We build. We bridge.

I have often written about what I term, a "Diversity Wow Moment." During my tenure here, I have had many. Last week I experienced two the same night.

It was at the recent Iridian Gallery opening of "Bling It Out," an invitational of works by local artists who used Diversity Thrift purchases to create art. The event drew our largest gallery crowd yet, and just about everything sold. The energy in that room was electric. Lots of laughter, hugs and community. It was wonderful to watch.

Then the first "Wow" happened. I introduced myself to a young man who I thought to be an exhibitor. After a few minutes I realized this "young man" was a former ROSMY youth I had met several years prior. He is now a third year art student at VCU and wants to join the gallery committee. He spoke of how inspired he was by Iridian.

Then a few moments later I was introduced by another young artist to his parents. The father shared how thankful he was that his son had found "somewhere he could be himself and grow as an artist."

One by one, we make a difference. We change lives. We build, we bridge.

We work every day at Diversity Richmond to grow as a community center, that place where folks "can be themselves." Be it the transgender support groups, twelve-step programs, any number of community conversations, political candidate forums or times where we have fun and amateur singers compete for cash prizes.

The past year has been a mixed bag. We have celebrated often, mourned together and challenged each other to grow as individuals and as a community. Through all of it, your community center has been ever present.

Our next year will bring new challenges, innovative responses and the need for a truly united community. And once again, your community center will be at the forefront, leading.

Thank you for your continued support. We could never do we what do without you.

Bill Harrison

Pictured: Iridian Gallery steering committee member, Justice Dwight, center, with his parents, Crystal and Rall Elder at Bling it Out!

Hey Toots, we need a party!

Diversity Richmond Celebrates

In April 2015 we launched our rebranding campaign ... new name, new logo, new look, new strategies. We are proud of our accomplishments and want to share them, along with our 2017 plans with you.

Please join us on Tuesday, November 29 at 6:00 PM in our event hall. We'll announce our 2016 grant recipients (we have 14 receiving a total of $30,000), recognize volunteers, organizations and funders who have made a big difference in the community, plus we are giving a couple of lifetime achievement recognitions.

We are also excited that Richmond mayor-elect Levar Stoney will be with us as will Monument City Music, plus lots of good food by Nacho Mama's.

Your community center has been in the middle of so many things this past year. There is cause to celebrate. So we hope to see you on November 29.

None of our good work could have been done without community support. Come be a part of that community and celebrate who you are.

Please let us know that you are coming RSVP.

See you soon!

Bill Harrison

We are community

"Friday night, Diversity Richmond felt like a community center shining in the brightest light -- each other. We usually come together in our darkest hours, but this year we stepped into the comfort of each other. Through our special events such as Scary-oke,  All Americans and The Big OH, we are proving, time and time again, that we can come together to shine as we did Friday night"

~ Brian Harrison, Diversity Richmond Board Member

Some nonprofits shy away from special events. They require lots of work. Quite often, if one takes the profit made and divides it by the number of hours worked, the balance sheet is one-sided.

But, more happens with special events than raising money. A successful event also builds community. No better examples of such than the three events we orchestrated in the last few months. All did more than raise much needed money.

At Diversity Richmond, we strive to be a true community center, a place where people can come and be themselves. A place that is a safe haven for our community, be it at large events or simply when committees, theater companies, communities of faith or support groups need space for meetings, they know all they need do is call.

We also work to set good examples for the rest of the world as to what the LGBTQ community is all about.

I had one of my "Diversity Moments" at Scary-oke. As I sat there and watched people dance, many of them being twenty-somethings and many being allies, I thought, "Wow. Look at what we have created. Our community is out there having a blast, celebrating life. They could be anywhere else, but they choose to be here."

We are "getting there," but most every day we realize yet another unmet need, or we have an idea that will make our community stronger. Can you help us? Your community needs you.

Bill Harrison

Nationally recognized LGBTQ historians address Richmond crowd

Dr. Richard Godbeer of Virginia Commonwealth University and Dr. Marc Stein of San Francisco State University were well received at Diversity Richmond's recent community conversation about LGBT history. Both are nationally recognized authorities on the subject and shared fascinating stories of our civil rights pioneers and how society treated LGBT people, even as far back as the 1600's.

This program was the first in a series that Diversity Richmond will sponsor addressing our history. For more information, contact Rodney Lofton.

LGBTQ historian pics

Left: Big crowd filled The Iridian Gallery for the talk; Center: (L-R) Dr. Marc Stein and
Dr. Richard Godbeer; Right: Dr. Lauranett Lee, Beth Marschak, Bob Swisher,
Dr. Marc Stein, Dr. Ravi Perry & Dr. Richard Godbeer

Thanks again, Ryland

As I have shared numerous times in my letters to you, every so often we experience a significant moment here at Diversity Richmond. Last Sunday we experienced a moment that will live with me forever. Many of us knew Ryland Roane, the well-respected HIV/AIDS educator who had earned a national reputation for his ability to humanize HIV-disease while helping others learn how to live with dignity and hope. Ryland died August 13 from leukemia after only a few days of illness.

Ryland's mother chose to have his memorial service at Diversity Richmond and we were humbled and honored. Last Sunday a large gathering of folks came together to celebrate Ryland's life and a true celebration it was. Co-workers, family and childhood friends shared fond and sometimes humorous memories of a man who touched and changed the lives of countless numbers of people.

His pastor, the Rev. Dr. A. Lincoln James spoke lovingly about a man he called friend. If I have ever heard music by angels, it was Sunday. The Trinity Baptist Church choir sent messages above that all is right with the world.

As I sat in the back of the room, I thought, "Even from the grave, he works his stuff." The hall was filled with hundreds of people who had never ever imagined being at Diversity Richmond. But once, again, Ryland Roane bridged the gap and brought us all together as one, as community.

My words fail, but Sunday was yet another signal to me that Diversity Richmond is on the right path. Sometimes we mess up, but our good work and efforts to build and support a community, one of inclusion and justice, is what we are all about.

Thanks, again. Ryland. Once again you did what you do best. You helped us see the good in us.

Godspeed.

Bill Harrison

Your support means everything. Donate online or mail a check to 1407 Sherwood Avenue, Richmond, Va. 23220. Thank you, thank you!

Diversity Richmond offers $30,000 in grant funding

Over $900,000 distributed since 1999

As I sit in my office and type, I am listening to the beautiful music of the choir of a community of faith that meets in our building on Sundays. I am reminded once again of the strength and gentleness of our community. We can overcome anything. We have often proven that. We need to remember.

What more appropriate surroundings than this to share that our 2016 funding cycle includes $30,000 available to local LGBT, LGBT-friendly nonprofits. And, for the first time in our history, individuals are eligible for financial backing. For several years, people have approached us for the funding of terrific ideas, but our allocations were only for nonprofit organizations. This year we changed the rules.

And a big thank you to our board, volunteers, staff, and of course, our financial donors for making these funds possible. Since 1999, we have distributed over $900,000 back into our community.

Another way we help the community is by supplying free meeting space for nonprofits. It appears 2016 will be the biggest year yet for folks using the building.

To apply and for more information, click here for all the details.

This has been an exciting and challenging year for our community, on both national and local levels. What better way to end our year than awarding grants to fund ideas and programs that benefit our community.

We could not do this without you. Thank you for making so much good possible.

Bill Harrison

We never know when we'll never see each other again

Last Saturday I was at the car wash when I received a phone call that one of my best friends had died in his sleep the night before. We had been friends a long time, both coming from the same small hometown. Later in our lives, we learned we were both gay. Our friendship grew and although for the past few years, we did not see each other as often, when we did meet, it was like we had never parted.

I share this story as it was once again a lesson that life is brief, but more than that, we never ever know when we are seeing people for the last time. As LGBT folks, many of us know what being alone is all about. Sometimes our friends are much more connected to us than our blood kin. That is nothing unique to LGBT people, but I think we may possibly create our own families more than our straight counterparts.

I also share this as my temperament, my patience, my disposition is not always, shall we say, as pleasant as it should be. I could blame it on age or the pressures of life, but I recall years ago a friend gave me a door mat as a gift that stated, "Go Away." I need to do better. And maybe some of the folks reading this letter could take a look in the mirror, too.

There is more than enough bad stuff aimed at us from our enemies. We don't need to hurl any from inside our community. So, I am going to try and remember that every time I speak to someone, do I want that to be the impression that I leave them with...forever.

How about if we find ourselves ready to snap at somebody, that we close our mouths and take deep breaths? I'll let you know how that goes. It's new for me, too.

Best,

Bill Harrison

Your support means everything. Donate online or mail a check to 1407 Sherwood Avenue, Richmond, Va. 23220. Thank you, thank you!

Mapping the future in the here-and-now

Our new board chair, Art Toth, and I recently met to discuss Diversity Richmond's future. Our latest strategic plan objectives have been accomplished so it's time to map out what we hope to accomplish in the next few years.

Much has been realized within the last four years. We first conducted a needs assessment to learn what our community liked and also where we needed to improve. We rebranded, changed our name and made major alterations to our building, inside and out.

We enlarged the thrift store, reinvigorated our grants program, bought a new thrift store truck, and had a record number of folks use our free meeting rooms for committees, rehearsals, prayers and fundraisers.

We are very proud of our art gallery, The Iridian Gallery at Diversity Richmond, one of the few in the nation solely dedicated to LGBT artists. Our event hall was the place where 2,000 of our community gathered for strength as we remembered our brothers and sisters who were murdered in Orlando.

Because of our grants and other means of working towards a stronger community, we were honored by the Richmond Chapter of the Association of Professional Fundraisers with the "Foundation Philanthropist of the Year Award," the first time an LGBT organization had been recognized.

We continue to share free clothing with those in need and every Monday we work with kids living with disabilities as they volunteer in our store. More recently we've celebrated with two beer/food truck events, bringing lots of new folks into the Diversity family.

We have big plans and announcements that we will share soon. We are very excited and just wanted you to know that all this is made possible by you ... our community. Thank you.

Best,

Bill Harrison

If you would like to help support the work we do at Diversity Richmond, please consider volunteering or making a cash donation -- mail a check to 1407 Sherwood Avenue, Richmond, Va. 23220, or donate online. Every little bit helps!

Without you, we're nothing

Ask any nonprofit executive director what makes a charity or foundation successful and the word volunteer will immediately surface. Where would we be without our volunteers? From board members to the good people who process clothes donated to Diversity Thrift, our mere existence depends on those who are generous with their time for the greater good.

No better example of a successful volunteer effort than our recent food and beer truck events. Volunteers planned everything from booking the vendors to selling beer tickets to sweeping the floors after everyone left. One great example of "community unity" was when volunteers from Metropolitan Community Church, Prime Timers, RVA Bears and Richmond Business Alliance all lined up to help.

Our beautiful newsletters are produced by volunteers. Photos taken at our events, the art exhibits developed and curated for our Iridian Gallery, managing bingo, planning programs such as our recent Black LGBT History Community Conversation and much of the work on our community's hugely attended Orlando vigil ... done by volunteers.

I have said many times, we are a powerful, resilient, loving people. We can accomplish whatever we put our minds too. We have proven that time and time again.

So if you are one of "ours" or if you volunteer elsewhere, please know that you are a major reason that life is improving, that stronger communities are being built, that damage is being repaired and injustices are being addressed. And for that, we say, thank you.

Best,

Bill Harrison

If you would like to help support the work we do at Diversity Richmond, please consider volunteering or making a cash donation -- mail a check to 1407 Sherwood Avenue, Richmond, Va. 23220, or donate online. Every little bit helps!

You Called. We Answered.

Several years ago, to address issues that the local LGBT community had raised about their "Gay Community Foundation," a needs assessment was conducted to find out what was good and areas where we needed to improve. The community responded with vigor and then we began to map out the best ways to meet the needs. Much has happened since.

Our rebranding campaign, new name, marked improvements to the building, expanding Diversity Thrift, reinstatement of our grants program and our extended outreach efforts have dramatically raised the community's awareness of us and our work.

No better example than last week when hundreds of folks gathered to celebrate, "All Americans - A Summer Block Party Celebrating Community Unity." Lots of new faces, parents and kids, lively karaoke singing, music, photos....it was a fun few hours.

As I walked through the crowds I just felt so at peace. Nothing means more to us than to see people claiming 1407 Sherwood Avenue as "theirs." As our board chair, Art Toth shared, "People said that we finally were a real community center."

We will soon begin our next step in long- range strategic planning. We are very proud of how far we have come the last few years and are very excited about new ideas that are being considered.

Please join us in making those aspirations realities. If you have suggestions as to what you would like to see us do, please contact me soon.

Best,

Bill Harrison

If you would like to help support the work we do at Diversity Richmond, please attend or sponsor our events, and consider making a cash donation -- mail a check to 1407 Sherwood Avenue, Richmond, Va. 23220, or donate online. Every little bit helps!

Thank You New Beginnings Christian Church

The last month has been devastating for humankind. The Orlando, Florida massacre of 49 LGBT people, the deaths of two African-American men killed by law enforcement and the slaughter of five Dallas police officers rattled us all.

On Sunday, July 10th, New Beginnings Christian Church conducted "Prayer Vigil Against Violence" here at Diversity Richmond. It was a powerful hour as people shared their thoughts and feelings about our recent past.

One African-American mother spoke about her deep concern in raising her two boys in today's world. She has had conversations with her children that white parents see no need to have.

Much of the fear and anger expressed by some LGBT people of color in regards to law enforcement and feeling isolated within our own LGBT community may be difficult for white people (such as me) to understand. But we must try. Actually, we must do more than just try.

I do not know all the answers, but I do know that the first place I have to start is with me. If we are going to have conversations about race, we must be able to be honest and transparent without fear of being attacked by opposing views. We must create safe spaces where we can learn from each other. That is the only way we can change anything.

Our community, our entire society actually, is filled with good people. The vast majority of us want justice and fairness. Getting there is the tough part.

New Beginnings set an excellent example of how to build community. I say thank you to Pastor Lacette Cross and her congregation. They helped the healing begin.

Bill Harrison

Pictured left to right are are Evangelist and Diversity Richmond board member, Luise Farmer of MCC; Pastor Lacette Cross of New Beginnings; Pastor Kenny Callaghan of MCC; Pastor Michael Moore of Mt. Vernon Baptist; and the Rev. E. Taylor Doctor, Diversity Richmond board member.

If you would like to help support the work we do at Diversity Richmond, please mail a check to 1407 Sherwood Avenue, Richmond, Va. 23220, or donate online. We can't do any of this without your support.

As We Celebrate America

rainbow candle

Yesterday was July 4th, the official day of celebrating our nation. Last year at this time we were still joyfully reeling because of the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality. This year we find ourselves mourning the deaths of 49 of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters who were killed in the Orlando massacre. The vast majority were people of color who were celebrating "Latin Night" at the club.

Life is a mixed bag. So is our country. Violence has become so commonplace that we are sometimes numb to the news.

Through the horrors, we cannot forget the good. We have a president who fully supports us and has taken political risks to ensure our rights. In Virginia, we have a governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general who have proven they are our allies. Locally we have senior law enforcement who is working with LGBT organizations to better understand our issues and who have demonstrated their commitment.

This does not mean that there is still not work to do. Dialogue needs to occur within our own communities to ensure that we too are working to ensure that justice prevails. It is very easy to complain. Anyone can do that. Being involved is what brings about change.

In this newsletter, you will find a story about Petty Officer First Class Zachary Corallo who recently addressed other military personnel about serving in the military as an openly gay man. Just one more example of how far we have come.

Meeting people "where they are" and having adult conversations where everyone not only talks, but listens, is key in building community. We have been doing that for years and if we want to maintain our progress, we must continue to educate society, our own community members included.

Diversity Richmond is committed to building an even stronger LGBT community. I invite you to join us.

Bill Harrison

If you would like to help us continue our good work, please mail a check to 1407 Sherwood Avenue, Richmond, Va. 23220, or donate online. We can't do any of this without your support.