As I settle in to my duties as Diversity Richmond’s Executive Director, I’m still riding the wave of excitement and possibility entering a new year brings.
To some of you, I will be a familiar face, having worked for over a decade in service to Richmond’s LGBTQ+ community. And yet, as Diversity’s Executive Director, I will be introducing myself in new ways that reflect Diversity’s renewed energy around our commitment to live into our mission.
In the months to come, you’ll be hearing more from me about both familiar and new opportunities to engage us in service to our community. It’s still early in my tenure (only 87 days), but I’m already thinking about the five Ps:
Uplift and empower our People (staff, board, community)
Engage with intentional Purpose
Deliver Programs that are responsive and relevant
Offered in a Place that is welcoming and safe
Sustained by a diverse Portfolio of support
If that feels like a lot, it is! Our goals are ambitious because our community deserves the best partner and advocate possible. In my short time here, I am inspired by such an amazing staff and dedicated board committed to Diversity Richmond being a voice, a catalyst, a space and a resource for the LGBTQ+ community of greater Richmond.
I am proud to lead this organization, and I, we, all of us, are energized to answer this call.
So, I’ll say it again: Hello and Happy New Year from Diversity Richmond!
Fifteen-week course through a partnership with City of Richmond
Through a partnership with the city of Richmond, Diversity Richmond is hosting a 15-week course, helping local Hispanic people learn about business management from ideas to implementation. The academy classes will guide participants who are small business owners or who hope to open businesses.
Staff from the city’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Engagement (OIRE) and the Office of Minority Business Development has been working for several months in planning the academy. “We are locating LGBTQ Latino business owners and financial experts to teach the classes,” shared Diversity Richmond board member, Fernando Rodriquez. “The courses filled quickly as there is such a need and we are very proud to lead these efforts.”
“This is just one more example of how Diversity Richmond has expanded our reach in the community,” stated Diversity Board Chair, Cheezi Farmer. “This is our first attempt at such a project, but we have full confidence that people will have a positive experience and gain new knowledge of how to build on their talents and make their dreams come true.”
“We are thrilled to receive the support from Diversity Richmond in the launch of the Academy and hope this is the beginning of a long-term partnership that will benefit both the Latino community and Diversity Richmond,” said, OIRE Manager Karla Almendarez-Ramos.
The academy is being funded through a grant from the Laughing Gull Foundation to support our outreach programs.
AARP has been a longtime supporter of Diversity Richmond. Over the years, AARP has made numerous projects possible such as funding the cost of the huge tent we have used at PrideFest to sell Diversity Thrift treasures.
AARP has a vested interest in our community and we are proud to dedicate the edition of this newsletter to such an outstanding organization.
Aging can be problematic and quite often LGBTQ people face obstacles that others don’t. Reach out to your local AARP chapter for more information. No need to go this alone.
We are most proud of Virginia Pride. Even with the unimaginable challenges that the pandemic produced, the Pride committee is implementing several exciting events. This newsletter features them.
It took our breath back in June when we watched the Dominion Energy headquarters be illuminated with our colors. Throughout the month, millions of interstate 95 travelers saw our colors, proudly welcoming them to our city. Our home.
This is but one example of the work of Virginia Pride. Having such a significant lighting installation was not done through a simple phone call. It required hours of work, brought about by a dedicated commitment to our community.
From coordinating the Pride flag being raised at city hall by our mayor, to gaining the attention of our governor, to developing media relationships, to recruiting drag queens to raise funds for our work, Virginia Pride sets a very high standard.
Sometimes words fail, but to you, we say, thank you.
Over the last few years, Diversity Richmond has made transgender and racial issues our two top priorities. We have covered much ground, but almost daily we are reminded of the work we must do.
Beginning next week, our board begins their equity and inclusion work. These discussions will be the major portion of our meetings for several months. Then we will decide how to further proceed. Staff trainings will also begin soon.
My eyes have been opened to much and not through reading articles, but by listening to people who have shared their stories. I work with some of those folks, a few serve on our board while others are people I have met through their association with Diversity.
Do I know it all? No, and I never will as I am a white man. And I am committed to learning more and challenging myself each day.
If anyone knows the pain of discrimination, it is LGBTQ people. Couple that with America’s history of how we have treated people of color… white people can only imagine…we, in no way, can begin to fully understand what it is like to be Black or Brown LGBTQ in America.
Diversity Richmond is dedicated to having difficult conversations about the issues. Through this, we will create a better organization that, in every move we make, we will strive to ensure that it successfully passes through the equity lens.
Are we perfect? Far from it? Have we made mistakes? Sure have. Are we working to be better? Indeed.
Us Giving Richmond Connections, the local nonprofit that encourages the well-being of Black LGBTQ people, is hosting an exciting weekend of educational seminars, entertainment and community building activities. Planners expect big crowds and have scheduled a variety of events that will offer a wide selection of activities for people to choose from.
The weekend begins tonight with the kick-off event, “Community Root Awards,” being held in the event hall of Diversity Richmond. Outstanding leaders in the Black LGBTQ community are being recognized. Tickets are $20.00 and can be purchased at blackpriderva.com
Saturday’s “Day of Purpose,” is a wellness event with health screenings, HIV/STI testing, and COVID-19 vaccinations, educational classes, entertainment, a variety of food trucks and over 100 vendors. The festival will take place at Trinity Family Life Center, 3601 Dill Road. Admission is free.
Saturday evening, the Black Pride Block Party will be held outside Richmond Triangle Players Theater, 1300 Altamont Avenue in Scott’s Addition from 7:30 till 11:00 P.M. The free event will include food, music and entertainment. A drag show will take place inside the theater. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door.
The weekend will conclude with a Pride in the Park community cookout in Bryan Park, 4308 Hermitage Road from 1:00 to 6:00 P.M. on Sunday.
Within the last two weeks, we have spent over $2,000 helping six LGBTQ people facing homelessness by paying rent and also providing grocery gift certificates. The money for rent was made possible by you and the store cards were donated by Kroger.
Most every day, through Diversity Thrift, we help people who need clothing and shoes. Many are referred to us by social service mental health and recovery programs.
Over the last few months, we have provided a week’s supply of groceries to over 2,800 families.
With the pandemic ending, our building is once again in demand with play rehearsals, twelve-step programs and our transgender support groups returning.
Iridian Gallery volunteers brushed themselves off and had their first gallery opening in over a year last week. Iridian is one of the few galleries in the nation whose sole mission is to support LGBTQ artists. Diversity Richmond makes history again.
We could never do our work without your support. I hope you will donate today through the Give Out link below. When we help someone, you are helping them as well, by making the assistance possible.
Treehouse Realty RVA Makes $1,500 Give Out Day Match
Longtime supporters Wanda Fears and Brinlin Maki of Treehouse Realty RVA are making a $1,500 matching contribution to our Give Out Day campaign. This means that they will match donations up to $1,500!
She and her team have advertised on our web site for several years and every time they sell a home due to the ad, they have been most generous to Diversity.
Wanda is now retired, but remained active by acting as a consultant. “I still work closely with the LGBTQIA+ community” she shared. “My joy has always been helping folks plan to get their homes ready for market, or helping them figure out the cost of remodeling homes they buy. I love helping people get the equity out of their home and move up in the world of real estate.”
New president of Treehouse, Brinlin Maki, assumed the position with 14 years of mortgage business experience. “We love working with the LGBTQ community and also love giving back,” she said. Diversity Richmond is but one nonprofit that she supports.
Thank you to both Wanda and Brinlin. Our community is better because of you.
Give OUT Day is the only national day of giving for the LGBTQ community, raising $6+ million for 700+ LGBTQ organizations since 2013.
Here's how your monetary donation can help Diversity Richmond support the LGBTQ community:
$65 provides one night’s lodging for someone facing homelessness $35 provides three meals $75 covers the rental of a conference room for nonprofits to use $1,500 allows a nonprofit to use our event hall for free $200 provides a month of lawn care for Diversity Richmond $50 purchases five much needed shopping baskets for Diversity Thrift $50 allows us to donate 13 items of clothing to a person in need $100 purchases a week’s supply of gloves and hand sanitizer for customers $600 provides gas for the Diversity Thrift truck for one month $60 sponsors our monthly WRIR radio segment “Diversity Richmond Speaks” $95 funds our twice monthly newsletters $250 sponsors two newsletters. Banner ad and two articles about your business $8,758 pays our monthly mortgage $5,800 pays a month of utilities $25 provides six articles of clothing for someone in need $10 provides two pair of shoes $15 provides several toys for kids in need.
Three times this past week we helped LGBTQ people in need. We paid the rent for two and provided food gift certificates for one.
Through Diversity Thrift we granted seven clothing vouchers for people participating in addiction recovery programs. We partner with several recovery programs who share that we are the only thrift store in town who will help.
We just conducted our first COVID vaccination clinic, once again donating our event hall to the Virginia Department of Health in an effort to save lives.
Our monthly WRIR FM program is now back on the air. For our next show, we interviewed a couple who is adopting a transgender daughter, working with enCircle. Please see the full article below.
These are but a few examples of the good work that your support makes possible. Diversity Richmond leads. We strive to every day to help build a more just community.
Please consider a donation to help us continue the good work.
All smiles! The Lacy family is part of EnCircle’s Foster Care Program
LGBTQ Children are overrepresented in Foster Care
How the world has changed. While we still have a way to go, progress has certainly been made.
No better example than when we were recently contacted by EnCircle, a nonprofit that places kids in foster care. They wanted to ensure that LGBTQ people are aware that there are children who would love to be our foster children. And that EnCircle would also love to connect appropriate parents with those kids.
Formally known as Lutheran Family Services, EnCircle works with children who are in the custody of the Department of Social Services. The article below shares more information about the organization. Many in our community know full-well the hardships of growing up with unaccepting parents. This is an opportunity for us to change that cycle. Think about it. That’s all we ask.
Recently an older woman approached a Diversity Thrift manger while holding a backpack. “Can you discount this?” she asked. “I am homeless.” Wearing tattered and torn, dirty clothing with a brace on her leg, the manager replied that we would love to give her the backpack. She immediately erupted into tears. Customers were watching.
We then began discussing how else we could help. Food? Clothing? While talking, we learned that her home was a spot behind two dumpsters in an alley near VCU. That’s where she slept. That’s where she lived.
We gave her Kroger gift certificates and placed her in a local hotel for two nights. Through her tears she said she could not wait to take a shower. We are also helping her look for other resources.
This is what we do at Diversity Richmond. While others turned her away, we welcomed her in.
While the hungriest most of us have ever been is when we miss lunch, we cannot even begin to imagine circumstances such as this. It is because of community support that we help people such as our new friend who now has renewed hope.
Sometimes the words “thank you” just don’t do justice. This is one of those times.
When Raul Cantu joined our staff a little over a year ago, little did we know what the future held. About a week after Raul signed the dotted line to become our Events Coordinator, COVID hit and all our events for the next year were all cancelled.
Within a few days, Raul came into my office with a list of things he thought Diversity could do in spite of the pandemic. Actually, his brainchild of food drives was prompted because of the pandemic. Our first two drives targeted the Hispanic community as so many Hispanic people work in the hospitality industry which has been especially hard-hit due to COVID. Our third drive was open to the public with over 800 cars traveling through our parking lot with volunteers filling their car trunks with a week’s supply of groceries. Since late last year, we have helped over 2,300 families.
Raul has been a Richmond fixture for years as owner of the popular restaurants, Nacho Mama’s. He was president of the Carytown Merchant’s Association and lifted Richmond’s awareness of the Carytown shopping district, the same way he did for Diversity Richmond.
The partnerships he has forged with other nonprofits is absolutely amazing. The numbers of people who had never set foot on our property and who now love Diversity has grown tremendously because of his efforts.
As one of our employees shared, “You can’t help but love the guy.” And we agree.
Raul’s husband is a doctor and has accepted a position in South Florida. It’s not difficult picturing Raul in the midst of palm trees and sunshine. But he will always be a part of what he created here at Diversity Richmond. Folks such as Raul don’t just fade away. They remain and remain in our hearts he will.
The engagement has been a long one, but the rings are finally being exchanged. On February 23rd, the marriage of two of the commonwealth’s leading LGBTQ organizations was announced after over a year of study and preparation.
The merger comes after years of significant growth for both organizations. Since 2015, Virginia Pride’s budget has increased by 500% with its impact through advocacy and events substantially increasing, all while being managed by an all-volunteer structure. The merger will provide additional staff and organizational infrastructure that will support continued growth.
“Pride enters into this merger at a time when both organizations are thriving,” shared Pride President, Stephanie Merlo. “We have experienced exponential growth including our annual Pridefest which attracts over 40,000 people. The responsibilities of coordinating such an event is not a reasonable expectation of an all-volunteer team.”
“By joining forces with Pride, we hope to take one and one and make three, said Diversity Board Chair, Luise “Cheezi” Farmer. “We are confident that the merger will amplify the impact of the work of both organizations and allow us to better serve the entire Richmond region.”
The boards of both organizations have approved the merger plan. Virginia Pride will submit the plan to its voting membership for approval on March 22 with the merger becoming official as of April 1, 2021.
Photo: Jamal Brooks, James Millner, Stephanie Merlo, Cheezi Farmer and Bill Harrison. “Stronger Together” has become our new catch phrase.