Art Toth, Diversity Richmond Board Chair

Art

As a white man, I realize how the silence of white people has served as a catalyst in bringing about racial injustices. White people have a moral responsibility to stand and speak loudly and fully support people of color in their struggles for equality and fairness. If not, we are just as guilty as the oppressors.

Beth Marschak, Diversity Richmond Board Member

Beth

This is a good time for monumental change!

Black Lives Matter is focusing our attention on police brutality and murdering Black people, which is nothing new in our city or our country. Our city’s history is rooted in the trade of enslaved Black people that created more wealth than tobacco, iron manufacturing and flour mills combined – the second largest market in enslaved people in our country. Our city was built by the labor of enslaved Black people. That violence against Black people continued under Jim Crow and Massive Resistance.

At the same time, Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths reflect the racial and ethnic disparities in our communities with Black and LatinX people impacted much more than their percentage in the population. Many essential workers are paid sub-standard wages, and are most at risk for Covid-19 because they are in jobs requiring frequent close contact with others. Small businesses are cheated out of emergency loans by very large corporations.

LGBTQ+ people are also experiencing violence and murder. Black transgender people are the ones who experience the worst of this, but most of us have some incidence ranging from verbal violence to murder. Young people continue to suffer from bullying and harassment.

It would be hard for us not to notice what is happening.

But, this is also a good time to lend our support and work for structural change, which is the way to end structural racism.

For Richmond that includes a civilian police review board and the Marcus Alert, as well as changing our funding priorities to emphasize social work, mental health work and education. It also means removing those physical representatives of structural racism – the monuments to the lost cause and white supremacy.

And, it also means committing or re-committing ourselves to know more about structural racism and support efforts to eliminate it. That includes understanding the school to prison pipeline, what is needed for health equity, what Diversity Richmond can do, and so much more - what we can do so that none of us are left behind.

I am making that commitment and I urge others in the LGBTQ+ community to do the same.

Evan Smith, Diversity Richmond Program Coordinator

Evan Smith

This is a time of action and upheaval to ensure that Black lives and the many identities and experiences that exist, especially Black LGBTQ+ identities, are prioritized with the utmost respect and grace. It’s beyond maddening that Black death in the form of a public lynching is necessary to show others the true reality of this country, but we can honor those who have passed by making sure their existence is not forgotten through tangible change or the removal of certain institutions. As a result, this is not a time for respectability, peace, or compromise. Our ancestors before us have gone through too much for us to settle for less.

As a community, we must challenge ourselves to find our role in this particular moment and the many opportunities to come. If you have the means or ability, you can always support organizations financially, amplify voices speaking out, have conversations with friends and family who need to be educated about racism, hold government officials accountable, or attend a protest. This moment will only be what it needs if community organizers and the people who are on the front lines and have already taken action against systemic racism are joined by others who have been complicit in the harms this country is enacted. Together, another world is possible.

Diversity Thrift prepares for reopening

DT linens

A few weeks ago, Susie Wood visited Diversity Thrift to collect free fabric to make face masks. A longtime shopper, she was already familiar with the store, but this visit caused her to want to do more. Now she is really in her element as she is now our official “fabric volunteer.” Pictured is Susie filtering through the hundreds of donated fabrics that our generous donors made possible. Diversity Thrift will open as soon as we feel it’s safe to do. Our staff and customers are our first priority.

Keri Abrams

Keri

As we continue to get through this pandemic together, Diversity Richmond is highlighting our wonderful board members that make our work possible. This month’s feature is Keri Abrams.

How did you first become aware of Diversity Richmond, and what led you to join the board?

Traveling Interstate 95 frequently through downtown Richmond, I couldn't help but notice Diversity Richmond which at the time was the Gay Community Center of Richmond. When I came out as transgender I never gave the organization much thought due to its name. But after meeting Bill Harrison and other staffers and board members I understood the mission and direction and wanted to become a part of this organization.

How many years have you served on the board, what responsibilities do you have, and what contributions have you made?

I have been serving on the board for 4 years. I am on the Program Committee and work toward programming directed to and for the trans community

What is your favorite thing about Diversity Richmond and the greater LGBTQ+ community as a whole?

My favorite things about Diversity Richmond are the work we do in and for our local LGBTQ communities, the value of Diversity Thrift, and the Iridian Gallery. But most of all the fantastic people that work for this wonderful organization. From the management to the store employees, everyone believes in the mission of Diversity Richmond and shows that everyday with warm smiles to everyone entering the doors.

What has been Diversity Richmond’s greatest moment/accomplishment while you have been on the board?

The greatest thing I believe the organization has done was the re-branding to "Diversity Richmond". The trans community never felt welcomed, included, or comfortable, under the previous moniker. But once the name was changed to include the word diversity, and the commitment was made to ensure that inclusion, the trans community found a welcoming space.

Tell us about your day job, title, responsibilities. What do you like most about you career and how did you get on this path?

I am a motorcycle technician and work for the company that supports the motorcycle safety and training programs for the state of Virginia. I love this job mainly due to the fact that motorcycling is one of my passions and it is a great place to work!

What is a passion of yours outside of your work/career?

My biggest passion outside of work is my dog. My world pretty much revolves around her. She is big, and getting bigger everyday. She is what helps keep me sane and grounded most times. She is an Alaskan Malamute and her name is Shila.

What do you like most about volunteering and why do you do it?

Volunteering is something I am compelled to do. I can't really give a reason on why I love doing it other than "it is just the right thing for me to be doing".

What’s something or a fun fact about you that not many people know?

Something that most people probably do not know about me, I am pretty handy with home repairs. From installing kitchen cabinets, garbage disposals, ceiling fans, and hot water heaters, there isn't much I will not attempt to save money!

What’s your favorite book, movie, or tv show? Why?

I have lot's of favorite TV shows and movies. But what tops the list is anything and everything science fiction. "To boldly go where".............you get the picture!

What are some things you are doing for self-care right now?

Outside of my normal routine, my day to day life for self-care has not changed very much due to the current health climate.

What’s the best advice you have received and who gave it to you?

The best advice that I have ever received and acted on was when I first started my transition. I had just come out and wasn't sure on much of anything at the time. My best and dearest friend literally grabbed me by the arm, looked directly at me and said, "I know who you are and what you need to do, now YOU need to make that decision and do it"! I made that decision and ten years later I am living my life as ME and could not be any happier!

Richmond Mayor holds news conference at Diversity Richmond

Mayor Stoney news conference

Richmond Mayor, Levar Stoney recently held a news conference in the Diversity event hall to update the community on the city’s efforts to address issues surrounding the impact of the Corona virus. He began his remarks by sharing that donating space for testing is just one example of how Diversity Richmond has played major roles in the life of Richmond.

Health Departments conducting virus testing at Diversity

DR virus testing

The Henrico and Richmond Health Districts conducted COVID-19 testing recently is the Diversity event hall. About 175 tests were conducted. Health department staff will call those who are tested within 3-5 days with test results. They will also return for more testing on June 2,16 and 30th. For more information, call the COVID-19 Hotline at 804-205-3501. Diversity Richmond is very pleased to support the testing efforts by donating the event hall usage.

Picture: Richmond and Henrico healthcare staff tested 175 people recently at the testing site in the Diversity event hall.

Masks made from donated Diversity Thrift fabric given to homeless

masks made from donated fabric

Members of Richmond Zen made a number of masks from donated Diversity Thrift materials and then donated them to a local homeless shelter. “The masks are being used at a facility which is serving as a high-risk alternative shelter for people who were already in shelter when COVID-19 began,” shared Zen member, Blythe King. “They are older adults with many already having health issues. They were excited to receive them.”

Several hundred masks have been made by locals using Diversity Thrift fabric. Just one more way we are helping. If you would like fabric, please email us at

Photo: A small sampling of the masks made by Richmond Zen members

Rotary Club funds Greenwich Walk Masks Project

masks Rotary

The Rotary Club of Huguenot Trail granted the Greenwich Walk Stitch Therapy Group $5,000 to design and create masks for local causes. The group, comprised of 28 members, has shared their good works with local hospitals such as St. Mary’s and Hunter Holmes McGuire Veteran’s, law enforcement, nursing homes and first responders. Greenwich member and Diversity Thrift shoppers, Glenn and Peggy Thomson, dropped off a number of masks for our staff and volunteers. This horrible time has connected us with so many good people.

Photo: Glenn and Peggy Thomson donated masks made by Greenwich Walk for Diversity staff and volunteers.

Diversity Thrift Accepting Donations

donation dropoff

Diversity Thrift is now accepting drop-off donations. Three pods are located in the store parking lot. Hours are 10:00 AM- 4:00 PM, seven days a week. Pictured is longtime shopper Anthony Stout who recently dropped off a couple of bags of clothing. For more info, call the store at 353-8890.

Minority Veterans of America Helping LGBTQ Veterans

Minority Vets flag

Minority Vets is 2020 Diversity Richmond Grant Recipient

The Minority Vets COVID-19 Relief Fund provides members up to $150 in food and transportation support. The fund is supporting members in Virginia and is taking applications on a rolling basis. If you have minority vets in your community who are in need of support, please refer them to minorityvets.org/COVID19.

In addition to relief funds, Minority Vets are working on major programming, including a Juneteenth Virtual Open Mic and a Pride Block Party (Take Pride in Your Block) initiative to clean-up our local neighborhoods and blocks.

Shawn Smith Board Spotlight

Shawn SmithDiversity Richmond is a volunteer led organization with our Board of Directors at the helm. As we continue to get through this pandemic together, Diversity Richmond will shed a light on our wonderful board members that make our work possible. In the coming months we will ask board members some questions so our community can better know our board. This month’s feature is Shawn Smith.

1. How did you first become aware of Diversity Richmond, and what led you to join the board?
I first became aware of Diversity by seeing the building from the interstate as I drove by. The brightly colored façade was very visible and eye catching from the highway. I then attending a Richmond History Maker’s Event where former Asst. Director, Rodney Lofton was being honored. He and I met and connected and after some conversations, he asked if I’d be interested in becoming a board member. After further conversations with Rodney and Bill Harrison, I agreed and was elected to the board.

2. What responsibilities do you have on the board, and what contributions have you made?
Because of my background in event production and management, I serve as the chair of the Events Committee. This committee oversees Diversity’s key annual events which include All Americans, Scary-Okey and Drag Bingo. I’ve also participated in the annual Black and Bold Awards and the annual Scholarship awards event. All of this in addition to contributing to Diversity as a donor and attending monthly board meetings.

3. How many years have you served on the board?
I’ve served on the board of Diversity for 2 years.

4. What is your favorite thing about Diversity Richmond and the greater LGBTQ+ community as a whole?
My favorite thing about the Diversity is the community of acceptance. Diversity works hard to ensure that the space is inclusive and inviting. While it is not perfect in reaching all people, the team is willing to look at itself and it’s faults and seeks ways to improve. In addition, it is an organization that doesn’t sit on the sideline when there is a need. Diversity’s leadership is always anxious and ready to give when a need arises. There is little bureaucracy which allows the organization to react with immediacy to help those within the community in ways that is both tangible and meaningful.

5. What do you like most about volunteering and why do you do it?
I volunteer because I enjoy giving back. I’m passionate about helping people find purpose in their lives as well as helping them take small steps in self-discovering that leads them to a better existence built on better relationships. I find that volunteering and connecting myself to larger communities helps me to put my own life, gifts and purpose into perspective. It’s self-discovery for me as well.

6. What’s something or a fun fact about you that not many people know?
Many people don’t know that I am a former, State Champion gymnast. I did gymnastics all through high school, coached gymnastics in college. I still tumble here and there 😊

7. What are some things you are doing for self-care right now?
I’m typically a weightlifter. I love to go to the gym as a way of staying in shape. Unfortunately, the gyms are closed as result of the COVID Pandemic. Therefore, I’ve taken up running. I hate running, but it’s a way to get out and maintain my physical health in these unusual times. I’m grateful for the opportunity to run, but I’ll be glad when the gym reopens.

8. What’s the best advice you have received and who gave it to you?
As a high school student, I was pretty clear on the fact that I wanted to go to college. As a first-generation college student, I wasn’t clear on what I would do when I got there or what I would do when I got out. I had a friend in college with whom I was discussing my post college plans, or lack thereof. I was a bit distressed about what I wanted to do and she asked “What would you do if you knew you would not fail?” Once I gave her a sincere answer, she then stated, “Great, then go after it as if you’re going to be successful, because the only way to fail at it is not to try.” This advice changed my entire perspective on life and my future. I was afraid to try many things simply for fear of failure, thus limiting my entire future. From that point forward, I tried everything I was interested in. Some things I found out I didn’t like and quit, other things I discovered I loved and was good at and continued to pursue. From that advice, I can honestly look back at my life without saying “I wish I had…” I live with no regrets and unfulfilled wishes.

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