Thank you, Raul Cantu

Raul Cantu

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.

Bill Harrison, President and Executive Director

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Diversity Richmond and Virginia Pride getting married!

Diversity Richmond Virginia Pride

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.

DR VA Pride merger

Photo: Jamal Brooks, James Millner, Stephanie Merlo, Cheezi Farmer and Bill Harrison.
Stronger Together” has become our new catch phrase.

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Diversity Richmond had dirty floors

Covid Testing

When I spoke with the contractor who recently cleaned our event hall floors, he said, “These are the dirtiest floors I have ever cleaned.” While I did not see that as a compliment, I shared it during a recent Financial Committee meeting somewhat as a joke, but it brought about inspiring conversation.

Co-chair Chris Moore said the comment made him think…”Of course the floors are dirty and I see that as something to be proud of.” And he’s right. That room has seen literally hundreds of thousands of feet since it was last cleaned. Every single scuff mark tells a story.

We’ve had countless numbers of events such as when we announced yet another year of grants; recognized outstanding volunteers and donors; karaoke and drag shows; news conferences; memorial services; the first Black and Bold Awards, the first Black Pride Festival in Virginia; anniversary and birthday parties; NACCP meetings, the Orlando Pulse Nightclub massacre service; a Black Lives Matter March and candidate forums…just to name a few.

In 2020, Governor Ralph Northam made history by signing the Virginia Values Act in the event hall. And in the last few months, the hall has been often donated to the Virginia Department of Health for COVID testing.

Committee co-chair Kevin Allison shared how his work in the Thanksgiving Community Dinners and the food drives had given him a new appreciation for the building…. and while asking for money to maintain the facility was not “heart-touching,” the true meaning of what we are asking for is support to keep “heart-touching” happenings alive.

We are happy to report that we now have some of the cleanest floors in town, and hopefully soon, footsteps will be marking the shine. And the heart of Diversity Richmond will beat as loud as ever.

Bill Harrison

Photo above: Shiny, bright floors greeted the Virginia Department of Health staff as they conducted COVID testing this week. Over the last few months, hundreds of people have been tested in the hall which is donated by Diversity Richmond.

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Thanks to you, Diversity Richmond Ended 2020 on Positive Notes

Hands all in

While 2020 brought the unimaginable, through your support, we stretched our loving arms further than ever before. Just a few examples of what you made possible:

Through two food drives, we reached over 1,000 local Hispanic families with a week’s supply of groceries. The incomes of many Hispanic people have been adversely impacted as many work in the hospitality industry;

Our December food drive, which was opened to everyone, provided a week’s supply of food to over 800 families. The food drives brought about our new partnership with Feed More, which donated over 20,000 pounds of vegetables and meats;

Through our partnership with Black Pride RVA, we served Thanksgiving dinner to many, delivering food to the homeless;

During the summer, we held several drive-in drag shows in our parking lot, providing safe fun and also helping our beloved entertainers;

While facing uncertain times, we still continued our annual grants program, funding causes that battle LGBTQ violence; support LGBTQ youth; provide food for those in need; provide outreach to rural LGBTQ people; help LGBTQ veterans facing hardships and to connect with LGBTQ seniors;

This autumn, we co-hosted with VA Pride and Minority Veterans of America a Black Lives Matter march in our parking lot, attracting over 1,000 people;

We were proud to donate space to Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and Richmond Superintendent of Schools, Jason Kamras to update the community on local COVID programs;

We also donated the event hall to the Henrico-Richmond Health Districts for COVID testing four times as well as for news conferences for pandemic updates;

It was an honor to partner with Equality Virginia and host Governor Ralph Northam and numerous elected officials as they signed the Virginia Values Act during a news conference in our event hall, making Virginia the first southern state to provide LGBTQ protections;

Due to volunteer efforts, we continued through on-line activity, the work of Iridian Gallery, the South’s only gallery dedicated to supporting LGBTQ artists;

These are but a few examples of 2020. It is only through your support that we do what we do. Wishing you a healthy and safe 2021 which will be better for us all!

Bill Harrison

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Virginia Values Act

Governor Ralph Northam signs the Virginia Values Act at Diversity Richmond

 BLM march

Over 1,000 people joined our Black Lives Matter March (above)
We provided snacks for Black Lives Matter at VCU (below)

BLM snacks

Volunteers at food drive

Volunteers prepare for our first food drive


Diversity Thrift provided free fabric for the making of hundreds of facial masks.
We donated the event hall to the Henrico-Richmond Health Districts for COVID testing as well as for news conferences for pandemic updates

 COVID News Conference

Practice Physical Distancing

We were creative in our COVID safety protocol messages

Drive In Drag

Our drive-in drag shows showcased lots of local talent

Drive In Drag


Diversity Richmond 2021 Grants Announced

money tree

Always a difficult task, this year’s grants committee had a challenging time selecting the organizations that would receive funding through our annual grants program. Since 1999, we have invested more than $1.1 Million back into the community.

Listed below are this year’s recipients:

Metropolitan Community Church Richmond is receiving $5,000 in support of the church’s Vicky Hester Food Pantry, Bread Ministry and the Good Neighbor Fund;

Virginia Anti-Violence Project is granted $5,000 for their LGBTQ+ Survivors COVID Mental Health Project;

Minority Veterans of America, Richmond Chapter, $5,000 to provide emergency assistance for LGBTQ veterans during the COVID-19 pandemic and in its aftermath.

Side By Side is receiving $2,500 to support Making Schools Safe and Affirming: Protecting Transgender Students, to ensure every school district in Virginia follows new laws set to protect trans students;

The Longevity Project, $2,500 for the LGBTQ+ Elder Social Connection, to address the unique needs of LGBTQ seniors with attention to people of color and the transgender community. The project is in collaboration with Senior Connections;

Twin Oaks Queer Gathering, $650 to support rural outreach.

Each of the 2021 grant recipients will be featured in our 2021 newsletters.

Bill Harrison

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Diversity Richmond is community and as community we respond

We are proud of Diversity Richmond for the leadership role it has assumed over the last nine months. Our food drives gifted a week’s worth of groceries to over 1,000 families (we are hosting another on December 19.) Our drive-in drag shows not only provided safe, fun means of community, but also gave the opportunity to support entertainers. Our recent on-line movies (another planned for December 17) promoted local talent and also a free means of safe theatre.

In partnering with Black Pride RVA, we helped share Thanksgiving meals with our community, shut-ins and the homeless. Several times our event hall has been donated to local health departments and governments to provide free COVID-19 testing and public-school updates.

The numbers of Diversity Thrift clothing vouchers are reaching an all-time high. Word has traveled that we help those in need and our partnerships with social services agencies is continually growing.

And then there is you … our wonderful family of supporters. While the year has been challenging, through your support, we have successfully met obstacles and found new ways to help.

It is only through community support that we can do what we do. Thank you for continuing to make good things happen. With you, we look forward to continuing our work in 2021.

Bill Harrison

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The Joy of Diversity Richmond Cookies

12 Days of Giving

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The four-year-old jumped up and down. “Cookies, cookies!” he cried joyfully. He tugged his sister’s shirt. “Look, cookies!” His parents smiled and said, “Gracias. Thank you very much.” Then they drove away, making room for the next car, the next family, one of 500 for whom Diversity Richmond’s Hispanic Food Drive was able to supply a week’s worth of food.

What does a Hispanic Food Drive have to do with Diversity Richmond’s mission? Nothing and everything. Because while Diversity Richmond’s mission is to serve the LGBTQ+ community, that mission is more deeply rooted in a love for all communities.

And so, when COVID devastated the hospitality industry, many Hispanic families were now without income. Diversity Richmond’s deeper sense of mission compelled us to respond.

The resulting food drive was so successful that we did another several weeks later, helping another 500 families. And another is planned for late December--this time open to everyone.

All this while continuing our service to the LGBTQ+ community. To highlight just a few ways:

  • Diversity Thrift shares clothing vouchers with people needing shirts, pants and shoes
  • We help LGBTQ+ people avoid homelessness by assisting with rent and utility bills
  • We provide meeting space for twelve-step programs and transgender support groups
  • We loaned our event hall to the Henrico-Richmond Health Districts and the City of Richmond for Covid19 news conferences, and free Covid19 testing
  • We helped host a Black Lives Matter march with over 1,000 people safely participating
  • Continued the south’s only art gallery whose sole mission is to support LGBTQ artists.

We are also pleased to continue our grants program this year, offering up to $25,000 to deserving nonprofits. This is a risky decision in light of our own funding uncertainties, but risk we are willing to take when such worthy organizations have critical funding needs now.

May your holiday season and 2021 be safe and healthy, and may your days be filled with the joy of sugar cookies.

Bill Harrison

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“We reach out because of who we are, not because of who they are.”

shoes 2020

~ The Rev. Jeffery Fishwick

Every once in a while, something happens that reminds me why we are here. Through Diversity Thrift, we share clothing vouchers for those in need. A gentleman who we are helping came to the store yesterday with his voucher. I thought he did not understand the process so I was explaining it to him. Then he said, “I am legally blind and need someone to help me look for a coat. I cannot see.” I then turned to an already very busy store manager who gently said to our friend, “Please let me help you. The coats are this way.”

Then just this morning, a social worker and a client came to the store. The client, an elderly man, was barefooted. He had no shoes, just socks. As the social worker was talking, my mind was racing. There standing before me was an old man who looked worn and beaten. And he was barefooted.

I am thankful for people who dedicate their lives to helping others, especially those who it is so easy for society to overlook. The poor, the homeless, the hungry, the mentally ill.

I dare say that the founders of our organization never had any idea of the impact that Diversity Richmond would eventually have on the world. Our arms are spread wide…one person at a time.

While our main focus is the LGBTQ community, we continually find ourselves with a wider reach. If you can help us continue to help…our donation button is below.

Bill Harrison

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Diversity Richmond helps over 500 families with food

Food Drive Oct 2020

“After realizing the severity of the problem, we could not sit idly by and do nothing.”
Bill Harrison, Executive Director

The weather was beautiful and so were the hundreds of faces that gathered at our second food drive. Our main focus was to reach the Hispanic community, but everyone who attended was welcomed with open arms and more than a week’s supply of groceries.

Feed More donated over 8,000 pounds of vegetables along with pallets of frozen chicken and 250 hams. Diez Foods, after selling us items at cost, donated hundreds of culturally appropriate foods. Sylvia’s Sisters added feminine hygiene items and of course, our Diversity Richmond supporters contributed funds.

“This was a very humbling experience,” shared Cheezi Farmer, Diversity Board Chair. “Our plan was to open at 9:00 A.M, but cars were lined up an hour early. People were so appreciative. While most of us have never gone to bed hungry, we are surrounded by people who do.”

While the pandemic has affected all businesses, the hospitality industry, where Hispanic people work, has been especially hard hit. Many Hispanic people are employed as housekeepers, kitchen staff and landscaping. Countless numbers of people receiving food shared that they have been unemployed for weeks.

Volunteers worked the night prior, packing food bags, with lots more staffing the Saturday morning drive. “I loved doing this,” said Allison Shaffer. “I have volunteered with many projects over the years, but this one will always be one I remember. Thank you, Diversity Richmond for not only helping so many people, but for giving us the opportunity to be part of this.”

Another food drive is being scheduled for December. If you would like to support the work of Diversity Richmond, please use the link below.

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food drive Oct 2020

Some of our wonderful volunteers help distribute vitamins donated by GSK

How Diversity Richmond is making a difference

Feed more veggie inspection

Expanding LGBTQ outreach programs to be more inclusive

Nonprofits must continually look in the mirror. If we do not constantly examine ourselves, we can easily become irrelevant. We cannot rest on our laurels. The world changes and so do the needs of those we serve.

We recently discovered a huge need, that we feel called to address. Many of our neighbors do not have enough food to eat. Children are going to bed hungry and that is no exaggeration.

The pandemic has affected everyone in negative ways, but especially the most already vulnerable. The hospitality industry has been extremely hard-hit. Many of those who work in housekeeping, landscaping and food service are Hispanic. Many families depend upon schools for breakfasts and lunches, which, at the moment, is a thing of the past.

That is why we are hosting our second food drive. While historically our main focus has been the LGBTQ community (and it still is) we cannot sit idly by when we can help.

A few weeks ago we gave over 500 families a week’s supply of groceries. “Humbling” does not describe the experience. Cars were lined up an hour before we opened. The excitement of the kids, the obvious appreciation of the adults. We knew that day that we wanted to do more.

If you would like to support the food drive and other Diversity Richmond programs, please click on the donate button below. If you would like to volunteer, contact .

Thank you for making the good work of Diversity Richmond continue.

Bill Harrison

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Pictured above: Events Coordinator, Raul Cantu and Board Chair, Cheezi Farmer survey a small sampling of the fresh vegetables that Feed More donated to our last food drive.

Stonewall Rising: LGBTQ March for Black Lives Matter Huge Success

Stonewall Rising: LGBTQ March for Black Lives Matter

Last Saturday hundreds of people gathered at Diversity Richmond in support of LGBTQ Black Lives Matter. If you were here, you know what a powerful experience it was. The inspiring remarks by LGBTQ Black leaders, the beautiful music and the true sense of community that was ever present. The event was supported by fourteen local organizations. This is but one example of good work to come.

Supporting such events such is one reason Diversity Richmond exists. For over 20 years our organization as jumped every opportunity to help. Our mission has expanded over the years, but the heart of Diversity has not changed, albeit stronger and more expansive.

Community support and Diversity Thrift proceeds are how we continue our good work. With the on-going pandemic, having been closed for weeks, the store just recently reopened with reduced store hours.

We are well aware of the financial strains that the pandemic has placed on many people. If you can make a donation during Give Out Day, it will be most appreciated. If this is not a good time to donate, we understand.

Stay safe.

Bill Harrison

Our country is experiencing an unprecedented time of division and unity.

Shawn Smith

We are physically divided and isolated by disease, yet unified and steadfast in helping to heal the sick. We are divided by racism and privilege, yet together we march for justice and peace. We are divided by inequality and politics, yet we stand united in believing that this is, and will remain, the greatest country in the world.

It is with this backdrop that I’m enraged and at the same time, inspired. As I consider the mountain before us as a country, I’m reminded of the valleys behind us. We’ve come this far as a nation because of our diversity and unity. And it is because of that same diversity and unity we have the will, resources and power to evolve as a people and emerge from his dark time as a better society.

Diversity Richmond will stand with all of you as we continue on our path to crest this tumultuous wave of recent events. Together we will march, we will cry and we will be victorious in this fight for a better country and a better world.

Thank you for being a part of the Diversity Richmond family and thank you for letting us be a part of yours.

Shawn Smith
Diversity Richmond Board Member