To compare last year’s Dallas Women’s Foundation’s 30th Annual Luncheon to this year’s was like comparing a trophy wife to a first wife.
Sure, the 2016 version had Desperate Housewife Eva Longoria at the podium, an A+ meet-and-greet structure, life was good and the economy was marching along. But this year’s Annual Luncheon on Friday, October 21, at the Hilton Anatole had a different set of challenges. The economy was antsy; nerves were on edge perhaps due to the political bickering; and frills of the past were toned down to satisfy the need to meet the bottom line.
Dallas Women’s Foundation President/CEO Ros Dawson admitted that they had considered a six-figure type when petite urban artist/activist Candy Chang appeared at a conference that Ros attended. With the July 7th shooting in Dallas and the luncheon Co-Chairs/art champions Joyce Goss and Selwyn Rayzor at the helm, Ros just knew they had a perfect match — their keynote speaker blending art and advocacy together … and an on-target budget.
That tightening of the budget was paramount since establishing the Unlocking Leadership Campaign goal of $50M. It was a daunting challenge to raise that type of money. Still, thanks to sponsors like U.S. Trust, the DWF mission of investing in women and girls and empowering women’s philanthropy to build a better world forged ahead.
But the day started off with the meet-and-greet in the Anatole’s Wedgwood Room. It had all the signs of being a repeat of last year’s flawless grip-and-grin. There was a cordoned-off area for guests to have their photos taken with Candy. There were cards to be provided to guests as they arrived to hand over when their photo opp took place. There was even the metal ring on which the cards were to be placed to help identify who was in each photo. The only thing missing was the (wo)manpower to make things happen.
Unlike last year’s photo opp, with one person to receive the card at the line up and another to take a handbag to the exit area, there was just one person who stayed at the exit. Some guests made it to the cordoned-off area with cards filled out, but most showed up at the exit with no card. Evidently, the cards were only sporadically being handed out and some folks didn’t realize there was a meet-and-greet taking place. There were times when Candy just stood like the last gal picked at a boy-ask-girl dance. But Candy was a good sport and stayed with a smile on her lips and an artistic tattoo on her right arm.
Just outside the Chantilly Ballroom, the lobby was highlighted by large panels headlined with “A better world is …” The panels would be put to full use after the luncheon.
In the Chantilly Ballroom, organizers admitted that the luncheon headcount was down from 2015’s 1,800—if you call 1,300 down. But the money count was ahead of plan.
Joyce and Selwyn welcomed the group including Dallas Women’s Foundation Board Chair Ellenore Baker, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Paige Flink, Nancy Ann Hunt, Rex Thompson, Robin Bagwell, Wendy Messmann, Regina Montoya and 2017 Dallas Women’s Foundation Luncheon Chair Lisa Singleton, telling them the presentation by Candy would offer hope and healing. They told of the cards at the tables that could be filled out and placed on the lobby’s panels following Candy’s talk. They added that even before the doors of the ballroom were opened, more than a million dollars had been brought in.
After they recognized Honorary Chair/artist Kaleta Doolin, a powerful video was shown about the challenges facing a single mother in need of help.
Ashlee and Chris Kleinert, Paula and Ron Parker and Trea Yip were on stage to stir up the Foundation’s fundraising campaign. Over $30,793,000 had been raised, but they wanted to match the 31st anniversary by hitting the $31M mark. If folks texted to #betterworld, they could make a donation to meet the goal. Immediately cellphones were pulled out on stage and in the audience to provide the funds.
On the screen, the names of donors like Clay Jenkins and Sandra Brown were shown. And while texting may still be like hieroglyphics to some, this one caused consternation even among the savvy types. There seemed to be problem that became a topic during the luncheon.
No problem. Soon Mother Ros was on stage explaining the hiccup. It seems that some folks had put a space between “better” and “world” and heaven knows where the money was going. But not to worry. The DWF braintrust had already taken care of the misdirected funds. With a sigh of relief, the cellphones were out again and successful donations were made. Whew!
Following a film, Ros invited people to keep talking as she spoke. And that is exactly what they did. Between the chatter and the clatter of the forks on plates, the folks especially in the back of the room missed her telling of the $31K anonymous donation that had just been made in honor of the 31st anniversary, helping the texting amount to $72K at that moment. They also could hardly hear Ros describing the great need to “harness the heart of this community to address the deep divide of race, class and gender.” It was for this need to bring people together that the decision had been made to bypass a big-name celeb and go for a peaceful and thoughtful activist like Candy Chang as the keynote speaker.
As Candy took the stage, the noise level in the room had decreased thanks to the winding down of the meal. With the help of the massive screens around the room, Candy told of her journey as a community activist and artist in New Orleans and the turning point that led her to create an international movement as well as become a TED Senior Speaker. It was the death of “Joan,” who had been so influential throughout Candy’s life. Her death had been sudden and unexpected. Candy went through a period of grief and depression. She discovered an abandoned house in her neighborhood and decided to use it as a canvas. Painting one of its walls black like a chalkboard, she wrote on it, “Before I die, I want to…” Pretty soon the wall was filled with all types of comments reflecting on the authors’ lives. The wall allowed a coming together of feelings, dreams and concerns among the people. This one wall of words caught on like wildfire throughout the world. Today there are more than 2,000 “Before I die…” walls internationally. Each wall is unique to its own community.
Speaking of her own success, she admitted that she owed it “to the generosity of others who stepped in and caught me at that critical moment when I questioned whether I had the capacity or the confidence to try something new.”
She was especially moved by the day’s program, and hoped that the audience would pay it forward in providing support and empowerment for girls and women on their journeys.
Before concluding her talk, she added that all people have mental health issues like sorrow, anxiety, stress, etc.: “These feelings easily escalate to more intense conflicts like addiction or depression or self-destruction.” As a result, she created an interactive exhibit in which writers anonymously confessed their feelings. One such confession read: “I’m afraid I’ll die alone.”
This sense of coming together to heal led her to her latest project — Atlas of Tomorrow in Philadelphia.
It is a huge interactive mural with a 6-foot dial which people are invited to spin to possibly resolve challenges or issues facing them. The number on which the spinner stops leads them to one of 64 stories taken from I Ching, one of the world’s oldest books of wisdom. The hope is to provide “a place to pause and try and make sense of our lives together,” according to Philadelphia Mural Arts Program Executive Director Jane Golden.
But despite the huge project in Philadelphia and the worldly influence, Candy’s message was felt on a smaller plain. As guests left the ballroom, they let it be known that they had gotten Candy’s message by filling the panels in the lobby completing the line, “A better world is…” One read, “A better world is … because of the Dallas Women’s Foundation.” Said others: ” … full of compassion,” ” … kind,” ” … possible.” Those panels were not just for show. Their future lay at being positioned throughout the city including at NorthPark Center, Southwest Center Mall, The Stewpot Talent Show at Encore Park and The Stewpot.
BTW, thanks to texting and generosity, the Foundation hit its $31M mark. Now, only $19M to go!