hope that each of you will join me in supporting The Women’s Foundation as the board and staff embark on the next phase of its journey.
My deepest respect and gratitude,

Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat
President & CEO

Supporting Survivors of Violence Through A Year of Change

When the novel coronavirus hit last year, we barely knew then how much our work and the work of our grantees would change. During those first months we were sheltering at home from the global contagion, we saw a shadow pandemic growing — violence against women and girls. We heard our longtime partners flag a significant increase of domestic violence and sexual assault reports, heightened demand for helplines and emergency shelters, and meager resources to support survivors, who were experiencing trauma like never before.

We knew we had to rapidly adjust our plans to respond to both crises—COVID-19 and gender-based violence—with a race and gender framework, prioritizing support to survivors through our emergency relief fund “Stand Together.”

The core of our grantmaking is flexible funding that gives our grantee partners choices and the ability to allocate funds where they are needed the most and where they will make a real difference. We believe in supporting and trusting our partners, and making things easy, so they can focus on changing the world rather than drowning in paperwork. And we invest in women and girls of color, not only because philanthropy has historically underinvested in women and girls of color, undervaluing them as the powerful community and movement leaders they are (less than one percent of the total 66.9 billion given by foundations in the US goes towards Black and Brown women and gender-expansive people, largely remaining out of sight in public discourses and funding), but also because we know they make change happen.

As we reflect on a year of grantmaking through unprecedented challenges, we are delighted to share with our community where our resources went, as none of this would be possible without your support.

Thank you for being a part of The Women’s Foundation story.

Our Safety and Violence Prevention Grants

  • Are unrestricted funding that allows our partners flexibility.
  • Center the voices of survivors!
  • Go to organizations led by women or gender-expansive people of color.
  • Support organizations providing culturally specific and trauma-informed services to survivors.

With your help during 2020, through our Safety and Violence Prevention portfolio we gave $230,000 to 15 grantee partners across the DMV region. 

  • 60 percent of grants went to first-time grantees to The Women’s Foundation.
  • 65 percent of grants went to groups with operating budgets of $1M or less.
  • 29 percent of grants went to organizations with one or no full-time staff.
  • 100 percent of leaders at the helm are women or gender expansive people of color.

All of our Grantee Partners received unrestricted funding to advance their mission! Visit their website and learn more about their work.

Provide support to South Asian women living in abusive marriages and homes.

Address, prevent, and end domestic violence and sexual assault in Asian/Pacific Islander communities while empowering survivors to rebuild their lives after abuse.

Provide legal, social, and language services to help low-income immigrants access justice and transform their lives.

Erase the stigma associated with domestic violence and trauma, providing alternatives, and incorporating trauma informed care.

Embrace, educate and empower those impacted, affected, or harmed by crime or trauma on their journey to justice and healing.

Provide access to safe housing and services to survivors of domestic and sexual violence and their families as they rebuild their lives on their own terms.

Advocate for, and provide services to, survivors of sexual violence.

Promote healthy relationships and reduce abuse in the Deaf community of the Washington DC area, emphasizing that all forms of violence are intersectional.

Empower women, children, and families to rebuild their lives and heal from trauma, abuse, and homelessness.

To enhance the dignity of Muslim women by empowering them through education.

Advocates for the dignity and rights of young women and girls so that every girl can be safe and live a life free of violence and exploitation.

Protect courageous immigrant women and girls who refuse to be victims of violence. By elevating their voices in communities, courts, and Congress, Tahirih creates a world where all women and girls enjoy equality, and live in safety and with dignity.

Provide free culturally specific, holistic, and trauma-based services to Black women survivors of domestic violence and/or sexual assault primarily living in Washington, DC’s Wards 7 and 8.

Silence Kills is a collective that fosters the ability of their members to turn their pain into power, encouraging people to speak on the unspoken via artistic expression.

Create safe spaces and combat violence against our communities.

With your support, thousand of survivors will receive interpretation, advocacy, and free legal services. Thousands more will be connected to vital social services, including emergency shelter, healthcare, food, and clothing.

By making an investment in the Stand Together Fund, you are joining forces with the collective generosity of your neighbors, colleagues, friends, and family to ensure that women and girls of color are not forgotten.

Stand Together, So She Can Stand on Her Own.

>Join Us<

#AskHer Series: The ‘SheCession’ & How It Affects Women and Girls of Color…

On February 9th, we discussed the “shecession” – the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on women and girls of color and how this affects childcare and paid leave. Our special guest was Dr. C. Nicole Mason, President and CEO of Institute for Women’s Policy Research, who was interviewed by Martine Sadarangani Gordon, Vice President of Programs, Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

#AskHer is an interview series featuring women and gender non-conforming leaders, and The Women’s Foundation’s partners, community members and supporters who work tirelessly for women and girls. We curate in-depth conversations around complex issues affecting our constituents. Issues ranging from racism, racial justice, women, girls, intersectionality and more will be covered.

We’re On A Mission…

In 2016, Washington Area Women’s Foundation began what will be a forever journey. At the time, we were both clear and intentional in how our mission pursued gender justice, but we were not as clear, nor were we intentional, about how racial justice intersected with that mission. And so began our organizational journey with a fundamental question – how could we be better and do better?

We started with ourselves. We took steps to change policies, processes and workplace cultural norms that perpetuated white supremacist values. I will be the first to say that we don’t always get it right, and it will be a lifelong work in progress, but we are being intentional about our learning and acknowledging when and where we fall short and taking steps to do better moving forward.

We then began examining our work and our role as a grantmaker – who and what we support and why. As a women’s foundation, our entire body of work since our inception has been about improving the lives of women and girls, but who are the women and girls we are talking about?

After five years of reflection and internal reform, I am proud to announce, on behalf of the entire Washington Area Women’s Foundation team, an important update to our mission statement:


In many ways, our mission statement is catching up to the fundamental shifts we have been making over the last five years.

There is no debating that women and girls are bearing the brunt of the pandemic, and for cis and trans women and gender expansive individuals of color, this is exacerbated by the structural inequities that were in place long before this pandemic. We saw this play out in real time across our region, prompting us to launch the Stand Together Fund last spring, which prioritized the needs of women and girls of color. In launching the fund, we were clear from the outset that we needed to be focused on the immediate, short-term and long-terms needs of women and girls of color because the systemic barriers that prevented access to opportunity would not disappear overnight.

Additionally, research shows that philanthropy has historically underinvested in women and girls of color, undervaluing them as the powerful community and movement leaders they are. We knew that we could do better. We intentionally prioritized women and people of color led organizations. We shifted to general operating support and changed our application and review process to take the onus off our Grantee Partners. And we undertook our grantmaking outreach and due diligence at the direction of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color leaders in our community so that our investments focused on gaps identified by those who know best.

By investing in the power of women and girls of color, we are actively and intentionally working to shift the power dynamics that are inherent in philanthropy and our community. We are recognizing that our collective liberation from white supremacy is tied to the liberation of women and girls of color, and we are deepening our commitment to achieving gender, racial and economic justice.

While we are proud of the pivots we have made, we are clear that there is much work to do. We are stronger when we stand together, and I invite you to join us on this journey to invest in the power of women and girls of color in our region.

And then came Kamala…

Growing up, I wanted to be president. It was more than a childhood dream. In elementary school, I wrote anti-war, environmentalist letters to then President Bill Clinton. In middle school, my best friend gifted me a “future president” t-shirt as a joke, but I wore it earnestly. I would practice speeches in the bathroom mirror, and in preparation for my life of public service, I ran for elected positions of my high school class, volunteered in my town, and while my friends were reading the Harry Potter books, I was studying the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

It wasn’t until the summer after my junior year of high school when I began to question if my dream would become reality. I was attending a summer program for high school students at Georgetown University, and the second I stepped on campus, I knew I was in over my head. It wasn’t that I couldn’t cut it academically. It was that I simply did not fit in. These kids were rich and well connected. Even my own roommate that summer was the daughter of a member of Congress. In contrast, I was just a girl from a small town in Connecticut, best known back home as the youngest kid of the Indian widower to the former town beauty queen.

No one that summer had to tell me not to share my future career aspirations with my peers. I was very much the metaphoric fish that suddenly found herself in a much bigger pond, and just like that, I doubted my capabilities.

At one point, my roommate was in an amicable debate about political electability with another student, because that is the type of thing high schoolers at Georgetown do, and he said something about intelligence as a top criteria for candidates for elected office. My roommate countered that there were other factors that mattered more. “Take Martine for example,” she said. “She’s super smart, but I would never vote for her.” She didn’t mean it to hurt. We got along great, actually, and we remained friends long after that summer. What she meant was that it didn’t matter how smart I was. It didn’t matter how much I studied or prepared. The voters of this great nation were simply not going to vote for me for a variety of reasons, but mainly because I’m not a White man.

That was the summer of 2000. Two months later, I was studying in my high school’s library during a free period when the school principal came in frantically asking for the television to be turned on. The library had one of only two televisions connected with cable in our small school. It was unusual for it to be used, let alone for Principal Story to seek it out, but he was beside himself. The librarian found the remote, and he turned on the news. I stood there with Mr. Story watching the World Trade Center towers smoldering on live TV.

The TV stayed on over the course of the day. Within the hour, the library was standing-room-only with students and teachers watching the news, crying, holding one another, and taking turns using the phone in the office to call their families to make sure that their relatives in New York were ok; some learning they were not.

Like many brown people in this country, I was horrified by what transpired on 9/11. I was scared. I felt betrayed. But, I couldn’t dwell on it. Because the fear of the actual attack morphed shortly thereafter into fear of my fellow Americans.

In the weeks after 9/11, my father put three American flag bumper stickers on his car and started wearing an American flag pin on his clothes every day. He hoped it would be enough to convince our predominantly White community, where he had lived for decades at that point, where I was a second-generation townie on my mother’s side, that we weren’t suddenly a threat. Like I said, part of the reason we were well-known in our town is because my father is an Indian man who married a local White woman. Before 9/11 that was unusual. After 9/11, it was a liability.

And just like that, the weight of reality hit my teenage self, not like a ton of bricks, but more like a smothering blanket. Those few months made me realize what I had been too naive to recognize; I was not going to be spectacular. I was going to be average, at best, because the safest way to get through life was to keep my head down as much as possible.

Ultimately, I did decide to be a public servant, albeit not an elected one. I have dedicated my life to public and nonprofit work, and I’m proud of what I have accomplished as an adult. But, I have missed my childhood confidence.

I remember feeling a small level of validation when President Obama was first elected in 2008, because not only did he become the first Black president, but also the first president with a non-European name. If Americans can accept Barack Obama as President, surely the name Martine Sadarangani is truly American too.

And then came Kamala.

Watching Kamala Harris on the campaign trail in 2020 had a profound impact on me. Here is a woman who, like me, was raised by an immigrant parent; who, like me, is half Indian; but who, unlike me, is seemingly unapologetic for who she is.

We hear all the time that representation matters, notably for kids. We want kids to see themselves in their teachers, pastors, community leaders. But, I have not had one woman of color teacher or religious leader in my entire life. My role models, as it turns out, have been largely male and/or White.

Even twenty years after my childhood dream was stamped out, and after working to build a successful career for myself otherwise, the election of a woman of color as Vice President made me stand up a little taller and made my voice a little clearer.

I love this country. More often than not, I tear up with pride upon hearing the national anthem. But, in loving this country, I don’t ignore the injustices and the terrible acts of our past and present. My love is what put me on a path of public service, and my love is what allows me to have faith that we can and will do better in the future, even in moments when I don’t feel that my country loves me back.

Leading up to yesterday, friends asked me if I was nervous about the inauguration. There was an attack on the Capitol Building just two weeks ago. Areas of DC are on lockdown, with a stronger military presence than the US has deployed in areas of active armed conflict.  Shouldn’t we just have the inauguration indoors where our elected leaders can be kept safer and so that DC residents don’t need to be afraid?

Of course not. Demonstrations of love need to be stronger than demonstrations of hate.

And look at what this inauguration gave us. Just two weeks after white supremacists tried to cripple our democracy, and coming up on nearly a year into a pandemic that has claimed the lives of 400,000 Americans, a Black and south Asian woman stood before the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, raised her brown-skinned hand and swore the oath of office for the Vice Presidency.

Regardless of your political views, that moment was a demonstration of love. It is a moment that brown-skinned women and girls all across the US can hold in our memories.

And on a day in the future when, despite our devotion to this country, we don’t feel that love returned, we can think back on the image of Kamala Harris being sworn in to a nationally elected office; we can see ourselves in her; and we can stay hopeful for our own futures.

Congratulations, Madam Vice President. And thank you.

[Artist credit: Lex Marie]

Keeping it 100: Reflecting on Five Years of Advocacy & the Push for Black Women’s Equality

In the fall of 2014, I walked into a jam-packed room with 75 other eager women. We had all shown up expressing an interest in forming a new chapter of an organization committed to ensuring Black women and girls live in a world where socioeconomic inequity does not exist. A bold endeavor, but long overdue.

What I did not know is that seven months later, I’d be elected the chartering president of this group of ambitious women, and five years later, serving in my third consecutive term, embarking upon our fifth-year anniversary during the most profound modern day social justice and still civil rights era.

That organization turned out to be the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc., which was founded in 1981 by an impressive cadre of New York “good trouble”-making women. They recognized that while much had been gained relative to the advancement of Black women, much more was needed to still be done.  They seized the opportunity to organize, advocate, and elevate awareness of the perpetual systemic barriers impacting Black women and girls across the country.  Fast forward nearly forty years later, and despite my being asked more than once if an organization like this is even still necessary, the answer is a resounding, yes!

Even on the heels of the announcement of Kamala Harris’ Vice President nomination and acceptance, in the thick of Census 2020, the 100th Anniversary of women securing the right to vote, and facing the most important election of our times, one thing that I know for sure, is that there is still work to do.

Over the past five years of my days in office as president leading a startup organization, ran solely by passionate, head strong women volunteers – in a crowded local and national landscape of socially driven organizations, taking on exasperating  sociopolitical and socioeconomic issues – has undoubtedly pushed and pulled me in ways I could never imagine. Most of all, it has given me a renewed appreciation and respect for the power of self, collaboration, authenticity, and patience, ensuring that my actions and our chapter’s actions model our mission and enable us to keep it 100. You never know when the groundwork you are doing today will need to be activated tomorrow.

On August 29th of 2015, we – the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc. Metropolitan Washington, DC Chapter vowed to be the last chapter to charter in the District (there were two chapters before us), and throughout these five years, we’ve truly been able to lean in on our sisterhood to activate ourselves in order to support Black women and girls on a myriad of issues. From our Sisternomics Empowerment Grant Program, in which we’ve awarded over $25,000 to nine Black women owned businesses, to advising on legislation to establish or expand a perinatal health worker training program, to designing and implementing our signature mentoring program, Exceptionally Me, to securing partnerships and support from global brands such as Lyft, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase and Anita –  to take our mission, our lessons learned, and our collaborative commitment to elevating women, seriously.

And as we celebrate what I consider to be a milestone anniversary, I couldn’t be more excited to launch our inaugural #Shes100 Equity Awards. #Shes100 honors a group of phenomenal Black women who are making a major impact in Washington, DC in the areas of Health, Economic Empowerment, Education, Advocacy, and Corporate Social Responsibility. Our celebration of these women is in fact a celebration of NCBWDC.

Our work is not elevated by what we do alone but it is through the actions and impact of those who model our mission and push our issues and our community forward. From Congress Heights to the heights of Congress, and from classrooms to boardrooms, these women keep it 100!

  • Adjoa B. Asamoah, a chartering member, political powerhouse, and impact strategist
  • Gloria Nauden, a chartering member, and Vice President of Marketing and Communications for City First Bank of DC
  • Aza Nedhari, Executive Director of Mamatoto Village, a perinatal health organization
  • Kristie Edwards, Principal at Randall Highlands Elementary School
  • Monica Mitchell, Vice President of Corporate Philanthropy and Community Development for Wells Fargo Bank

We respect their grind. We value their authenticity. We love their commitment. We recognize their ability to leverage and build. They are the executors of NCBWDC’s priorities and an extension of our mission. When I reflect upon the accomplishments of our inaugural honorees, coupled with what our nimble chapter has accomplished in five short years, I get excited knowing how much more we can and will achieve when we each commit to stepping up,  and keeping it 100.  And if we are going to make any continued advancements for Black women and girls, it’s through efforts like these in which we must act. My charge for how ways in which we can each be 100 is by doing and recognizing the following:

  1. Be authentic: To thy self be true. Know the issues. Know why you serve and own your narrative.
  2. Build up, not tear down: The fight and yes, it is a fight to advance and protect rights for Black women and girls, will require the participation of many. We need to ensure that we are not only supporting one another but leaving no one behind or on the sidelines.
  3. Stay the course: In a world of quick flips and fixes, instantaneous answers and placating exchanges, coupled with centuries of disenfranchisement, it’s only natural to want to see results NOW. However, advocacy and systems change work is hard and multi-layered. It takes time and consistency.

In the past, our voices were used to propel movements, but those movements did not amplify us. Today, we are leading our own movements and using our own platforms to amplify our voices, our views and our value.  This moment is a movement, and this movement is a moment; do not let it pass you by.  The time is NOW to keep it 100. I hope you will join us!


Ayris T. Scales is the president of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women Inc., Metro DC Chapter. She is a tri-sector leader who has dedicated her career to working at the intersectionality of policy, philanthropy and partnerships to empower the rights of marginalized people and communities.  You can see how she likes to keep it 100 by following her @heiressflow or @NCBWDC. 

#AskHer Series: Indira Henard, Executive Director, DC Rape Crisis Center

Our new #AskHer series is an interview with our partners, community members and supporters who work tirelessly for women and girls. Our first interview is with Indira Henard, Executive Director of DC Rape Crisis Center. The interview was conducted by our Vice President of Programs, Martine Sadarangani Gordon.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. As we enter the second month of our local stay-at-home orders, we are sensitive to the impact of the crisis on survivors of sexual violence.

To better understand these issues, we talked to Indira Henard, Executive Director, DC Rape Crisis Center (DCRCC). Her answers to our questions shined the light on what survivors may be experiencing right now and how our community can support survivors during this crisis.

Martine Gordon: Let’s start with a little about you and the DC Rape Crisis Center for our readers.

Indira Henard: My name is Indira Henard, and I am the Executive Director of DC Rape Crisis Center (DCRCC). It is the first and oldest rape crisis center in the country. I have been in the violence against women’s moment for 20 years and have been at the DCRCC for 12 years.

We serve the entire region, including Maryland and Virginia, but the majority of our clients come from Wards 5, 7, and 8 in DC. Whether you were sexually assaulted 48 years ago, 48 months ago, or 48 days ago, you can still come to us for services. This is what we call soul work because the journey to healing is life-long.

MG: How has DCRCC had to shift its work to continue to support survivors right now?

IH: We’ve had to do a lot of shifting. Right now, all of our services are virtual. We are serving close to 100 individual therapy clients, seeing all of them virtually via telehealth. We’ve also added extra lines to our 24/7 hotline because we’re seeing a significant increase in demand for services.

We’re also doing training and technical assistance virtually. Part of what the DCRCC does is that we do training and technical assistance for both local and national community partners. For example, we typically do a lot of technical assistance for schools, but most recently the training has focused on what COVID crisis response looks like for agencies that are culturally specific.

At the end of this month we’re also hosting a survivor check in call. I’ll be leading the call with clients to check in and create space for them. Normally I meet with our clients quarterly, but April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, so I wanted to do something special for them.

MG: What should people know about survivors, or people who experience abuse/violence during this pandemic that they may not otherwise read or hear about?

IH: A lot of what abuse is connected to is power and control. We’re living in an unprecedented time because survivors have limited control being forced into quarantine. It is kicking up all of the issues around trauma and not feeling safe, and all of this is happening on a timeline where no one knows when it will end.

We know how the body holds trauma and the brain stores memory. When you have no control over where you can go, it brings up a lot, coupled with when your daily routine and your sense of normalcy is no longer the same.

We also know that home may not be a safe space. For survivors of sexual violence, being at home may be with your perpetrator and could be triggering or even increase the incidences of rape. Even if you want to try to leave to go somewhere safe, the shelters aren’t taking in new people. You’re in a catch-22.

Alternatively, home may be safe for you right now, but if you’re at home with people who don’t know you’ve been assaulted, being able to find a private space to do tele-therapy may not be an option.

I think the other big shift is in general — what we know is that sexual violence is not a single issue because we don’t live single issue lives. Even though DCRCC supports survivors with trauma, we’re seeing other things come up. We have clients who may also be dealing with other mental health or substance abuse issues. This crisis is making it harder to do referrals to programs that they may need beyond support as a survivor.

MG: Are there local government responses to the pandemic that have impacted survivors in unexpected ways?

IH: One example here in DC is that over 20 metro stations have been shut down. If they relied on public transportation but the hours have been cut and stations closed, that’s impactful. It creates a challenge with trying to go to the grocery store or getting medical assistance.

Because the region in general has basically gone virtual, we’re assuming that people have access to the technology, but if we’re looking at folks in Wards 5, 7, and 8, they may not have that technology.

MG: Many local governments are also anticipating significant budget cuts coming. How does this impact DCRCC’s ability to provide support to its clients?

IH: It is weighing heavy on our minds. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a $600 million budget shortfall for this fiscal year, which is enormous. For the upcoming fiscal year, they are expecting an even larger shortfall. One of our key government funders has already made it clear that it will be a very lean fiscal year. For organizations like DCRCC who work with survivors, hearing that there will be strong budget cuts is catastrophic to our work because what we are expecting coming out of this pandemic is a surge in request for services.

My hope is that folks will realize that there is an intersection of trauma as it relates to the impact that COVID-19 is having. And it’s not just for survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault. These are intersectional issues for the most vulnerable residents. Even though a client may not be living in a shelter, for example, we have to understand the impact may look different for them – but there is an impact.

Generally, rape crisis centers across the country are struggling to stay afloat and fight for dollars in the next wave of federal funds, as well. Government funding will be challenging going forward, so it will take the support of the philanthropic community and donors to keep us afloat.

MG: Tell us about how your team is doing. How are they approaching their work, and, if you have a sense, how are they feeling right now?

IH: My team has just been troopers. They continue to knock it out of the park. This is the first time in 48 years at DCRCC that we’ve done virtual work like this, and they executed the transition seamlessly.

The way we approach our work is with heart. There is a saying we have that this is not hard work; its heart work. First and foremost, we have to show up with heart. My team bears witness to the unimaginable. We meet survivors where they are, and we create multiple pathways for their healing journeys. Survivors are the GPS from which we take directions. That has always been our philosophy, but it’s even more so now.

We are a small but mighty team and close knit. We have weekly check-ins and weekly self-care Friday calls. I talk to every staff member and have one-on-one time with every staff member, and I try to do things to make their days a little extra special because I know they are working really, really hard.

I’m also intentional around making sure they still have professional development opportunities in the midst of this crisis. In a nut shell, they are doing ok, but it’s definitely been challenging.

MG: What do survivors need right now, and looking six months out, what do you think the survivor support space will need when society enters the recovery phase of the pandemic?

IH: I think on a basic level, we need to believe survivors. We need to meet them where they are. We need to remind them that they are not alone and that what they are experiencing in healing is normal and expected. Sometimes we forget about those basics and how they mean so much.

On a higher level, we need philanthropic and systemic support to agencies who are on the ground with survivors. We need help, and we cannot do it alone. This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint, and when we enter the recovery phase, it will be fierce. We expect a significant surge in survivors, and we are going to need to meet that demand.

I encourage donors to trust your grantees. Trust them to know what is happening on the ground. Know that the resources being given to them are going to be used and maximized in the most efficient ways.

There is not a walk of life that sexual violence does not impact, and as such, everyone should be supporting sexual violence work. I would encourage folks to support those agencies on the ground. DCRCC is entering into our 48th year, and there is no way we could have done that without the support of the community.

The COVID-19 Crisis is a Racial Justice Issue & our Response must Prioritize the Power of Black, Indigenous, Latinx & Other People of Color

The COVID-19 virus does not discriminate — it can infect anyone. However, when an indiscriminate virus is unleashed in a country where racially unjust systems have long decided who lives, who dies, who thrives and who just gets by, the impact is anything but equal. As data disaggregated by race trickles out from state and local health agencies, it has confirmed what many of us not only feared but also anticipated: Black, Latinx and other people of color, who are the people of the global majority, are disproportionately dying from COVID-19.

A racially disparate impact necessitates a racially equitable response — one that prioritizes the leadership of Indigenous, Black, Latinx, and other people of color to respond to the immediate needs in their own communities, bolsters resilience in the face of this crisis, and builds power to push for long-lasting systemic change. With this in mind, we, the undersigned funders who believe in reimagining philanthropy as a just, racially equitable transition of power and resources, have coordinated approximately $2 million in sustained funding and $500,000 in rapid response funding to date to organizations led by people of color in the Washington, DC region based on the following commitments:

1. Supporting underfunded organizations led by people of color
Organizations led by people of color are traditionally underfunded; therefore, they are less likely to have reserves and are more likely to be unsustainable after an economic crisis. We challenge the notion that the nonprofits that can weather an economic downturn are the “best.” Rather, they have not suffered from decades of systemic underinvestment from local and national funders. We commit to designating funds to organizations, projects, groups and collaboratives that are led by Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people of color, who are using an intersectional lens, and have operating budgets of under $1,000,000.

2. Solidarity with organizers, base builders and advocates
The philanthropic sector and the individual donors who support nonprofits are less likely to support the work of community organizing, base and power building and advocacy. We believe that more investment in organizations and groups that do this important work is imperative to address the issues that precipitated this crisis and the fallout to come. We commit to supporting those who have been organizing, advocating, and building power with communities of color before, during and in the wake of this moment.

3. Focusing hyperlocally
In times of crisis, your neighbors — those living and working in proximity to you — are often your first responders. We believe community care and mutual aid are vital responses in this moment and their structures will have lasting benefit beyond this crisis. We commit to focusing this support toward groups working in hyperlocal ways, for example, the neighborhood, block or building level.

4. Prioritizing disproportionately impacted industries and workers
Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, the District of Columbia already reported the highest Black unemployment rate in the country, and Virginia had a wider gap between Latinx/Hispanic and white unemployment than any other state. In the month of March, unemployment in the Greater Washington region, like the rest of the country, skyrocketed. Restaurant workers, domestic/care workers, hospitality workers, sex workers, day laborers, and those dependent on the formal and informal gig economy lost their livelihoods in the wake of COVID-19 — sectors where people of color make up the majority of workers and frequently have few worker protections. We commit to supporting organizations and groups with sector-specific priorities to increase the resiliency of our region’s disproportionately impacted industries, many of whom employ large numbers of people of color.

5. Taking a multi-pronged approach
Philanthropic institutions’ support must be as nimble and diverse as the evolving challenges our partners and their constituents face. Organizations are in the midst of shifting strategies and they are experimenting with digital organizing, conceiving of new fundraising plans and devising new engagement methods in a year with big priorities, including civic engagement and the Census. Our support is crucial. At the same time, we ask funders of social service and large-scale advocacy organizations to realign their resources in support of grassroots groups. We commit to a multi-pronged, innovative approach to address the needs of organizations led by people of color to develop new capacities and shift their strategies.

6. Operating with trust
Philanthropy is a sector created and maintained by inequity and an imbalance of power, and we recognize our role in maintaining inherited practices that hinder our ability to be at the forefront in achieving racial justice. We commit to reimagining the relationship between funder and grantee partner, operating through a trust-based approach that is transparent, streamlined, flexible and removes unnecessary barriers that disproportionately impact grassroots groups and organizations led by people of color.

As funders coordinating this effort, we pledge to act as advocates for these groups and invite our philanthropic peers, both locally and nationally, to part ways with business-as-usual philanthropy to meet this moment, which is anything but usual. Here are steps you can take right now:

1. Get the support you need from funding peers with experience in racial justice grantmaking. Organizations like Neighborhood Funders Group and Association for Black Foundation Executives can help. For local support, reach out to any of the signatories on this letter for opportunities to plug in.
2. If you do not have the relationships or capacity to deploy funding quickly to grassroots groups, rely on trusted intermediaries such as Diverse City Fund and Emergent Fund, who have a history of funding systems-change work driven by people of color-led grassroots organizations.
3. Extend your influence beyond grantmaking by contributing your time, expertise, and voice. We have formed sub-committees focused on civic engagement, healing justice and capacity building. We are especially inviting national foundations with regional offices in the Washington, DC region to join us.
4. Finally, attend the trust-based philanthropy webinar hosted by the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers on Monday, April 20th at 11 a.m. to learn how to reimagine your philanthropy. Information can be found here: trust-based-philanthropy-during-times-crisis-and-beyond

In solidarity,

Yanique Redwood, PhD, MPH
President and CEO
Consumer Health Foundation

Board of Instigators
Diverse City Fund

alicia sanchez gill
Emergent Fund

Julia Baer-Cooper
Philanthropic Advisor
England Family Foundation

Tonia Wellons
President and CEO
Greater Washington Community Foundation

Daniel Solomon
Donor Adviser to Greater Washington Community Foundation

Nat Chioke Williams
Executive Director
Hill-Snowdon Foundation

Dara Johnson
Executive Director
Horning Family Fund

Nicola Goren
President and CEO
Meyer Foundation

Tom Perriello
Executive Director Open Society-US
Open Society Foundations

Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat
President and CEO
Washington Area Women’s Foundation

Hanh Le
Executive Director
Weissberg Foundation